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Interview with Jürgen_Rüland at the National University of Singapore, April 2010

Q: In a few words, please describe yourself and the research that you are doing.

A:  I am currently Professor of Political Science at the University of Freiburg in Germany and my research interest is basically international relations in the Asia Pacific, in particular regional integration under the auspices of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Another major topic is relations between Asia and Europe, a topic related to a new research agenda in International Relations also known as ‘inter-regionalism studies’.

Q: What drew your interest to this topic?

A: I think one of the points of departure is that theory building in international relations is very much dominated by Western experiences and has a very strong Western bias. My interest is to broaden that view of international relations by bringing in research and perspectives from a non-Western region. In that sense ASEAN is a very interesting case because ASEAN often claims that it is not following the European model of regional integration. The European process of regional integration has often been regarded as a model for many new regional cooperation schemes especially in non-Western regions and I’m quite curious to find out to what extent the experience of European integration has been used in building regional institutions in Southeast Asia and to what extent ASEAN’s regional integration is drawing from  indigenous political ideas, political culture and traditions. So that is basically one of the major points of departure for my work on ASEAN.

Q: Could you tell us about your current project under the LKC NUS-Stanford fellowship?

A: Yes, that project also relates to processes of regional cooperation in ASEAN, but focuses more specifically on Indonesia. Since the debate on the ratification of the ASEAN Charter, there has been a lot of soul-searching in Indonesia with regards to the position of the country in international relations. To what extent, for instance, should Indonesia still devote its foreign policy priorities to the immediate neighbourhood which is ASEAN, and to what extent it rather should pursue a much more independent policy akin to the one of emerging global powers like China, India or Brazil and thereby relegating ASEAN to a backseat. This is a very intensive debate in Indonesia right now and I would like to find out how various protagonists of that debate construct their model of regional integration and from what ideational sources they draw. This includes various actors such as think tanks, university-based academics, but of course also the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the business sector, media, civil society, and as far as that is possible, the armed forces.

Q: Has the Lee Kong Chian fellowship helped you in achieving your research objectives?

A: Yes, definitely. To have been awarded this fellowship is very felicitous for me, because it enables me to concentrate on research work for several months which is absolutely impossible when I am involved with normal routines in our university. This leaves very limited time to do comprehensive research and to concentrate on a topic for a longer period of time and so this scholarship provided the basis for taking some time out from the normal university routines. It enabled me to be right in the center of Southeast Asia and in Singapore you have a lot of expertise on ASEAN both in the National University of Singapore but also in other research institutions based in Singapore. And from Singapore it is also not far to travel to Indonesia and do some fieldwork over there. So in that sense the scholarship is really a great benefit and a great chance for which I am very grateful. I am of course also looking forward to the second part of the scholarship which will first bring me back to Singapore in August and then also include a stint in the United States in Stanford.

Q: How do you intend to use the experience and knowledge you have gained from your research here?

A: I think the ultimate objective is to write a book. Of course, this is an ambitious objective but I trust that I also benefit so much from the scholarship that I will also be able to produce one or the other article related to my project that hopefully will be published in international journals. So I do hope in that sense it will be a productive stay. And apart from that I also had the opportunity to present parts of my research, so far as it is possible in this early stage, to audiences in the NUS and also other institutes in Singapore and in Indonesia. So I think that not only I got something from my conversations and exchanges with colleagues over here but that I was also able to return some information from my ongoing research to the respective audiences.

Q: Was there anything else that you enjoyed during your stay here?

I very much appreciated the friendly and hospitable reception by the members of the faculty, the Political Science Department and the Southeast Asia Program and, of course, the excellent facilities in NUS, in particular the library. Singapore is an attractive place to stay and live. So apart from having time to read, think and write, I enjoyed very much discovering the great variety of excellent cuisines and experiencing the city’s cosmopolitan atmosphere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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