A New Chapter for Siam Intelligence Unit: Reflections on the Past and Plans for the Future
Happy New Year 2023!
It's Monday, but many people are still on holiday during the long weekend. You'll notice that Siam Intelligence Unit (SIU) has come back in a new form; from now on, our flagship website will be geopolitics.asia, no longer siamintelligence.com.
Some of you may have noticed our previous attempt at a change in 2019 when we collaborated with the Geneva Network to organize the national event "The Importance of Intellectual Property Rights for Progress" on October 2, 2019, at the Conrad Hotel in Bangkok. At this event, H.E. Abhisit Vejjajiva, the 27th prime minister of Thailand, gave the keynote speech on the situation of Intellectual Property Rights in Thailand and in ASEAN.
Nonetheless, the world, as well as Thailand, entered the global pandemic at the beginning of the following year. I decided to further my studies by pursuing a PhD in governance and policy science at GSPA/NIDA. During this period, with the given context, it's time to rethink the organization's direction and review our previous mission.
We are not reticent to express our liberal democratic spirit and origins. SIU was formed in December 2009 as a result of online group discussions following the 2006 coup d'état in Thailand. We thought about ways to alleviate political polarization, which was a major factor in the possibility of the coup.
Therefore, we established SiamIntelligence.com as a showcase website to demonstrate dialogue on policy issues, democratic and liberal values to society. It was a great success and we were able to command a healthy amount of traffic to our website. We were able to set critical agendas on several occasions and capture the attention of both international and local media.
One of our proudest moments was when I was invited to join the "Scenario Thailand" committee to organize national workshops on political reconciliation efforts and how to navigate out of the polarization quagmire. The workshops, which included key political spectrum activists, politicians, and scholars, were convened by Adam Kahane of Reos, who generously used his experience from the Mont Fleur project to resolve the apartheid problem in South Africa. It was my first-hand experience using scenario planning techniques, which are frequently used by Royal Dutch Shell plc (now Shell plc) and Rand Corporation to solve real-world problems. I also had the opportunity to learn about another foresight technique approach at a global workshop in New York, by invitation from the Rockefeller Foundation and Institute for Alternative Futures.
It was a rare opportunity for a single scholar to absorb real-world experience from both approaches in real-world workshops during the same period, not to mention the opportunity to co-translate a book about Nelson Mandela written by Richard Stengel into Thai.
The output from the workshops in Thailand produced more questions than answers, emphasizing that the country is in a genuine transformation period facing triple challenges: economic, political, and cultural. I further interpreted this as a "dual revolution" during my speech at the 2019 ASEAN Community Leadership and Partnership Forum in Bangkok, borrowing from Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm.
Therefore, it's not merely a "middle-income trap" as normally understood in economics together with dwell into aging society. While we can diagnose the cause and problem of polarization, finding a solution to it remains elusive.
At the same time, new challenges await on the horizon: the new geopolitical tensions between the US and China (not to mention the ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia); and technological disruptions including quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and blockchain technology.
During the break and transition of our own organization, we need to rethink our organizational reform and new mission to at least be a force that contributes to the country and the region, ASEAN and the wider Asia, in navigating the remaining and new challenges.
You will see several new features in our new direction.
First and foremost, the website will primarily be in English, not Thai. This serves two purposes: to communicate with a wider audience in the world and to prepare for future paid content mechanisms. However, for now, we are still in an experimental period which is expected to run for at least 6-12 months. During this time, you can fully enjoy the content for free. The website will be upgraded with more features using data science and analytical tools in the future. The data science and analytical tools will have a separate domain name, geopolitics.io.
The challenge is how we can maintain the quality of the content in the long run. To address this, we have employed the theory of geopolitics, called meta-geopolitics, to help analyze phenomena. We have prepared instruments to detect global trends each week and provide analysis with the aid of AI.
You will see our content starting on Monday with serious policy discussions, on weekdays with situational monitoring, and on weekends with cultural and lifestyle issues (which will affect the "noopolitik" domain).
However, we are not a news organization. While we may provide news coverage and leader interviews, our objective is not to inform about the news. Our utmost objective is to provide the most precise intelligence and analysis based on proven theory to our audience, which includes investors, policymakers, executives and entrepreneurs. Our audience can rely on our analysis for use in their strategic and routine work. Fortunately, with our past consulting experience with international financial institutes such as HSBC, we have an idea of how to produce meaningful analysis on situational developments in Asia. Furthermore, we will periodically assess the accuracy of our predictions against what actually occurs in reality, and look for ways to improve the precision of our forecasting.
In addition to geopolitics and information gathering, we will employ OSINT (open-source intelligence) techniques as explained in "The Intelligence Edge: How to Profit in the Information Age." Currently, we still rely on our existing network covering parts of ASEAN and wider Asia, but we hope to expand and build our network to cover the entire territory in the long run. This is a long-term challenge.
Secondly, on organizational reforms.
Fortunately, apart of summer school quantum hackathon project with the Womaniam, I had the opportunity to join On Think Tank's fellowship program last year. As a result, I had to produce a paper discussing the board of directors structure.
The business model and board of directors structure are like a chicken-and-egg situation. A solid business model will help convince potential candidates to join the board, and in turn, qualified board members will provide valuable advice and help connect opportunities to make the business process possible.
From what I've clarified above, you can see the broad picture of our potential business model. I will also spend several trips throughout this year discussing with potential partners and investors on other business model options.
During the fellowship program, I was advised that we need to set a quite ambitious vision and mission. Here it is: although there are several leading geopolitical and security think tanks in Asia and several leading technological providers in this region, we aim to be the top Asian think tank in terms of geopolitical risk analysis and technological solutions.
With our core values of "CODE": Commitment, Openness, Dignity, Excellence, we aim to maintain high-quality output in the long run to tackle the challenges ahead. I hope that after reading our articles, you will see that they reflect these core values.
Commitment: We are committed to providing accurate and reliable information to our readers. This means we are dedicated to conducting thorough research, using reliable sources, and being objective in our analysis.
Openness: We believe in transparency and honesty in all of our endeavors. This means we are open to different perspectives and willing to consider different viewpoints. We also welcome feedback and suggestions from our readers.
Dignity: We respect the dignity of all individuals and organizations, treating everyone with kindness and fairness, and upholding integrity in all that we do.
Excellence: We aim to produce high-quality output and continuously improve ourselves and our work. We believe in striving for excellence in all that we do.
Finally, within this first quarter, we aim to launch our "On Geopolitics" book, for which we have already signed a copyright license to translate Sir Halford John Mackinder's "The Geographical Pivot of History" into Thai. Since the copyright requires us to publish a book with 300 pages, we need to increase the size of the previous introductory and translation work, which is around 30-40 pages. The added content will include a discussion of Henry Kissinger and Zhou Enlai regarding Sino-American détente, and a philosophical discussion about forms of governance and pragmatism, which will be at the heart of geopolitical tensions in the 21st century.
With all these plans as I've laid out above, I hope it will help us build capacity to fulfill our mission in the new phase, which is to maintain a reasonable voice in policymaking processes, especially to keep up with the fast pace of change in Asia - a major task in the think tank business - and to maintain financial sustainability in the long run to help us serve our major mission.
I still recall the inspiring words of Simon Maxwell on the final day of the fellowship program: "Go forth and change the world!" It is a message that continues to resonate with me and drive me forward.
I hope you find our content enjoyable and thought-provoking.
Executive Director, SIU.