Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Sub-Regional Cooperation and Developmental Regionalism: The Case of BIMP-EAGA

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Sub-Regional Cooperation and Developmental Regionalism: The Case of BIMP-EAGA

Article excerpt

The study of regionalism now extends well beyond its initial Eurocentric focus on the progressive stages of economic integration (e.g. free trade areas, customs unions, common markets) among regional sets of nation-states to embrace more complex forms and different types of regionalized coherence that may be mapped across the global system. Part of the so-called new regionalism theory involves the study of sub-regional zones of economic or development cooperation between contiguous border areas of different countries. Sometimes referred to as "growth triangles" or "growth polygons", these zones have become a defining feature of Southeast Asia's regionalism. Four main subregional cooperation arrangements have been initiated, namely: the Indonesia-Malaysia-Singapore Growth Triangle (IMS-GT); the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS); the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT); and the Brunei-Indonesia-Malaysia-Philippines East ASEAN Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA).

All four arrangements share the same fundamental objective: to achieve synergetic development outcomes through cross-border cooperation. The first arrangement to be launched--the IMS-GT in 1989--was driven primarily by Singapore's desire to develop an economic hinterland into which its core transnational business activities could spill over and through which it could restructure its technology and industrial sectors. This process entailed moving the lower-tech production activities of multinational enterprises based in the city-state to neighbouring locations in Johor province, Malaysia and Riau province, Indonesia, thus making space for incoming higher-tech activities into Singapore's compact industrial estates. IMS-GT was followed in the early 1990s by the GMS, IMT-GT and BIMP-EAGA. Each of these initiatives covered poorer and less developed parts of Southeast Asia and thus faced particular kinds of challenges in fostering developmental cooperation. This paper examines the case of BIMP-EAGA which was established in 1994. BIMP-EAGA is the least studied of the four sub-regional initiatives, and yet arguably faces the most difficult challenges. As discussed later, a key reason for this is the problem of fostering international development cooperation among an archipelagic set of societies and local economies, especially in terms of strengthening infrastructural connectivity among them.

As Figure 1 shows, BIMP-EAGA's zonal space comprises Brunei, parts of Indonesia (Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku and Irian Jaya), Malaysia (Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan) and the Philippines (Mindanao and Palawan). The sub-region covers a land area of over 1.6 million square kilometres and encompasses a population of around 58 million. BIMP-EAGA was primarily perceived as a mechanism to improve the socio-economic development of certain less developed and remote territories of Southeast Asia, and, by doing so, close the development gap between its constituent sub-national regions (e.g. Sulawesi) and its richer counterparts in the same country (e.g. west Java) on the one hand, and between the sub-region as a whole and richer areas of Southeast Asia on the other hand. As we argue, this approach is consistent with the concept of "developmental regionalism", whereby regional cooperation and integration (RCI) activities are particularly oriented to closing development gaps within the region. In other words, RCI entails not just removing barriers to international trade and investment (i.e. passive integration) in order to increase levels of economic exchange but also proactive integrational and cooperative measures aimed at enhancing the region's international competitiveness and development prospects. The analysis that follows discusses the opportunities and constraints facing sub-regional initiatives such as BIMP-EAGA in working to realize synergetic development objectives, and how this fits within the broader approach of developmental regionalism that prevails in East Asia. This is studied from different development capacity perspectives, and the salience of proactive integrational methods and activities are particularly noted. …

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