Introduction

By Singh, Daljit; Salazar, Lorraine C. | Southeast Asian Affairs, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Introduction


Singh, Daljit, Salazar, Lorraine C., Southeast Asian Affairs


This introduction to Southeast Asian Affairs 2007 seeks to draw out the major themes and issues that are woven into the narratives of the four regional, eleven country, and five thematic articles, as well as provides a preview of the articles in this volume.

Southeast Asian economies demonstrated vibrant growth in 2006 and a much better capacity to deal with internal and external shocks. All countries were keenly aware of the need to attract investments and to reform regulatory and policy impediments. The region's economic prospects were buoyed by the fast-growing Chinese and Indian economies and the revival of the Japanese economy. Vietnam stood out as having the highest growth rate among the major countries in Southeast Asia. Its admission into the World Trade Organization (WTO) held out promise of even better economic prospects ahead, though much work still needs to be done to make the country more business friendly. The city state of Singapore, with its mature domestic economy, was reinventing itself as a services hub. Indonesia, the largest country in the region, needed to carry out more reform to be able to attract the investments needed for a higher growth rate, but overall it was moving in the right direction. There were signs that Malaysia too was seeking to ease some of the controls and regulations that have discouraged foreign investment. Myanmar was likely see greater revenues from oil and gas in the future, making Western sanctions even more irrelevant.

There was little danger of inter-state conflict within the region. Relations between the major powers were reasonably amicable, with some improvement towards the end of the year in the difficult China-Japan relationship, while potential flashpoints like Korea and Taiwan remained fairly well managed, at least for the time being. International terrorism remained a threat but within Southeast Asia progress was being made in neutralizing terrorist elements in Indonesia and southern Philippines, though terrorism remains a long-term problem needing much more than military and security means to overcome it.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meanwhile remained active on two broad fronts: to achieve its own better integration, especially in the economic sphere, and to help build a new regional order in East and Southeast Asia through the East Asia Summit (EAS), the ASEAN Regional Forum, and other ASEAN-related forums and cooperative arrangements. The first, necessary to give ASEAN greater cohesiveness both for economic and geopolitical reasons, remained painfully slow; the second remained work-in-progress, with no significant new development in 2006.

In regional politics, barring the disruptions in Thailand and Timor-Leste, there was more continuity than change in 2006. Unsurprisingly, the elections in Singapore confirmed once again the dominance of the People's Action Party while the party congresses in Vietnam and Laos, though followed by some changes of personnel, harbingered no real change in the basic thrust of policies. Thus regime stability and continuity prevailed in the region with the exception of Thailand and Timor-Leste. On the flip side, as it were, continuity and persistence could also be seen in the problems that have long plagued Southeast Asia - problems of governance, internal conflicts within states, and democratization or the lack of it.

Democratic consolidation continued in Indonesia, where it would still take years to develop the institutions and the level of governance needed to make democracy resilient and entrenched. Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, there was a significant setback in Thailand. The post-coup government was likely to frame a constitution that retreats from some of the tenets of liberal democracy enshrined in the 1997 Constitution. Debates were ongoing in the country on the kind of political system that would best suit it, with some voices calling for a "Thai-style democracy" based on Thai traditions and culture. …

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