Prior to the recent economic crisis, the Southeast Asian states of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand were among the fastest growing economies in the world. While there are many dissimilarities between the social, political and economic histories of these states, they are also linked by common experiences and structures. The common experience of late industrialisation, for example, cannot be understood without reference to the accelerated process of the internationalisation and globalisation of production and finance since the Second World War. Similarly, the colonial and pre-colonial experiences of these states is also significant. For example, the integration of Southeast Asia into the world economy arguably predates the spread of European colonialism to the region as the modern territories that constitute Southeast Asia have a long history of social, political and economic interaction with imperial China (Seagrave, 1995).
Consequently, in order to fully understand the complexities of the developmental experiences of Southeast Asia it is necessary to place these countries in their regional and global context, since relatively open trade and investment have been indispensable to their economic development. Emerging from colonialism and colonial trading arrangements, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand developed world-wide commercial ties, and in particular significant linkages with the economy of the wider Asia-Pacific region.
What is noticeable about such linkages is that they were achieved without elaborate institutional or common security frameworks. Furthermore, such linkages did not produce any sense of regional 'communal' consciousness or claims to political leadership comparable to the European Union or North America (Bergsten and Noland, 1993). Indeed the Asia-Pacific region is almost unique in having no obvious explicit regional leader (Palan and Abbott, 2000, pp. 55-77).
Nonetheless, some analysts (e.g. Cronin, 1992) view Southeast Asia as an extension of the Japanese economy. Undoubtedly, Japanese investment in the region has played a vital role in the development of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, particularly since the Plaza Accord of 1985, which precipitated