Vietnam Academy Of Social Sciences
Name: Institute for Southeast Asian Studies
Phone: 84-4.6.2730483
Fax: 84-4.6.2730430
Address: 8th Floor, No 1 Lieu Giai, Ba Dinh Dist., Hanoi

Functions and tasks of Institute for Southeast Asian Studies

The Institute for Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) was founded according to the Decree No. 96/HDBT of the Council of Ministers on 9 September 1983. It is an institution under the administration of Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences (VASS). The Institute is regulated to undertake some functions and tasks, including:

1. To do theoretical and empirical research on basic issues in Southeast Asia from the perspective of regional and national studies, in order to build scientific grounds for strategy-planning and policy-making involved with internal and regional foreign relations of the Communist Party and the Government; To provide teaching and disseminate knowledge about Southeast Asia; To provide postgraduate training and consultancy relating to Southeast Asia; and, to develop potentialities of Southeast Asian research for the whole country.

2. To have the legal personality, a private stamp and a bank account according to the law. It receives funding from the State Budget for activities through annual financial plans submitted to VASS.  

3. In addition, the Institute has to undertake some other tasks, such as: to do research on relations between Southeast Asian countries and other countries in the world; to hold verification and scientific appraisal of programs/projects at different ministries, sectors and locations as assigned by VASS; to develop cooperation with local as well as international partners in accordance with the regulations; to exchange and disseminate information and research findings; and, to be responsible for management of the Institute structure, personnel, assets, and budget according to the State and VASS regulations.

As soon as ISEAS was founded (its predecessor is the Department of Southeast Asian Studies, for the 1973 - 1983 period), it aimed research programs/projects in close attachment with historical and cultural aspects at following issues:

+ There was a Southeast Asian ancient civilization separated from the Chinese and Indian civilizations. It is the wet-rice civilization with the native origin and cultural particularities of ethnic groups.  

+ Formation of ancient nations in Southeast Asia and the emergence of different Asian civilizations, firstly those in India and China.

Research works on the two issues have helped to set up a historical and cultural panorama of the Southeast Asian region, in which historical factors are not only a basic area for research, but also a framework of analysis to get thorough understanding of cultural factors.

In the field of historical study, the most significant contribution is made by the prehistoric archaeology. The Institute, therefore, focused research on regional archaeological projects. And then, it accomplished successfully an archaeological project on prehistoric Southeast Asia. This is really significant to come to following affirmations:

+ Before contacting the Chinese civilization in the North and the Indian civilization in the South, Southeast Asia already had its native civilization that developed continually from the Paleolithic Era to the Post-Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age.

+ Based on the formation history of different areas as well as changes in the natural environment in Southeast Asia, we can affirm that natural conditions of the Southeast Asia haven’t changed much since the Renovation Era. At the same time, discoveries of the traces of ancient people in Southeast Asia reveal that this region is where the dawn of mankind took place and it used to be one of the centers, where races were formed with specific development characteristics of the Paleolithic Era in Southeast Asia.

+ After the Neolithic Era, ancient people in Southeast Asia came in the Iron Age, in which the metallurgy of bronze and iron was developed a lot. Big centers of metallurgy were established, such as Dong Son Metallurgy Center (in Northern Vietnam), Sa Huynh Metallurgy Center (in Central Vietnam), Bac Chua Metallurgy Center (in Southern Vietnam), Non Noktha Metallurgy Center (in Northeastern Thailand), Dontaphet – Lopburi Metallurgy Center (in Central Thailand) etc… Those metallurgy centers had close linkages with each other, creating socio-economic conditions for foundation of ancient nations in Southeast Asia in the early centuries A.D.

In addition to contributions in the field of prehistoric archaeology, ISEAS has also made contributions towards further understanding of foundation, development, declination and collapse of Southeast Asian ancient nations. The Institute’s researchers assume that ancient kingdoms in the region were established in the basins of rivers. Local inhabitants knew how to grow rice as the main plant for food and how to domesticate cows and buffaloes to be used for farming. They were really skilled in fishing and doing aquatic work. They knew how to make ceramics, how to build a house of wood, how to raise livestock, and how to weave fabric.

In the past, ones just mentioned the commercial exchange between India and Southeast Asia and between China and Southeast Asia, but some researchers of the Institute such as Ngo Van Doanh and Nguyen Thi Thi, argued that in addition to those trade routes, there was an another trade route like the Maritime Silk Road that not only linked India with Southeast Asia, but also linked China – Southeast Asia – India – Arabic world and the West. The maritime Silk Road is one of the major factors for development of powerful feudal states, crowded urban centers, trade firms, and seaports in Southeast Asia, where immigrants from China, India, and Arabs made significant contributions towards cultural changes and emergence of new religions and ideologies.

Apart from research papers on Southeast Asian history published in the Southeast Asian Studies Review, recently researchers of the Institute have also collaborated with other institutions to complete the series “Southeast Asian History”, which consists of 6 volumes edited by Prof. Dr. Tran Khanh as the chief author. By now, the three volumes, including volume 4, 5, and 6, have been accomplished.

Regarding to cultural studies, the first to be mentioned here is the research work of Cao Huy Dinh, the first director of the Department of Southeast Asian Studies. He received the Ho Chi Minh Prize for his three publications, including: To study processes of Vietnamese folklore; Hero of Dong Village; and, To study Indian Mythology.

Another contribution towards Southeast Asian cultural research is that researchers of the Institute have successfully clarified the cultural contacts shown through refraction of nonnative phenomena. The refraction shows the extent, at which borrowed factors were localized, depending on behavior and selection of each specific nation.

In the past, exchanges between Southeast Asia and India as well as China partly resulted in foundation of ancient nations with their own traditional cultures. And then, exchanges with the West in the modern time helped to affirm the sense of national independence and determine the way to build modern society of Southeast Asian inhabitants. This has made Southeast Asia, which was inherently diversified, become further diversified.

Based on the opinion about cultural contacts, ISEAS researchers proposed a hypothesis to clarify differences in the evolution of oral literature into written literature in Southeast Asian countries. The hypothesis argues that those nations, which were influenced by Chinese culture (like Vietnam), obtained more achievements in written literature; for those nations, which were influenced by Indian culture (like Cambodia and Indonesia), obtained more achievements in architecture.

Due to such a conception, ISEAS researchers assume that Southeast Asian literature was “dissolved” in cultures; it is closely attached with other genres of arts to express feelings and ideas of man and society. It is therefore necessary to use multi- and inter-disciplinary methods to explain about phenomena and processes of Southeast Asian literature. In this field, Prof. Dr. Ngo Van Doanh made a hallmark with his research works on Cham culture. It is the very research area that he pursued for many decades. He made a lot of contributions towards cultural research achievements of the Institute generally, and research achievements in Cham culture specifically.

Regarding to the anthropology, ISEAS researchers have also made considerable contributions in some areas, such as: sea and coastal landscape; plain landscape; midland landscape; mountainous landscape (including valleys in the foot of mountains, sloping mountain sides, and plain areas in high mountains). Each of the landscapes regulates a specific type of culture. Diversified landscapes therefore resulted in diversified cultures and ethnicities as well. ISEAS researchers also affirm the socio-ethnic viewpoint on existence of three social types, including: 1) Village-like social institution in plain areas; 2) Muong prestate-like social institution in valleys of the foot of mountains; and, 3) Social institution of the chieftain regime in dryland agricultural areas.

Besides, anthropological researchers of the Institute have clarified a truth that all Southeast Asian countries have been multi-ethnic, of which some ethnic groups have been dominant, since the ancient time. At the same time, people of the same ethnic group might reside in many countries.

ISEAS researchers have also cooperated with researchers from Thailand in carrying out research on issues of Thai people outside Thailand. Some specific research findings have been done in this area as below:

+ Traditional cultural characteristics of Thais (in terms of farming, housing architecture, clothes, medical treatment, village structure, industrial rituals and festivities, ancestor worship, and village building, etc…) are most preserved in Vietnam generally. Some research books or movies in Thai language and English have been released widely inside and outside Thailand, contributing a part towards advertising Vietnam tourism.

+ The migration from Southern China resulted in the separation of Thai – Kadai ethnic groups in Vietnam. Ethnic groups, therefore, have very diversified linkages of origin at present; for instance, the linkages between Tay people and Nung people, between Tay people and Thai people, and between Cao Lan people and San Chay people etc…

+ While researchers of Thai studies in Vietnam denied the existence of the group of red Thais, ISEAS researchers in the cooperation team argued that the red Thais used to live in some areas of Thanh Hoa, Nghe An, and Laos according to findings of their large-scale comparative research, in which synchronic analyses were combined with diachronic ones. Due to certain historical conditions, the red Thais had to change their ethnic name in order to join the Thai community (including black Thais and white Thais); however, they can be recognized through the cultural particularities of the red Thais, if researchers have a thorough observation. To come to the final conclusion, it is necessary to do further surveys. However, at present, this viewpoint can be seen as a new topic for follow-up research.

Regarding to the field of religious research, ISEAS researchers realize that religions and beliefs in Southeast Asia are always important, and even decisive, factors for the formation of regional cultural particularities.

Regarding to the field of national movement research, ISEAS researchers have highlighted common characteristics of national liberation movements in the region, as below: 1) From the late 19th century to the early 20th century, the major trend of national liberation movements was the bourgeois democratic; 2) There was co-existence of two tendencies, including the bourgeois democratic and the proletarian, in the national liberation movements; 3) There were different ways to get national liberation, in which the struggle of revolutionary violence caused significant impacts on others such as political and diplomatic ones.

In the publication titled “National harmony of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia”, the three authors, including Pham Nguyen Long, Pham Duc Thanh, and Nguyen Hao Hung, argue that national harmony is the major trend of all countries in the region. At present, Southeast Asia is the region of national harmony and Southeast Asian countries have cooperation in dealing with regional problems through peaceful methods.

Based on the State-level social science research project No.06.04 titled Capitalism and the publication titled Development traits of ASEAN countries, ISEAS researchers have come to the conclusion about capitalism in Southeast Asian countries as below: Capitalism in ASEAN countries is peripheral and dependant, bureaucratic and militaristic; and it is still on the way to head gradually towards modern capitalism. Southeast Asian governments have few policies to encourage scientific and technological advancements, but they just focus on benefiting from the technological achievements of advanced countries. Industrial capitalists in ASEAN are, consequently, fledgling and dependent on capital, technology and consumption markets of overseas enterprises. Due to the capital, technology and market dependence as well as the weakness of local technology, the capitalism in ASEAN countries is also dependent as a transplanted part of the capitalism from advanced countries. The capitalism in ASEAN countries therefore carries the characteristics of peripheral capitalism.

Another outstanding trait of the capitalism in ASEAN countries is that the State capitalism plays the key role in economy. It is bureaucratic, discriminatory, and arbitrary; the power is highly centralized in some groups, which are often militaristic corporations in two areas: political and economic.    

One of the typical traits of the capitalism in ASEAN countries, which has been realized by the Institute’s researchers, is that the capitalism in ASEAN countries carries the insular national consciousness in economic and political areas. Furthermore, they highlight 6 common traits of ASEAN countries as below: 1) All ASEAN countries started their development with agriculture; 2) They at first used a lot of laborers and then started to use more capital and high technique; 3) They moved from import-replacement industrialization to export-oriented industrialization; 4) They all depend on overseas capital, technology and market; 5) The State plays an important role in socio-economic development; 6) They expand and diversify cooperation areas within the region and then with outside.

ISEAS researchers have analyzed profoundly issues involved with ASEAN: they highlighted the reasons why ASEAN was established; they found out characteristics of ASEAN and described fully the entire development of ASEAN since its formation; they also conducted research works on the Southeast Asian security cooperation, particularly the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). In addition, the Institute also focused research on issues relating to the regional security at the post cold-war time, such as religions, races, territorial conflicts, natural resources, and non-traditional security issues (illegal migration, trafficking in weapons, prostitution, and drug abuse, etc…). Findings of the research works at ISEAS have proved that religious and racial conflicts in Southeast Asia at present mainly come from unequal development in different areas and locations within each country, but they do not come from religious or racial contradictions. To solve thoroughly the conflicts, ASEAN countries need to encourage local people, especially those in remote and mountainous areas, to take part in the common process of development of the whole country and it is necessary to allocate development benefits more fairly.

ISEAS researchers have also shown the necessity, impacts, results as well as shortcomings of cooperation between ASEAN and other countries. They have studied different stages of ASEAN development as well as formation of ASEAN+3, ASEAN+6 for cooperation with powerful countries such as USA, China, Japan, India, Russia, EU etc… At the same time, prospects of the cooperation with those partners have been also analyzed. It is remarkable that ISEAS researchers always pay special attention to Vietnam in their research works on ASEAN, highlighting Vietnam’s position and role in international integration generally and ASEAN specifically.

Apart from the above-mentioned contributions, research works at ISEAS also focus on discussion about burning issues in the region, such as the conflicts in South China Sea, Thailand – Cambodian Border Conflicts etc…

Along with fundamental research as well as research works on contemporary issues of Southeast Asia, the Institute has also made a significant contribution in the field of training and consultancy. For 10 years (before the function of training was completely moved to the Graduate Academy of Social Sciences - GASS), the Institute provided postgraduate training for more than 20 PhD students, who are now qualified researchers at institutes or lecturers at universities. At present, ISEAS researchers are also effectively taking part in capacity building for junior researchers and teachers at VASS as well as many other institutions and universities all over the country.

In addition to accomplishment of all research tasks, the Institute has also undertaken successfully the task of exchanging and disseminating scientific information. The Southeast Asian Studies Review is a really prestigious forum on Southeast Asian studies in Vietnam. It releases a volume in Vietnamese every month and two volumes in English every year, providing properly research findings of scholars from ISEAS and other institutions as well. For 40 years of its establishment and development, the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies has published more than 100 books and thousands of research papers in local and overseas professional journals. Thanks to all the achievements, ISEAS has honorably received the Labor Medals (the second class and the first class), the Independence Medal (the third class) and many other noble awards from the Government.