Ever wondered about Southeast Asia’s contribution to ocean pollution?
The graphic above gives the bad news.
What are the leading trade partnerships in Southeast Asia?
I am glad you asked the question, because I spent far longer than I should have (and wanted to!) using extremely primitive Microsoft Office tools seeking to answer the question in two graphs.
In the first image below is each Southeast Asian nation depicted by the largest source of imports. And yes, if it is too small to see clearly, that import source is China in every country except miniscule Brunei and impoverished Laos, the latter being an economic adjunct to Thailand.
As for Southeast Asia’s main export market for each country, the next image below tells that story.
On this export measure Laos is still aligned with Thailand, while Myanmar, Indonesia and Singapore stay with China. In contrast, Malaysia links to Singapore, Cambodia to the EU, Thailand and Vietnam to the United States and both Brunei and the Philippines to Japan.
FYI the sources were some WTO statistics from the last couple of years. Message me if you seek the details.
Brunei, Cambodia, demographics, Economics, education, environment, health, human rights, Indonesia, jakarta, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, research, security, Singapore, society, Sumatra, technology, Thailand, Vietnam
The post title is shared with the great McKinsey discussion paper here that was prepared for the World Cities Summit 2018 in collaboration with the Centre for Liveable Cities, Singapore.
Reviewing the footnotes there are many related publications. I am open to posting links to these too (where possible), depending on reader feedback.
There is a lot in these 44 pages to absorb. Limiting my thoughts to just one, I am always cautious about expressing certainty over the future. The report wisely (usually) offers statistical ranges, but even these need to be viewed through the lens of merely greater probability.
The report is also silent on the underlying politics, an even greater risk to the assumed certainties.
I will stop there and let you read the paper!
There were volcanic tremors in Indonesia with Agung volcano in Bali stirring to life as described here, while in Malaysia the political tremors keep coming with the arrest of former Prime Minister Najib Razak as announced here.
And the headline photo above? The best compromise I could find between volcanic impacts and the fading embers of a political dynasty.
As those with direct memories of World War II pass away our collective memory of that time is increasingly shaped by the available photos.
These photos are usually of poor quality and are almost always in black and white.
As such, it is easy to forget that the war was conducted in vivid colour.
Thanks to the great website here, some of their colour pictures bring the conflict in the Pacific Theatre (and thus the Southeast Asian region) to historical life.
There are hundreds of pages and tens of thousands of pictures, so feel free to search for better examples than the ones that follow.
I will gladly update this post with other relevant links that readers can offer.
Those who know their modern Indonesian history will remember well that it is 20 years this week since Suharto’s regime came crashing down.
Few anticipated that in the wake of Suharto that Indonesian democracy would do as well (relatively speaking) as it has.
Furthermore, across the region democracy remains in a pretty sorry state in comparison. That’s a troubling assertion given the cracks appearing in Indonesia’s democratic fabric.
But the relationship between Indonesia and democracy has always been tense and tenuous, so perhaps that’s just characteristic of regional democracy too.
As the article in The Economist here points out, the region’s democratic weaknesses can’t easily be attributed to a lack of elections.
Indonesia and Thailand both have big elections (in size and significance respectively) coming over the horizon, so there will be no shortage of electoral excitement in the next year or so.
As for meaningful democratic advances that go with those elections…hmmm, well, maybe yes…or maybe not.
Update – After posting the above I was guided to an insightful analysis by Ed Aspinall here. I am confident in suggesting we make broadly similar claims in our respective texts, although for those interested his is a much richer and thoughtful piece of writing.
Brunei, Buddhism, Cambodia, Christianity, culture, deep South of Thailand, demographics, education, geography, health, history, Indonesia, Isaan, Islam, Java, Laos, law, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, politics, refugees, Singapore, society, Sumatra, Thailand, Vietnam
I recently asked a dear friend what my next post here should focus on. The reply came to me as a single word – “life”.
Where to start in the context of Southeast Asia, and how to address a concept as vast and as nebulous as life itself?
Perhaps, in the same way that the topic is a single word, the response could also be in single words.
In that vein I remembered Thomas Fuller’s thoughts in the New York Times article here, where he presented life in Southeast Asia through the single word prism of impunity.
Looking at that article again there is still little I disagree with, although the Southeast Asian world he describes has moved on somewhat.
Is impunity still an apt in describing Southeast Asia? Absolutely…but also maybe not universally. Impunity continues to exist in the region, although recent events in Malaysia have shown how far and how quickly political certainties can shift.
Even so, for many Southeast Asians impunity is clearly limited to the earthly world. Many tens of millions of Southeast Asians believe their lives to be subject to the whims of spirits. These spirits usually exist in both this life and the next, so achieving impunity from their wrath requires great dedication. This dedication can be seen in countless mosques, temples, shrines, churches and rituals often unique to the region.
And so, like any half decent political scientist, in the contest between the concepts of legal and political impunity and extreme vulnerability to the whim of spirits I find myself drawn to the concept of power.
Life in Southeast Asia is, to my mind, often a contest of power. To paraphrase the words of Chairman Mao “power comes from the barrel of a gun”, but I wonder if life in Southeast Asia is shaped just as much by spirit power that acts with impunity.
Curiously visitors and locals experience this power differently. A visiting outsider may consider themselves as having impunity against (at least local) sprits, but are aware that they have a life changing vulnerability to other expressions of power. In contrast a local resident may experience and exercise power very differently in the life they enjoy, live or simply endure.
Most fascinating perhaps is to witness how this power relevancy in life switches as Southeast Asians become foreigners and foreigners become Southeast Asians through the magic of migration. Notably too, tourism seems impotent to offer all but an alluring taste of this possible reversal of power for a fragment of their life.
And so that is my take on life in Southeast Asia. I suggest just four words, namely impunity, vulnerability, spirits and power can capture life in the region.
Could any reader capture Southeast Asia in three words? Attempts are welcome.
UPDATE – At the top of this post I referred to a ‘dear friend”. Such is her personality that “dear” should be replaced with “brilliant, wise, funny, adorable, amazing and lovely”. I hope she can forgive me for my initial oversight 😉
…some 4,500 years ago according to the story here.
Now you know, although I cannot imagine easily that centuries of cumulative academic study can be accurately condensed into a single short news item.
Interesting conclusion though. I will post again on this topic later.