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


The COVID-19 pandemic pulls at the seams of Southeast Asia

A worker cleans a plastic barrier after customers had lunch at the Penguin Eat Shabu hotpot restaurant that reopened after the easing of restrictions with the implementation of a plastic barrier and social distancing measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bangkok, Thailand, 8 May, 2020 (Photo:Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha).

Author: Hunter Marston, ANU

The worst of the COVID-19 pandemic may be yet to come for many Southeast Asian countries, though some, such as Vietnam, have seen relative success in containing the virus. Read more…

China’s post-COVID-19 woes to flow through the Mekong

Checking body temperatures for people at a station for COVID-19 prevention and control in Tu Ky district, the northern province of Hai Duong on 5 April, 2020.

Author: Heidi Dahles, Griffith University

As China shows signs of recovery from the COVID-19 outbreak, speculations abound about what a post-COVID-19 future will look like. Amid the cacophony of voices, consensus is gathering that global power balances will shift. What this shift might entail is fiercely debated. Some see China rising to global leadership and offering resources and experience to those currently battling the pandemic. Others suspect that China is engaging in a sinister campaign to push other countries further into dependency. Read more…

Laos on course to graduate from least developed country status

Authors: Buavanh Vilavong and Sitthiroth Rasphone, Vientiane

Past policies that have enabled Laos to meet the UN’s least developed country (LDC) graduation thresholds are no longer adequate to ensure sustainable development. The focus of future policies should be on fostering greater productive capacity, increased economic diversification and enabling a stronger business environment. Read more…

China’s hegemonic choice in the Mekong region

A Chinese boat with a team of geologists surveys the Mekong River, at the border between Laos and Thailand, 23 April 2017 (Photo: Reuters/Jorge Silva).

Author: Sebastian Biba, Goethe University Frankfurt

If you are the world’s second-largest power, what do you dream about? How do you go about making this dream come true? Read more…

ASEAN’s Safe Migration Campaign comes up short

A Myanmar migrant worker sells chickens at a market in Bangkok, Thailand, 16 October 2018. (Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun)

Author: Tommy KS Koh, Singapore

The ASEAN Safe Migration Campaign was launched in December 2018 at the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta. Building on the 2017 ASEAN Consensus on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers signed in Manila, the campaign seeks to ‘raise public awareness on safe labour migration that benefits all’. While well-intentioned, the campaign is hindered by a simplistic concept of safe migration that falls short of addressing the challenges faced by migrant workers in the region.

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Can the China–Laos railway keep on track?

Workers build on a Chinese-funded bridge. (Photo: Reuters/Samrang Pring).

Author: Selina Ho, NUS

Of all the railway projects that Chinese companies are constructing in Southeast Asia, the China–Laos railway has proceeded most rapidly. Construction began in December 2016 and swung into full gear by mid-2017, involving six Chinese contractors from subsidiaries of the state-owned China Railway Group.

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Laos’ rapid economic growth path has so far avoided macroeconomic cliffs

Laos’ Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith speaks at the plenary session of the World Economic Forum on ASEAN at the Convention Center in Hanoi, Vietnam, 12 September 2018 (Reuters/Kham).

Author: Buavanh Vilavong, Vientiane

Laos is one of the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia. On average the country’s economy has grown by 7.5 per cent per year and trade by 17 per cent per year since 2000, reflecting the importance of trade as a key driver of its growth. While Laos is on its way to graduating from ‘least developed country’ (LDC) status, the nation still needs to overcome ongoing macroeconomic and structural challenges. Read more…

Beating the backlog in Lao courts

An en-banc session at the Supreme Court in Manila, Philippines, 19 June 2018 (Photo: Reuters/Erik De Castro).

Author: Marcus M Baltzer, Governance and Justice Group

Law courts in many Asian countries are overburdened. A perfect storm of factors including rapid economic growth, urbanisation, industrialisation and the withering away of traditional governance systems has caused the number of both criminal and civil cases to soar. At the same time, courts are often ill-equipped to cope with the increasing pressure. Read more…

China is making Mekong friends

China's State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi arrives at the National Convention Center during the Mekong Greater Sub-Region Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, 31 March 2018 (Photo: Minh Hoang/Pool via Reuters).

Author: Nguyen Khac Giang, VEPR

Since Chinese President Xi Jinping took over power in 2012, Southeast Asia has become a focal point of China’s geopolitical ambitions. Instead of the clandestine and illegal tactics seen under Mao Zedong, the current strategy combines two major approaches: building Chinese-led institutional mechanisms and buying support with a flood of aid, concessional loans and investments. Read more…

Will costs continue to cage Laos’ regional connectivity?

A worker pushes bananas along a packing line at a banana plantation operated by a Chinese company in the province of Bokeo in Laos, 24 April 2017 (Photo: Reuters/Jorge Silva).

Author: Buavanh Vilavong, ANU

Laos is among the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia: economic growth has averaged 7.8 per cent over the past decade. Despite the slow recovery of the global economy, the country’s growth rate was 6.9 per cent in 2017 and is expected to be 7 per cent in 2018. This is buoyed by an expansion in electricity production, manufacturing and agriculture, and it occurs despite a slight drop in tourist arrivals. Read more…

Organised crime threatening the development of Southeast Asia

Cambodia's authorities prepare confiscated drugs before burning during a ceremony to mark the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 26 June 2017. (Photo: Reuters/Samrang Pring).

Author: Jeremy Douglas, UN Office on Drugs and Crime

On 19 June 2017,  the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) organised a General Assembly debate to warn that crime groups are globalising and are now primary threats to security and development. The debate also featured a special briefing on Southeast Asia, a region that is particularly vulnerable to the reach and influence of organised crime. Read more…

Getting organised on Asian drug trade

Members of the Philippines' armed forces on a drug raid in Manila in October 2016. Rather than reduce crime, hard-line policies may consolidate drug groups. (Photo: Damir Sagolj/Reuters).

Author: Roderic Broadhurst, ANU

The immense demand for amphetamine-type stimulants (or ATS, such as crystal methamphetamine and ecstasy), opiates and new psychoactive substances among the increasingly wealthy urban residents of East Asia — and beyond — has revitalised organised crime in the region. Read more…

Can Laos restore growth while global economic uncertainty reigns?

An agricultural farmer works in a field in Khammouane province, Laos (Photo: Reuters/Aubrey Belford).

Author: Buavanh Vilavong, ANU

Laos is among the fastest growing economies in Southeast Asia, with growth rates averaging 7 per cent since 2000. But the Lao economy has trended downwards in recent years. Amid global economic uncertainty, it remains to be seen how Laos will manage its macroeconomic policies and export diversification strategy. Read more…

Tough times in the Laos garment industry

Author: Vanthana Nolintha, National Economic Research Institute

The Lao garment industry has been on the decline. The value of exports increased from US$87 million in 1995 to a peak of US$219 million in 2011, before gradually falling to US$174 million in 2015. The share of garments in total exports also declined from an average of 36 per cent during 2001–2005, to only 8 per cent during 2011–2015.

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China divides ASEAN in the South China Sea

Author: Sampa Kundu, IDSA

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s whirlwind tour of Brunei, Cambodia and Laos during 22–24 April 2016 courted support for his country’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. But the issue of China’s policy in the South China Sea has created a fault line across ASEAN, complicating the unity and effectiveness of the regional grouping. Read more…