Publication in Economics, Politics and Public Policy in East Asia and the Pacific


A collective ASEAN response to COVID-19

An official wearing a face mask looks on as Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc attends a special video conference with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) on the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Hanoi 14 April 2020 (Photo: Reuters/Manan Vatsyayana).

Author: Hsien-Li Tan, NUS

When COVID-19 cases first appeared in the ASEAN region early in 2020, there were fears that public health systems would be overwhelmed. Responses around the region have varied. After decisive action — and missteps — in the initial months, Vietnam, Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore are now cautiously relaxing restrictions while working to avert a second wave. Indonesia and the Philippines continue to see significantly higher infection and death rates, leading to strong criticism against the Jokowi and Duterte administrations.

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Brunei’s stoning for ‘gay-sex’ law flies under the radar

Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah inspects an honour guard during the 34th National Day celebrations in Bandar Seri Begawan, 24 February 2018 (Reuters/Ahim Rani).

Author: Ann Black, University of Queensland

In April 2019, the words ‘Sultan’, ‘Brunei’, ‘stoning’ and ‘gay-sex’ were trending globally. Condemnation of Brunei’s death by stoning law for proven acts of liwat — consensual intimacy between men — came from governments, the European Parliament, UN and other international human rights bodies, NGOs and a host of celebrities including George Clooney and Richard Branson. Sanctions were threatened and boycotts called for. Read more…

The state of Islam in Brunei

Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah waves to people as he passes in a procession to mark his golden jubilee of his accession to the throne in Bandar Seri Begawan 5 October, 2017 (Photo: Reuters/Rani).

Author: Kerstin Steiner, La Trobe University

Brunei is a politically stable country whose extensive oil and gas resources make it one of the richest countries in the world. Oil wealth arguably allows the state to control the population through financial incentives such as no income tax and subsidised petrol. But this wealth is now coming under threat with the decline of oil prices and crude reserves. Brunei experienced four years of recession (2012–2016) from which it has only marginally recovered since 2017. The perceived thread to economic growth and stability went hand in hand with an increased focus on Islam in Brunei. Still, it is very important to note that Islam has always played a pivotal role in the political landscape of Brunei.

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Brunei must diversify its spluttering economy

Author: Paul Pryce, UPH Analytics

The small Southeast Asian state of Brunei Darussalam has long enjoyed considerable affluence, thanks in large part to its exports of crude oil and liquefied natural gas to resource-hungry neighbours like Japan and India. According to 2010 data, GDP per capita was US$51,600 and Bruneians enjoy the total absence of sales taxes or personal income tax.

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ASEAN’s haphazard response to MH370 disaster

Author: Jacob Hogan, Chulalongkorn University

ASEAN’s Search and Rescue (SAR) response to the MH370 disaster highlighted both regional solidarity and poor cooperation. The speed at which ASEAN nations provided resources to the SAR efforts showed that there was a willingness to work together — but there were no mechanisms in place to coordinate a regional response. Read more…

The Trans-Pacific Partnership as a tool to contain China: myth or reality?

Author: Sanchita Basu Das, ISEAS

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is in its 17th round of negotiations and the leaders are expecting to reach an agreement by October this year.

Since the launch of its framework in 2011, the negotiations were joined by Canada and Mexico in December 2012, and by Japan in April 2013. Read more…

ASEAN’s chairmanship in 2013 and 2014

Author: Rodolfo C. Severino, ISEAS

For the first time in the organisation’s history, ASEAN foreign ministers failed to issue the normal joint communiqué at the end of their annual meeting last July.

Many people fear the same historic debacle could repeat itself this year and the next.  Read more…

ASEAN all quiet on the Sabah front

Author: Kevin H.R. Villanueva, University of Leeds

Amid the spiralling chaos in Lahad Datu, Sabah, a crucial question has been put forth which no one has yet explored: what can ASEAN do?

The answer is, put plainly and simply, nothing. Read more…

Beyond the six points: how far will Indonesia go?

Author: Donald K Emmerson, Stanford University

On 20 July ASEAN finally replaced an embarrassing silence with a six-point consensus. Cambodian Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hor Namhong announced the six points in Phnom Penh after he had failed to convey the usual joint statement summarising the deliberations of an ASEAN foreign ministers’ meeting earlier in the week.

The communiqué was delayed over disagreements on whether and how to mention the recent stand-off between China and the Philippines over the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. Read more…

South China Sea disputes: why ASEAN must unite

Author: Aileen S. P. Baviera, University of the Philippines

After teetering on the edge all through the month, the ASEAN Humpty Dumpty abruptly fell off its wall on 13 July and broke into pieces. The grouping failed to issue a joint communiqué following the meeting in Phnom Penh due to differences on how to reflect discussions on the South China Sea disputes.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa had to fly to ASEAN capitals to try to put Humpty together again Read more…

Brunei Darussalam: an electoral feint

Author: William Case, City University of Hong Kong

One of the reasons that Brunei Darussalam stands out in Southeast Asian politics is its status as an absolute sultanate: it stakes out the authoritarian end of the region’s wide spectrum of regime types.

Despite this reputation, the country’s Ministry of Home Affairs announced in March 2011 that an election would take place for the Legislative Council. Under Brunei’s original constitution, a council with elected members had been set up. But in 1970, just three years after ascending to the throne, the Sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, banned electoral contests Read more…

ASEAN: a united front to tackle the South China Sea issue

Author: Sanchita Basu Das, ISEAS

ASEAN concluded its 20th Summit on 4 April 2012. The discussion shifted away from building an ASEAN Community, to debates over territorial disputes in the South China Sea between China, Taiwan and four ASEAN member states (the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam).

There was significant debate on whether China should be invited to take part in the drafting of the code of conduct, envisioned as a legally binding document to prevent small incidents in the South China Sea from escalating into bigger conflicts. Read more…

The South China Sea dispute: a legal solution needed

Author: John Hemmings, CSIS, Honolulu

At both the APEC and ASEAN summits, attempts were made to deal with the building impasse over the South China Sea issue.

Tensions over the region have grown steadily since 2009, after China, Vietnam and Malaysia submitted their respective claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). China’s naval exercises in the region and apparent willingness to showcase its military capabilities in favour of its claims have also exacerbated these tensions. Read more…

Why Timor-Leste should join ASEAN now

Author: President J. Ramos-Horta, Timor-Leste

Our desire to join ASEAN is a long-standing one and in the last 10 years we have shown unequivocal determination to join the organisation.

Geographically, we are very much part of Southeast Asia. Indonesia has shown statesmanship, vision and a real sense of history by being among those who are most strongly advocating for Timor-Leste’s early membership — as early as this year. Read more…

Trans-Pacific Partnership talks in Singapore: Now it gets difficult

Author: Deborah K. Elms, NTU

Trade officials across nine countries will meet in Singapore from 28 March 2011 for the latest round of Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

This is the sixth time officials have met for the TPP — pitched as a ‘21st century, high-quality’ agreement — with the goal of completing the agreement by the November APEC meeting in Honolulu. Read more…