The first issue of ASEAN Economic Bulletin (AEB) was published in July 1984. It was set up to circulate research carried out by scholars in the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) and elsewhere on the key issues of the day, which were taken to include: "investment, industry, and trade; finance and monetary policy; food, energy, and commodities; transport and logistics; and political issues associated with promoting ASEAN Economic Cooperation".
In 1984, policy-makers in the region experienced a very different reality from today's. That year, Singapore's economy grew 8.2 per cent and the Philippine economy, still in the grip of Marcos, contracted by 5.5 per cent. Malaysia's GDP was smaller than the Philippines' and the country was embarking on its heavy industry drive. Economic data on Laos, Vietnam, and what was then Kampuchea was scarce and hard to come by. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had just welcomed its sixth member, Brunei, and a regional free trade agreement was not on the agenda.
That said, many issues from that time still resonate. Southeast Asia was emerging from a recession, and hopes were pinned on the positive effects of the re-election of the President of the United States. Then, as now, policy-makers in the region were grappling with: maintaining fiscal discipline; employment creation; urbanization; depletion of natural resources; and reducing non-tariff barriers.
Since the first issue of AEB, almost three decades ago, the Institute has continuously published the journal. During this time, the Bulletin has consolidated itself as an authoritative source on Southeast Asian economies and ASEAN. Seeking to reach out to policy-makers and academics alike, it has sought to reconcile the ideals of relevance, methodological rigour, and accessibility.
Early this year, the Directorship of ISEAS and AEB's Editorial Board took stock of the journal's considerable achievements. We remain committed to publishing research relevant to policy-makers and academics in the region. However, some adjustments were necessary in light of: new developments in the regional and global economic context; as well as certain existential questions that our readership has raised from time to time.
Turning first to the existential aspect, many prospective readers have assumed that this journal's focus is on ASEAN as an organization. While ASEAN--as a regional grouping that encompasses the majority of countries in Southeast Asia--is central to our identity, an even more fundamental aspect of what we do is to seek to understand questions and issues at the national level.
Furthermore, now--as in 1984--the membership of ASEAN maps imperfectly onto Southeast Asia. While ASEAN has expanded from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, and Brunei to include Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, Timor-Leste has, at the time of writing, yet to join. However, many of the issues that we cover on the ground are as relevant to Timor-Leste as they are to the formal members of ASEAN. …