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KLRCA Evening Talk Series: The Reconciliation of Norms in International Relation
14 Mar 2015

KLRCA paired up with the Humanities Cluster of Malaysia’s oldest and most esteemed public higher education institution, University Malaya; to host an evening talk titled, ‘The Reconciliation of Norms in International Relations’.

It was a discourse of the highest intellect and mind stimulating order as famed scholars from the region; Professor Dr Lee Poh Ping, Senior Research Fellow in the Institute of China Studies, University of Malaya; and Professor Anthony Miller, the Tun Hussein Chair of International Studies at ISIS (Institute of Strategic & International Studies) Malaysia joined historian Professor Peter Borschberg, on the panel for a two hour long discussion on the relevance of the historical experience derived from the writings of the 17th century Dutch Republic jurist, Hugo Grotius – to current contests in the Asia Pacific.

Moderating the session was University Malaya alumnus, Philip Koh who began proceedings for the evening by providing a brief overview of the current norms revolving the international relations scene and how history attributed to the sculpting of its studies. Philip then turned the spotlight to the three speakers, as he officially introduced them to the audience.

Professor Borschberg was the first to address the audience as he turned over numerous pages from his book, ‘Hugo Grotius, the Portuguese and Free Trade in the East Indies’ – whilst enlightening the audience of its significance in setting the norms in international relations.

The writings of Hugo Grotius have been fundamental in shaping modern thinking about international relations – thinking about sovereignty, the freedom of trade, and the concept of an international society of states.  Professor Borschberg mentioned, as power shifts away from Western nations, the issue of what is an appropriate rules-based international order is up for review and debate. Borschberg reiterated, that re-reading Grotius in his 17th-century context is vital as it shows how strongly his perspectives clashed with ideas and practices dominant in Southeast Asia at that time. Before handing over the torch to the next speaker, he further added that the works of Grotius takes us back to a period before Western global domination, when diplomacy had to come to terms with or confront a range and a contest of foreign-relations perspectives – just as increasingly it has to do today.

With the discourse approaching full flight, Professor Milner then took over the hot seat as he touched on ways forward. Ones that involved building regional institutions, forging new forms of engagement between major powers, defining and mediating different national interests in the South China Sea. Professor Milner who was appointed Basham Professor of Asian History at the Australian National University in 1994, clearly had a vast comprehension of the topic at hand, as he shared with the audience apt examples to support his theories and opinions of the ever changing paradigm shift from Western practices to the Eastern ones.

A microscopic look into the emergence of dominant Eastern practices led to the effective ways of the Chinese. This provided an ideal platform for Professor Lee Poh Ping, a senior figurehead from the Institute of China Studies, University Malaya to take over the microphone and share with the audience his years of experience learning the China markets and the country’s history in international relations. Professor Lee touched on past and current sanctions before exploring the future outlook of other Asian countries that are taking the step up.

An intense and thought provoking question and answer session soon followed. With the seminar room filled with senior scholars, foreign affairs officials from various embassies, banking officials and learned legal practitioners; the panel of speakers were bombarded with intricate questions ranging from trade commodities, Southeast Asia sultanate disputes from the 17th century, and diplomacy relations over war torn jurisdictions amongst the many. The evening was concluded with a networking session on the terraces of KLRCA’s garden pavilion.