Southeast Asian Affairs 2024

Southeast Asian Affairs 2024
Date of publication:  2024
Publisher:  ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute
Number of pages:  390
Code:  SEAA24
Hard Cover
ISBN: 9789815203509
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About the publication

Southeast Asian Affairs, first published in 1974, continues today to be required reading for not only scholars but the general public interested in in-depth analysis of critical cultural, economic and political issues in Southeast Asia. In this annual review of the region, renowned academics provide comprehensive and stimulating commentary that furthers understanding of not only the region’s dynamism but also of its tensions and conflicts. It is a must read.” 
– Suchit Bunbongkarn, Emeritus Professor, Chulalongkorn University 

“Now in its fifty-first edition, Southeast Asian Affairs offers an indispensable guide to this fascinating region. Lively, analytical, authoritative, and accessible, there is nothing comparable in quality or range to this series. It is a must read for academics, government officials, the business community, the media, and anybody with an interest in contemporary Southeast Asia. Drawing on its unparalleled network of researchers and commentators, ISEAS is to be congratulated for producing this major contribution to our understanding of this diverse and fast-changing region, to a consistently high standard and in a timely manner.” 
– Hal Hill, H.W. Arndt Professor Emeritus of Southeast Asian Economies, Australian National University


  • Southeast Asian Affairs 2024
    [Whole Publication, ISBN: 9789815203516], by Daljit Singh, Hoang Thi Ha, editors
  • Preliminary pages with Introduction
  • Searching for Direction: Southeast Asia in a Brave New World of Major Power Rivalry, by Chong Ja Ian, author
    Intensifying US-China competition means that ASEAN’s previously comfortable position as a conduit between the two major powers is increasingly coming under stress. The established model of Southeast Asia’s economic growth, relying on North American, European, and Japanese capital and technologies as well as China’s supply chains to produce components and assemble end-products for regional and global markets, is no longer sustainable. Western “onshoring” and “friendshoring” and China’s “internal circulation” strategies threaten to limit technology flows and market access for Southeast Asian nations. Southeast Asian leaders should navigate this challenging period by pooling resources and enhancing regional leverage. However, uncertainty persists among Southeast Asian governments about whether to prioritize and reform ASEAN and existing international institutions, which undergird the current, challenged order, or to explore and invest in new alternatives.
  • Regional Economic Overview for Southeast Asia, by Manu Bhaskaran, author
    This chapter first examines how the regional economies performed in 2023 during a period of turbulence in the global environment, noting the resilience they displayed in the face of monetary tightening, a sluggish Chinese economy, fragmentation of global supply chains and geopolitical shocks. It then investigates the reasons for that resilience, seen in all the countries recording positive, albeit slowing, growth. These include credible and effective policy interventions as well as structural advantages. The chapter concludes by assessing the outlook for the region in 2024, which is anticipated to be bolstered by a robust rebound in export demand, the benefits of supply chain reconfiguration and increased infrastructure spending.
  • Decoding China’s Global Governance Initiatives: Insights from Southeast Asia, by Bowen Yao, Mingjiang Li, authors
    China’s assertive global stance, characterized by the combination of initiatives like the Global Development Initiative (GDI), Global Security Initiative (GSI), and Global Civilization Initiative (GCI), alongside the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), marks a strategic reorientation of global governance, potentially creating an alternative global order with distinct “Chinese characteristics”. These initiatives interlock to promote a comprehensive suite of norms and values reflecting China’s vision of a harmonious global order. Southeast Asia, with its dynamic economies and complex security landscape, serves as a critical arena for assessing the reception and integration of these Chinese initiatives. The chapter explores the extent to which Southeast Asian states might align with, adapt to, or counterbalance these Chinese initiatives. It critically examines the implications of these initiatives for Southeast Asia, a region strategically pivotal to China’s global aspirations. These initiatives present Southeast Asia with choices that will shape its developmental paths and geopolitical orientations. The region’s response, balancing economic benefits with strategic autonomy, will be crucial in determining the trajectory of these initiatives and their impact on the global governance landscape.
  • Brunei Darussalam in 2023: A Year of Cautious Optimism and Hope, by Jatswan S Sidhu, author
    As pressure from the COVID-19 pandemic further receded, Brunei entered 2023 with an air of cautious optimism and hope. The major preoccupations were post-pandemic recovery and efforts at economic diversification in a global environment that remains rather volatile. Greater focus was also given to realizing the Wawasan Brunei 2035 (Brunei National Vision 2035) that hopes to steer the country away from dependence on the oil and gas sector. This chapter provides a review of the political and economic developments in Brunei throughout 2023, alongside an analysis of the challenges it faces and its key foreign policy issues.
  • Cambodia in 2023: A Once-in-a-Lifetime Transfer of Power, by David Hutt, author
    In 2023, Cambodia's ruling party engineered a once-in-a-lifetime handover of power that saw not only Prime Minister Hun Sen resign and make way for his eldest son, Hun Manet, but also a systematic “generational succession” process across the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the governmental and state apparatus. This was conducted primarily to protect the interests of the main political families in the country and to ensure continuity and stability as the “first generation” CPP leaders approached retirement and the “second generation” leaders were maturing to take over.
  • Indonesia in 2023: Jokowi’s Dominance – Power without Principle, by Greg Fealy, author
    Jokowi is at the peak of his power as he enters the final year of his presidency. With soaring approval ratings, strong economic growth, a rising international profile and an ever-tightening grip on his nation’s domestic politics, Jokowi appears set to leave office with a stronger legacy than any of his four predecessors of the post-Soeharto period. And yet, there is a less admirable flip-side to Jokowi’s ascendancy. The unprincipled manner in which he has consolidated power and used it to create his own political dynasty and ensure his continuing influence within government after he leaves office contravenes many of the reformist values that underlay his election as president. This chapter argues that Jokowi has now become many of the things that he once stood against: elitist, nepotistic, ambivalent on corruption and dismissive of inconvenient rules and conventions. It examines how, over the past two years, Jokowi has bent political parties, state institutions and the judiciary to his will, in the process further eroding Indonesia’s regressing democracy.
  • Poverty Trends during the Jokowi Era: Achievements, Challenges and Prospects, by Latif Adam, Siwage Dharma Negara, authors
    Indonesia has made considerable improvements in lifting millions of people out of poverty over the past decade. While the COVID-19 pandemic has reversed some of the progress made in poverty reduction goals, the country managed to avoid poverty explosion due to various policy mitigation measures, including cash transfer programs, health insurance schemes, and subsidies for basic needs to support the poor and vulnerable groups. Nonetheless, poverty remains one of Indonesia’s main development challenges and better policies are required to address this social problem. This essay examines key programs related to poverty reduction during the Jokowi era and discusses the challenges in achieving poverty eradication targets. It argues that the effectiveness of anti-poverty programs can be further enhanced by shifting fuel subsidies towards social programmes with a more targeted approach; integrating various poverty eradication programmes with similar goals and target groups to enhance efficiency and effectiveness, and developing a bottom-up self-registration system using an on-demand application to improve the accuracy of social registry database.
  • “Do Not Be a Proxy”: Indonesia, ASEAN and the Sino-US Rivalry, by Rizal Sukma, author
    The article examines Indonesia’s strategic concerns amid the escalating great power competition in the region, which involve the heightened risk of conflicts, the looming spectre of ASEAN’s marginalization, and deepening intra-ASEAN divisions. Indonesia’s default position of “not taking sides” in great power rivalry is rooted in the bebas-actif (free and active) tradition of its foreign policy. The article proposes pathways for Indonesia to bolster its own and regional strategic autonomy. These include strengthening its economic resilience through diversified economic ties and active participation in regional economic integration; building ASEAN’s collective autonomy via deeper intra-ASEAN economic integration, strengthening its institutional capacity and reforming its decision-making mechanisms; encouraging ASEAN to go beyond its passive normative approach and assert a unified collective voice to challenge the legitimacy of any actions that contravene international law.
  • LAOS
  • Laos in 2023: Debts and Doubts, by Oliver Tappe, author
    The year 2023 saw Laos drifting through a severe economic and fiscal crisis. A staggering public debt of more than 120 per cent of the GDP, currency depreciation, and rampant inflation plagued the country. The ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party—after a smooth leadership change in the beginning of the year—attempted to find solutions to mitigate macro-economic vulnerabilities and other economic challenges. Short-term political interventions have not yielded significant results so far.
  • Malaysia in 2023: Full Throttle on Politics, Reforms in Back Seat, by Ariel Tan, author
    Malaysia in 2023 was mired in partisan politics that revolved around issues of race and religion, leaving the Anwar administration with less political will and resources to introduce reforms and boost confidence in the economy. Nevertheless, the ruling coalition appeared to be stabilizing and primed for more focus on policymaking in the new year.
  • The Malaysian Economy under the Anwar Administration, by Cassey Lee, author
    The Malaysian economy performed modestly during the first year of the Anwar administration. Fiscal stimulus by the government was delayed by several months due to the dissolution of the parliament to pave the way for general elections. The Anwar administration used the Madani concept to shape its economic policy narrative, but this did not necessarily translate into concrete policies in the first few months due to time constraints. In the latter part of its first year, substantive policies were announced, driven by the efforts of the bureaucracy which was not disrupted by political transition. These policies include the National Energy Transition Roadmap and the New Industrial Master Plan 2030. The influence of the Anwar administration only emerged with the Mid-Term Review of the Twelfth Malaysia Plan and the Budget 2024. The immediate and medium-term priority of the new government is strengthening public finance by increasing tax revenues and reducing subsidies. These developments are likely to enhance the government’s ability to better stabilize in the medium-term and restructure the economy for long-term growth in the future.
  • Myanmar in 2023: Continued Emergency, the Transition to Strategic Terror and the Humiliation of the Military, by Mary Callahan, author
    Myanmar remains embroiled in protracted internal conflicts, grappling with a dramatic worsening of everyday economic conditions for the citizens and a shrinking space for the junta’s foreign relations. Persistent resistance from anti-military forces caused the State Administration Council (SAC), led by coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, to abandon its election plan in 2023 and impose two extensions of emergency rule. The regime also de-registered the 2020 election victor, the National League for Democracy. The year also witnessed the SAC’s most significant military setbacks and territorial losses since the coup. A significant event was the “1027” operation on 27 October 2023, during which three ethnic armed organizations seized major economic and strategic hubs along the China border, overran dozens of military commands, outposts and garrisons, and displaced officials associated with the SAC and the military in 34 towns. For the first time in 70 years, the never-questioned belief among members of the armed forces that the military was the only national institution that could hold the country together was called into doubt among this very constituency.
  • Myanmar’s Continuing Socio-economic Challenges since the Coup, by Sean Turnell, Moe Thuzar, authors
    Following their coup of February 2021, Myanmar’s military leaders were initially at pains to reassure that the country would continue its economic reform journey, and remain open to international trade and investment. This did not last. Economic mismanagement and severe repression of opposition to the ruling junta once again derailed Myanmar’s economy, and effectively withdrew it from global commerce. The effects of this were starkly apparent in 2023, manifesting in sluggish growth, high inflation and falling living standards. Steep cuts in state spending in health and education, a collapse in tourism, and the impact of international sanctions also limited options. This has also led to the exit of foreign investors and vast numbers of Myanmar people out of the country. Little change was in prospect at year-end, and there was not much more hope on the horizon.
  • The Philippines in 2023: Post-pandemic Challenges and Fraying Political Alliance, by Ruth R Lusterio-Rico, author
    This chapter reviews the key political and economic developments in the Philippines in 2023, focusing on the weakening of the ruling political alliance established when Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. and Sara Duterte ran for president and vice-president in 2022. In 2023, the Philippines continued to face significant economic challenges, especially the surge in the prices of basic commodities and utilities, alongside high rates of unemployment and underemployment. The popularity of the country’s top two politicians were apparently affected by these economic challenges as their approval and trust ratings declined considerably by the third quarter of the year. The railroading of the establishment of a sovereign wealth fund called the Maharlika Investment Fund, the rejection of the confidential funds requested by the vice-president, the brewing conflict between the vice-president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the release of former senator Leila De Lima, who was detained under the Duterte administration, were among the key political developments that significantly impact the unity of the ruling political coalition.
  • The Philippines: Disinformation and Democracy, by Yvonne T. Chua, author
    The next election in the Philippines is scheduled for May 2025 and won’t even involve the oft fiercely contested positions of president and vice president. But the interval between elections so far remains fraught with disinformation, which has plagued the Philippine political landscape and exacerbated polarization of society. Referred to as “patient zero” and the “petri dish” in the global disinformation epidemic, the Philippines persistently serves as a prime example of a country where government, politicians, and their allies employ disinformation both online and offline to manipulate public opinion, suppress critics, advance controversial policies, and consolidate power.
  • Singapore in 2023: Of Political Setbacks and Succession, Revitalizing the Middle Ground, and Keeping Spirits Up, by Eugene K B Tan, author
    In an unusually politically eventful year, domestic politics was in the news but for not the best of reasons. Three members of Parliament, including the Speaker, from the ruling and leading opposition parties had to resign over extra-marital affairs. A Cabinet minister was arrested and interdicted from duty as part of a corruption investigation, while two other ministers were embroiled in controversy over their rental of state bungalows. The economy continued its tepid recovery from the debilitating pandemic years but cost of living concerns remained real even as the COVID-19 pandemic dropped from public consciousness. A new president with previous ties to the ruling party was elected in a landslide victory in a major win for multiracialism. The long-drawn leadership renewal and succession took a significant step forward with a timeline put forth. In diplomacy, it was another active year of many inbound and outbound visits. Unsurprisingly, China, the United States, Malaysia and Indonesia were high on the agenda, reflecting national imperatives and geopolitical interests, including the quest to remain of strategic relevance to the region and the world.
  • Singapore’s 2023 Presidential Election: The Presidency Continues to Evolve, by Benjamin Joshua Ong, author
    Singapore’s 2023 presidential election, in which Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam was elected President, saw debates about the Presidency’s nature and future directions continue—perhaps more intensely than ever before. Important issues that arose included the qualifying criteria which one must meet to contest in a presidential election, including relevant experience and “integrity, good character and reputation”; and the concept of “independence” and how it relates to the Presidency; the extent of, and limits to, the President’s role. This chapter discusses those issues; highlights certain more granular issues relating to the polling process; and comments on the result of the election. Finally, the chapter discusses an amendment to the Constitution, made shortly after President Tharman’s inauguration, relating to the President’s ability to participate in international organizations in his private capacity. This amendment, like several before it, and like the debates surrounding the 2023 election, demonstrates that Singapore’s elected Presidency, like other state institutions, is always evolving to meet new challenges and better meet old ones.
  • Thailand in 2023: Political Realignments and the Quest for Resilience and Stability, by Napon Jatusripitak, author
    In 2023, Thailand reached a critical turning point. The strong public demand for structural change, demonstrated by the Move Forward Party (MFP)’s decisive victory in the 14 May General Election, has been stifled by the emergence of a controversial alliance between the Pheu Thai Party and the conservative establishment. This development not only led to the formation of a Pheu Thai-led government that excluded the MFP from power, but it also facilitated Thaksin Shinawatra’s return to Thailand from exile and his subsequent royal pardon. While this unprecedented political realignment ended the longstanding, colour-coded conflict between pro- and anti-Thaksin forces, it simultaneously gave rise to highly sharpened ideological and generational divides centred around the role of the military and the monarchy. This new political narrative emerges against a backdrop of growing economic vulnerability and geopolitical uncertainty. As a result, Thailand is now faced with the challenge of not only reconciling deep-rooted political divisions but also recalibrating its economic strategies and foreign policy to forge a path towards resilience and stability.
  • Beyond the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership: Taking Stock of Thailand-Japan Relations, by David M Malitz, author
    This chapter provides an overview of the development of Japanese-Thai relations leading to the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in November 2022. It acknowledges that due to demographic and technological change as well as the necessary transition to (more) sustainable economic development, the partnership’s economic backbone is faced with challenges. Nevertheless, and despite the growing influence of the People’s Republic of China, it is far too early to consider the Japanese-Thai economic partnership in terminal decline. Due to its importance for both sides, both governments have already declared their commitment to support it and make it fit for the future. Japan’s considerable soft power will be a major asset for this endeavour.
  • Timor-Leste in 2023: The Return of the ‘Old Firm’, by Michael Leach, author
    The 2023 parliamentary election in Timor-Leste saw voters return to the “old firm” of Xanana Gusmão and Jose Ramos-Horta, reminiscent of the post-2006-7 political-military crisis. However, given the advancing age of these historical leaders, there are expectations that overdue political transitions to a younger generation of leaders would likely unfold during the current parliamentary term. As the new government took office in July 2023, Timor-Leste embarked on a crucial decade for its future amid the looming threat of a “fiscal cliff”. The country is entering what could be the final decade of the solvency of its oil and gas sovereign wealth fund, unless new revenues may flow from the Greater Sunrise fields. The nation must intensify efforts to diversify its economy further and reduce excessive dependence on the oil and gas sector. At the same time, it is faced with various policy challenges arising from a major demographic “youth bulge”.
  • Vietnam in 2023: Stoking the Embers of the “Blazing Furnace”, by Edmund J. Malesky, Thiem Hai Bui, authors
    Vietnam’s blazing furnace anti-corruption campaign prominently shaped 2023, but the implications of the campaign are far greater than the counting of punished officials and staggering corruption figures. It altered elite political configurations, unwound the linkages between major business tycoons and the state, affected the risk calculations of major foreign investors, slowed service delivery and public procurement, coloured major diplomatic achievements, and through tax investigations confused the operations of civil society actors. At the same time, the campaign streamlined administrative procedures, reduced bureaucratic discretion, and reduced the costs and risks of doing business for numerous small and medium-sized enterprises. The question for analysts is whether the campaign represents a fundamentally new beginning or merely opens a window to observe underlying weaknesses in the regime.
  • The Political Economy of Vietnam’s Anti-corruption Campaign, by Nguyen Khac Giang, author
    Approaching from a political economy perspective, this chapter examines the logic of Vietnam’s ongoing anti-corruption campaign, its key determinants, and the consequences for different stakeholders in both the economic and political realms. Initially aimed at revitalizing the legitimacy of the Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) amidst rampant corruption, the campaign has reshaped Vietnam’s elite politics and accelerated its conservative tendencies, evidenced by tighter controls over society. The chapter also explores the unintended “collateral damages” of the campaign, particularly its socio-economic repercussions such as bureaucratic paralysis, economic impacts, and the depletion of the public sector workforce. It concludes by contemplating the future of the campaign post-Nguyen Phu Trong, underscoring the necessity of rethinking its top-down approach and balancing it with socio-economic considerations.

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