ALLIES JRP: Research and Food Diplomacy in Singapore

By: John McIntyre

Welcome back to Singapore–the “Lion City” (fun fact: it was named the “Lion City” after a Sumatran Prince believed he saw a Lion on the shore of the island nation)! Our time in Singapore has been truly exceptional, but it is also remarkably different from Kuala Lumpur.

A Hawker Center in Singapore

Kuala Lumpur gives you the city-rush feeling when you’re in the heart of everything, but if you walk 10 blocks in any direction–you’re likely to be in a calmer neighborhood. However, in Singapore, it seems like no matter where you turn, something is going on. That may be because the entire country is slightly smaller than New York City. In addition, we are experiencing a higher cost of living – our USD no longer buys us the same luxuries it did in Malaysia, as the exchange rate is far less favorable. Although the trip is beginning to wind down, we still have plenty of time to enjoy and learn about Singapore and how it navigates challenges between the U.S. and China.

So far in Singapore, we have immersed ourselves in the local culture primarily through the country’s incredible food at “Hawker Centers.” Hawker Centers are small food hubs all around the city that house local vendors serving the most incredible, cheap delicacies money can buy. When not engaging in food diplomacy, we are visiting Singapore’s premier think tanks, companies, and U.S. representatives in the region. These meetings are giving us insight into the Singaporean take on U.S. Foreign Policy in the region, as well as the different strategies Singapore uses to ensure that it remains relevant in the global community. Due to its small size, Singapore relies heavily on its role as an economic force and its role as a mediator between the Great Powers. It plays this part through coordinating summits (like the Trump-Kim meeting) and the Shangri-La Dialogue. I look forward to continuing to get the Singaporean perspective on the Great Power rivalry (and the food)!

ALLIES JRP: A Day in the Life on the Research Trail

By: Nicholas Marusic

For this blog post, I’ve decided to switch up the format a bit and document what a day in the life looks like while researching on the ground in Singapore.  Our central research question asks how the US-China power competition influences the national security economics of both Malaysia and Singapore with the end goal of publishing a peer-reviewed journal article on the subject. Our research interviews are centered around this question.  

Friday, June 9th, 2023 

7:30am – Rise and shine.  Today is our first full day in Singapore after spending a week in Kuala Lumpur.  Quick iron for the dress shirt because it got pretty wrinkled en route yesterday, and then a quick shower while listening to some Malaysian pop music (highly recommended). 

8:15am – Head down to the tenth floor for hotel breakfast, highlights included passionfruit, roti, and some aloe vera yogurt.  We sat with the rest of the team (Tufts + Army + Navy) and made sure we were all on the same page for our interview questions.   

9:30am – Get in the Grab (local version of Uber) and head to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) – Asia.  We zoom up to their 49th office, which is noticeably a bit emptier after just having hosted the annual Shangri-La Dialogue, the continent’s premier security conference.  Hence, our questions are more focused on security topics, including Singapore’s role as a mediator between negotiation parties, as well as ways in which backchannel diplomacy spontaneously takes place at such a big conference.   

12:00pm – Quick lunch in the bustling basement food court of this skyscraper, where we learned (the hard way) that even placing just a tissue pack on a table means you’ve reserved it. 

12:30pm – Take a Grab across the city (and in this case, also across the country) to the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), a graduate school and think tank.  Here, we were honored to speak with a group of nine different professors, so we split up into groups to better narrow in on topics.  My specific group focused on economics, so we went in-depth on Singapore’s trade flows, political economy, and role as a financial hub for so many multinational corporations, all amidst the backdrop of US-China great power competition.  This was all followed by a detailed hour-long presentation on China’s Belt and Road Initiative in Southeast Asia, which helped illustrate the more nuanced reality of the strategy and how its implementation has varied widely by country.  

4:00pm – Head back across town to the hotel for a bit of downtime.  Got a quick lift in and then changed into some more casual clothes for a dinner with the local Navy League.   

6:30pm – Hop on the Northeast Line and head three stops south to Lau Pa Sat, the downtown district’s trademark Hawker Center.  The Navy League treated us to Chinese BBQ skewers, which included both chicken and prawn.  Despite the more laid-back setting, we still kept our research question in the back of our mind and got to hear an American perspective on the topic. 

ALLIES JRP: Reaching the Halfway Point on the Last Day in Kuala Lumpur

By: Caroline Koon

We are officially over halfway through JRP 2023—one country down, one to go. Our week in Malaysia was fantastic; we met with so many incredible individuals and got to have some very interesting discussions. A particular highlight for me was our visit to the Malaysian Ministry of Defense. We had the privilege of talking with some high-ranking officials about maritime security and the 10-year plan laid out in the Defense White Paper. The comprehensive breakdown of Malaysia’s security strategy was great and we learned a lot. We wrapped up our time in Kuala Lumpur with a visit to the U.S. Embassy and then headed to Singapore. 

Though we’ve only been here for a day, Singapore has exceeded our expectations. We were graciously greeted by several Singaporean USNA and USMA alumni for dinner. The food was good but, at risk of sounding cliché, the company was even better. Tufts, USNA, and USMA students chatted with these alumni, all currently serving in the Singaporean Armed Forces, about everything from public housing to how to be a global citizen. I know I speak for us all when I say we are grateful for such a warm welcome. 

Looking forward, we’ve got a packed schedule. I’m writing this from a Grab (Southeast Asia’s Uber equivalent) as we head to our second meeting today (out of four!). It’s a busy trip, but I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m so thankful for the opportunities we have had so far and can’t wait for what the next week holds.   

Homecoming Reflection

Sunset in Colombia

By: Tomas Gomez

Today was my last day at home. Since moving from Colombia to the US to study, I have traveled back home several times, but this time was different. This time, I didn’t come to see my family and friends, or just relax in my hometown; this time I came to investigate and analyze solutions to land-owning inequality, one of the deepest-seated roots that has been driving the internal conflict in Colombia for almost a century. 

I have met with congresspeople, activists, functionaries, professors, and other experts in the field to obtain a comprehensive view of the issue and deconstruct all the potential and shortcomings of the Agrarian Reform being implemented by the current government. Carrying out such a project has taught me to see my country in a new light and provided me with academic knowledge that I will use in the future to help transform the reality of my country. 

I hope that my research, which I’m conducting and writing in Spanish (I will then translate to English) can be used by the interested citizen to learn more about this critical policy that could seriously transform the socioeconomic landscape of Colombia for the better, and by government officials who could use it as a frame of reference to inform and support policy changes and decisions. 

Graffiti as Public Art in Bogota

By: Audrey Jaramillo

Today, during my visit to Bogota, I had the incredible opportunity to conduct an interview with Gabriel Ortiz van Meerbeke, the author of the article titled “Graffiti takes its own space: Negotiated Consent and the Positionings of street artists and graffiti writers in Bogotá, Colombia.” I was particularly thrilled about this interview since our research interests intersected, and I was eager to gain not only Gabriel’s insights but also learn about his personal journey throughout his research. As it turns out, Gabriel currently serves as a cultural manager for the city of Bogota, which provided a fascinating alternative perspective, more focused on the government’s involvement in commissioned art and the ongoing debate surrounding the legality and respect of graffiti. 

After the interview, I was joined by Angel, where we went to visit Camilo Lopez, director of Vertigo Graffiti. The company is known for its exceptional work in designing and producing captivating public art. Our meeting with Camilo took place in the Bronx, a low-income neighborhood within Bogota. Camilo unveiled a new project—a remake of their infamous mural depicting a moment between a homeless couple sharing a kiss. This project is connected to the transformation the city of Bogota has planned for the Bronx. 

First Days in Sri Lanka

Members of the SARC in Colombo, Sri Lanka

By: Arjun Bagur

Our stay in Sri Lanka began with lunch at the historic Tintagel hotel in Colombo, the former house of the first South Asian female Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Our hotel was located in the heart of the city, with strong British and Dutch influences. While severely jet lagged, we reached out to local policy institutes and research organizations like Advocata and the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute. We conversed with Murtaza Jafferjee and Dhananath Fernando at Advocata, who scheduled interviews with various policy experts for the following week. Friday afternoon was spent on communications with various academics, activists, and civil society leaders like heads of non-profit organizations and human rights attorneys.

On Saturday we visited historic Galle and the surrounding areas, touring the old colonial battlements of Galle Fort and the Dutch Hospital district. We learnt much about the legacies of colonial rule, exemplified by the centuries-old fortifications and more surprisingly, a “Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie” (the Dutch East India Company)-themed cafe. In Galle, and many towns ‘down south’, local restaurants, bars, and cafés make a concerted effort to cater to European visitors. The economy of Sri Lanka had been hit hard by Covid-19, which gutted the tourism sector on the island. In an effort to attract tourists, especially wealthier ones who can afford to come to Sri Lanka, locals have put up signs in Russian and French. Despite the depredation caused by the pandemic, locals were friendly and conversational. At the Meera Masjid, workers in the mosque shared their experiences of being Muslim in Sri Lanka. They highlighted the differences in treatment in coastal communities versus inland communities, noting that coastal towns tended to be more heterogeneous and cosmopolitan, and therefore more harmonious. Galle Fort was a prime example of peaceful communitarian coexistence. However, the shadow of Covid-19 falls over the island as Sri Lankans lament the price of fuel due to the falling value of the Lankan rupee against the dollar. Inflation and unemployment have risen dramatically in the last few years, and it is especially apparent in the once-vibrant tourist towns of Bentota and Hikkaduwa.