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  • Kan Yuenyong

ASEAN Speech: Dual Revolution and A Tale of Three Cities

My take on 2019 ASEAN Community Leadership and Partnership Forum, ASEAN's Next Generation - Shaping the Future: Reimagining ASEAN, Fueling Innovation - With other speakers: Prof Suthiphand Chirathivath, Dato' Henry Goh, Dato' Dr. Jessie Tang, Dr. James Gomez and Dato' Sri Dr. Vijay Eswaran


Ambassador Pradap Pibulsonggram, Dato Dr Michael Yeoh, Distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me here.


1. I’ve been asked for assessments and foresight on Thai politics by number of international medias, political actors and policy makers for years. Most of my assessments have been luckily right more than wrong, thanks for an improvement by bombarding of challenging questions from those journalists along those years. Those exchanging of ideas, answers and questions have sharpen my analysis so dramatically. It’s really a co-creation of value from both sides.





2. Learning to predict things right for many years, you can’t help too see yourselves to start comparing a sociopolitical development on your own country with neighboring countries. Next, you will expand that analysis to the curiosity on regional architecture development, global affair and geopolitics in the end, also wondering to test your idea in the real world.


3. In the past couple years ago, I was asked to help convening scenario workshops similar to the famous Montfleur project regarding apartheid problem in South Africa in order to resolve a political polarization in Thailand. Actually both Thai and South African workshops have been led by the same leader, Mr Adam Kahane who used to work with the Royal Dutch Shell before. The well design workshops had been engaged with almost all political spectrum actors in this country, not only the well-known red and yellow shirts.


4. Findings from the workshops, instead of producing an answer to our focused polarization problem, it has instead generated more questions. It has stated that now the country has been in the genuine transitioning period, which means that the country has faced three crises in the same time: first, political crisis; second, economic crisis (or someone may say that it is a resources distribution problem/ or inequality problem), and third, cultural and educational crisis.


5. I have kept these puzzles with myself for a long time, with my curiosity that what do these questions mean and which direction it will guide our country forward.


6. Last year, I think I can achieve a glimpse of answer which I would like to share with all of you. Fortunately, in the same time of the historic election of the country, I have an extraordinary opportunity to test my idea in the real world, a moving from noumena to phenomena. I have introduced my idea with major political parties before and during an election to get understanding on their logic of crafting policy to get through those crises.


7. An idea that can explain on why we’re right now facing the three crises in the same time. It’s a bird eye view though.


8. It is about, what I would like to borrow from the notable Marxist historian, Eric Hobsbawm. That is we’re facing the “dual revolution”. In Hobsbawm’s famous series of work: “The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789–1848”, “The Age of Capital: 1848–1875”, “The Age of Empire: 1875–1914”, and “The Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century, 1914–1991”, his central argument regarding the cradle of change in the preceding century had come from an industrial revolution in England and social revolution from France, both generated “dual revolution” to transform the world in erstwhile period.


9. That would make sense, sound rational on industrial revolution due to technological innovation mostly on steam engine and electricity to help develop communication, transportation and industry in one country. It would kick in another social revolution in another country.





Ladies and gentlemen,

10. It is not surprise to see a development of a novel in 1859 by Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities”, talking about developments in both London and Paris during the French Revolution. We are now witness the “dual revolution” in the 21st century which instead what I call “Singularity and Deep Modernization”. And also now we come up with “A Tale of Three Cities” in Asia Pacific.

11. Let me talk about what are the three cities first. I’m going to talk about the rapid development in Asia Pacific. So we have North Asia, I’d like to use Tokyo to represent this territory, Hong Kong to represent “Zhongguo” or “middle kingdom”, and Bangkok to represent here the Southeast Asia and our beloved ASEAN. These three cities are adapting themselves in its own style, speed and related context according to the wave of change generated by the “dual revolution” that I have mentioned earlier.


12. These three cities have coincidentally talked about “the new era” in its own “story”. For Tokyo, the new emperor, Naruhito has come up with the Reiwa era, selected from ancient Japanese poem, the Man’yōshū. The word means “beautiful harmony”. In Bangkok, the new King, his majesty, พระบาทสมเด็จพระวชิรเกล้าเจ้าอยู่หัว has just had his coronation last month with his first royal command, "I shall continue, preserve, and build upon the royal legacy and shall reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the people forever," also signified “the new era”. This year has also marked a chairmanship of ASEAN for Thailand. While in China, with delicate Marxist dialectical analysis and a sober hope on not only “multipolarity” but also to change “new hegemony” in global order, Beijing has also talked about “the new era”.


13. In Japan, they have a legacy of Rangaku or "Dutch learning” since Edo period helped smoothing the transitioning. With a stimulus of “Black ships”, it had ignited Meiji Restoration, a power shift from Shogun to Emperor and a parliament, the Diet. In Thailand, there were two steps of grand reform during King Rama V, or King Chulalongkorn during his reign on early 20th century and again the Siamese revolution in 1932. Both have generated a constitutional monarchy and a parliament. The new parliament, สัปปายะสภาสถาน, will soon open. Both cities try to emulate Westminster parliamentary system. While in China, an end of civil war with a triumph of the Communist Party of China has generated a principle of “one country, two systems” by Deng Xiaoping, in which we have just witnessed the test of this principle on the peaceful protest in Hong Kong last week.


Ladies and gentlemen,

14. I have just talked about the “deep modernization”, or a process in adapting of the state during the recent change due to technological revolution. And actually, the adapting of Asia Pacific is quite different from those experiences in the Western world. It is because of the differences in thinking system. On the grand pursuit, China has started finding out to unlock “the Needham problem”, [quote] “why modern science had not developed in Chinese civilization (or Indian) but only in Europe” [unquote] and more deeper question [quote] “why, between the first century BC and the fifteenth century AD, Chinese civilization was much more efficient than occidental in applying human natural knowledge to practical human needs” [unquote]. And China has to extend its journey more, now with more challenging circumstance on the fractious geopolitical challenging.


15. Last but not least, the singularity. It’s about a reinforcement of exponential development on information technology. If you have heard either Moore's Law or Rose’s Law (double performance of computing power within every 18 months, for someone who don’t agree with Intel's Gordon Moore, but still see some potential in “Quantum computing,” you might be a fan of D-Wave Systems' Geordie Rose. The Canadian D-Wave Systems has announced a roadmap of new Pegasus topology to achieve 5000-qubit processors in mid-2020.) Seasonal technical expert will understand that during the first phase of internet (we have talked about things like Gopher) is very different from the latest phase of internet such as 5G, IoT, etc.


16. Masayoshi Son's SoftBank Vision Fund invests on Chinese Alibaba, British chip designer ARM, The OneWeb satellite constellation, etc. This $100 billion valued fund has been supported from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund as much as $45 billion. It has solely bet on a strategic thinking of future singularity when machine intelligence surpasses human being's in 2047, and yet according to Masayoshi's vision, it will still just take baby steps of a coming 300 years of technological revolution.


17. Actually, the word singularity has not originated in Ray Kurzweil’s “The Singularity is Near”, but instead it has come from “The coming technological singularity: How to survive in the post-human era” by Verner Vinge in NASA symposium “Vision 21: Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering in the Era of Cyberspace” held at Holiday Inn in Westlake, Ohio on March 30-31, 1993, (also featured “S-curve”).


18. I’d love to get more time to talk about this "Singularity and Deep Modernization" with you. But time has come. I don’t want to talk that time is on or is not on our side, but about a different definition of time: a dichotomy of potentiality vs actuality. We’re in between, and let's see what actuality it becomes, let it avail what it may, for the three cities in “dual revolution” of this early 21st century.


Thank you very much for your attention.

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