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.   

Interviews and Views of Kuala Lumpur

By: John McIntyre

The ALLIES JRP team is now firmly settled in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia! The 12-hour time difference to the U.S. no longer feels like the challenge it was to the students from Tufts University, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the U.S. Military Academy in the first 72 hours. They have had a very exciting couple of days exploring the culture and attractions that KL has to offer, whilst also gaining valuable insight into the differing viewpoints surrounding U.S-China competition in the region from think tanks and universities.

After exploring the bustling Petaling Street Market and securing a few incredible deals on merchandise, the students turned their focus to learning more about where Malaysia stands on the important issue of the U.S-China rivalry in the South China Sea and trade. The students headed off to their first interview of another 95° F day with 80% humidity at 9:30 AM sharp.

Professors of International Law at the University of Malaya Kuala Lumpur greeted the students and lectured from ten to eleven o’clock regarding the challenges that Malaysia faces in balancing its relationship between the U.S. and China. Before concluding the session, the students had the opportunity to ask follow-up questions while enjoying incredible traditional Malaysian breakfast snacks with tea.

Following a half-hour Grab ride (South East Asia’s Uber), the students arrived at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies to interview members of Malaysia’s premier Foreign Policy Think Tank. It was there that the students learned about the background of the Institute and how it plays a role in government affairs. The students heard interesting counterarguments to points they had heard at other institutions and universities that caused them
to re-evaluate some of their points of view.

Following the meeting, the students raced back to the hotel to get some much-needed lunch/dinner (Linner). They dived into a Japanese Barbecue restaurant and feasted on the 13-dollar (!), all-you-can-eat buffet. No stomach was left hungry by the end of the meal. The students capped off their day by paying their first group visit to the famous Petronas Twin Towers. The views were breathtaking, but the students were seemingly more infatuated with the electric scooters they used to drive to the towers. All eleven students rode small electric scooters to and from the towers and lived to tell the tale. They look forward to what comes next!

ALLIES’ Joint Research Project touches down in Kuala Lumpur

By: Nicholas Marusic

After a 24-hour trek across two oceans and the world’s seventh busiest airport, the 2023 ALLIES Joint Research Project (JRP) team finally made it to Malaysia. This year’s trip, as always, included both midshipmen from the US Naval Academy and cadets from the US Military Academy. I am also joined by two fellow Jumbos, Caroline Koon (A26) and John McIntyre (A25). For the first time, however, the research project would be split between two countries – Malaysia and Singapore. This played well into our research question, which aims to understand the effect of the US-China power struggle on the economy and national security of both of these nations. In a broader sense, all ASEAN members face a similar challenge in choosing who to accept foreign aid from, conduct military operations with, and ultimately, hedge their future on. In that regard, Malaysia and Singapore’s strategic location along the Strait of Malacca and economic success make them ideal case studies for such a relevant topic in international relations.

Our first round of interviews began an hour south of Kuala Lumpur at Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia, where three professors who specialized in maritime security presented their latest work and gave us the chance to ask questions and discuss future outlooks for the region. A big takeaway was that nuclear submarines pose a threat to the Strait of Malacca given the channel’s relatively shallow waters, as well as the US and China’s buildup of such submarines. Since international law of the sea defines the strait as a transit passage, a class of straits that are so major that individual countries cannot obstruct the flow of vessels through them. Malaysia has difficulty mitigating this risk.

The next stop was a more casual reception hosted by a former Royal Malaysian Navy captain who graduated from USNA. The more laid-back nature of this event allowed us to discuss the topic freely with him and his colleagues over traditional Malaysian food. Among other things, one of my biggest takeaways is that Malaysian coconut crepes are far better than the French ones.

While adjusting to the time zone, we found enough energy to do some sightseeing and check out both Islamic and Hindu religious sites, including the famous Batu Caves. This is evidence of Malaysia’s multiethnic culture, which has been fascinating to observe and compare to America’s diversity. We’re looking forward to our embassy visit early next week, after which we head to Singapore for a second week of interviews, research, and writing.

Bogotá Connections

By: Ashley Jones

For the past 10 days, Women in International Relations have been staying in Bogotá, Colombia. We have had the wonderful experience of meeting so many caring and knowledgeable individuals throughout this trip who has helped us explore the topic of female Venezulan migrants in Colombia. Specifically, for my research question, what are the obstacles faced by pregnant female Venezulan migrants in Colombia in accessing the health care system, it is interesting to understand the relationship between accessibility and information. From what I could gather from the interviews I had, one of the issues being faced by pregnant Venezulan migrants with a temporary protection permit (PPT) was the complexity of the Colombian healthcare system. Most were not aware of what obstetric services they were entitled to due to their PPT. Migrants not being accustomed to the Colombian healthcare system, especially impacted them in insurance of xenophobia in healthcare because they were unsure how to report it.

Other than the interviews we have done here in Colombia, we have had the opportunity to meet several IGL alums while in Bogotá. On our last full day in the city, we were able to meet with Shanti Sattler and Sebastian Chaskel, two alumni living in Bogotá and associated with work being done to help the Venezuelan migrant population in Colombia. It was interesting to talk to them about our findings as well as how Tufts had changed since they attended the university. For the rising seniors on this trip, it was comforting to hear from Sebastian and Shanti about their journeys after Tufts and how being flexible is necessary. Overall, this research trip was a great experience! I was able to not only learn so much about the ongoing obstacles faced by Venezulan migrants but expand my research skills and get to bond with so many wonderful people. I want to thank the IGL for sponsoring this once-in-a-lifetime experience.