The Rising Importance of Chinese Labour in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region


I have received an invitation to include my paper “The Rising Importance of Chinese Labour in the
Greater Mekong Sub-Region,” first published at Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus in one of the new course readers (, which I am very happy to accept. Here is how it begins:

Migration is, fundamentally, a response to the uneven distribution of resources around the world or the variability of the environment, however broadly defined. [1] People move from one place to another place to take advantage of a better climate, possible access to better quality agricultural land, better-paying or more numerous jobs, freedom from oppression or discrimination and so forth. The phenomenon has dimensions such as degree of permanency and degree of voluntarism. In reality, it comprises a large number of categories and sub-categories and, as in the case of many of those Chinese people considered in this paper, people can pass through several categories as the result of changes in their own status and in that of the broader political context.

(The rest is here:


Seasonal Labour Migration from a Rural Nepalese Village


This paper, by Dilip Kumar Jha and myself, has been accepted for presentation at the forthcoming ICGBE Conference to be held in Bangkok in June.


This paper investigates seasonal migration of villagers in poor, rural households in VDC-Dekaha, Mahottari in Nepal. Seasonal migration for work is often their principal source of income and so moving to India to work in agricultural activities in rural areas or factory work in large cities is a widespread and almost compulsory phenomenon. The length of time that they can stay and the income that they can earn is not known in advance and the workers must find whatever work is available after they arrive in their location. The migrants are males over the age of 14, while women generally remain in the village to provide domestic and emotional labour. This paper reports on research conducted by direct observation of a rural Nepalese household as part of a larger research project involving mitigation of poverty in the country. Interim findings aree presented and some implications drawn for future investigation.

Keywords: migration, Nepal, poverty, rural households

Dilip Kumar Jha and John Walsh, Shinawatra University

Gender and Migration

Migration is a response to the uneven development of the world – that is, the  fact that different kinds of opportunities are available in different places.  Both push and pull factors act so as to encourage people to move to different  places in order to try to take advantage of the different opportunities  available.

Read the full article here.

Why Do People Migrate?

Migration means the movement of people from one place to another: sometimes the  migration involves crossing an international border and sometimes it takes place  within a single country. Sometimes the migration is voluntary and sometimes it  is involuntary. Involuntary migration is usually an example of human  trafficking, which is related to slavery, although it can also happen when the  borders themselves change.

Read the full article here.

Migration in the Para-State Regions of the Mekong Region: Between the National and International Realms

I’m due (floods permitting) to fly to Singapore tomorrow to present:

Walsh, John, “Migration in the Para-State Regions of the Mekong Region: Between the National and International Realms,” paper to be presented at the workshop Crossing Borders, Traversing Boundaries: Bridging the Gap between International and Internal Migration Research and Theory (Asia Research Institute, NUS, Singapore: October 13th-14th, 2011).


As Chinese investment in the Mekong Region (Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand) has increased, some of the geographical space occupied by new projects has come to be considered, more or less officially, to have become delinked from the rest of the sovereign territory of the state. The first example of this was the Maoist strategy of certain ethnic minority groups in Myanmar who have created what are effectively parallel states within the official state, together with the paraphernalia of rival state governance. The second example involves cash economy semi-legal operations such as the Poipet casino on the Thai-Cambodian border, in which a form of cowboy capitalism is operated by extra-judicial individuals and groups. The third example is the occupation of land in northern Laos and around Mandalay in northern Myanmar, where the density of international operations means the major players in this sector become empowered to make state-level decisions when the official state lacks the capacity or willingness to intervene or to uphold the rule of law. These para-state areas offer a conjunction between national and international migration as workers are drawn to the emergent industrial and service sector activities within them and contend with an absence as much as a multiplicity of labour protection regulations and regimes. Influential local leaders and organizations tend to shape the conditions of work and the means of hiring and dismissing workers with little regard to external norms. This paper examines through the use of thick description of existing events and observations the ways in which new and mostly porous borders have been created in addition to official state borders and the implications these have for the migration patterns and aspirations of workers. This provides a link between the national and the international realms of migration.

The full text should be on line after the conference begins. If anyone is really desperate to see the paper before that, then kindly let me know and I will see what I can do.

Entrepreneurship in the Mekong Region: Uneven Development

One of the most obvious characteristics of the Mekong Region is the diversity. Diversity is evident in the range of different ethnic groups within and across borders and also in the range of incomes and opportunities available to people all across the region. Two principal forces have acted to produce this level and complexity of diversity. These are the unequal distribution of resources and the ability and willingness of people to migrate to take advantage of different opportunities and conditions.

Read the full article here.

Gender and Migration

One of the more striking trends in the nature of cross-border labour migration in recent years in this region has been the increasing number of women involved – also referred to as the ‘feminization of migration.’ This has been caused by a complex variety of supply and demand factors and includes new forms of temporary contracts (e.g. for Cambodian women in Malaysian factories) and increased demand for domestic labour as more families move up from poverty into the aspiring middle classes.

The increasing involvement of women changes the nature of the social and policy issues that migration causes. Men working overseas, for example, tend to have different behavioural issues in their leisure activities than women do; while the nature of the family left behind and the issue of remittances and income generation also affects the family dynamics. Since many of those people involved are moving from subsistence to capitalist forms of economic activity, they tend not to have much in the way of experience or accumulated family knowledge to guide them in their new lives. As Piper (details below) explains:

“What is still missing from the debate on the migration-development nexus are the broader connections between migration and development from a rights-based approach and a more fundamental understanding of the type of ‘rights’ at stake. Social rights (social security benefits, child care provisions etc.), and thus considerations for the various social dimensions, are largely absent from this debate and hardly ever contextualized with migration rights. The broader right to family life has only recently become a topic on the agenda of migrant rights’ advocates in Asia.”

These ideas are, of course, far in advance of the kinds of issues that are even being widely considered in Thailand and those most directly involved in them have, generally, little capacity even to join in any form of debate. Nevertheless, within perhaps a decade, it may be possible to start looking for ratification of conventions along these lines.

For more details, see the UNIFEM paper ‘Gender, Migration and Development – Emerging Trends and Issues in East and South-East Asia,’ written by Nicola Piper:

Cambodian Migration Conference

At the end of last week I attended the conference on the Mobility of Cambodians and Other Nationals in the Southeast Asian Region. It was organised by Oxfam, UNIAP and other partners at the Sunway Hotel in Phnom Penh. I posted the abstract of the paper that I presented on Working Conditions of Cambodian Migrants in Thailand a few days ago.

In our research, we found that most migrants were experienced in crossing the border and could earn up to 6,000 baht per month (around US$200), which was four times what they could earn at home – and this income was enough to counteract any feelings of discrimination or isolation that they felt. Other papers portrayed migrants in different circumstances: in the fishing industry, for example, wages are much lower and the migrants are treated almost as slaves on the boats (this is, in part, a function of the workplace – it is impossible to leave the boat while it is spending days or weeks at sea). Another study, of a single commune, indicated that families travelled together commonly while, in our research, 90% of respondents were single and migrated alone.

Clearly, migration is a complex phenomenon and it is not really meaningful to speak of a ‘typical migrant’ or the ‘problems that migrants face’ with a view to finding solutions. Some participants spoke about the interventions they were making (many people were from NGOs and there were some academics like self) and these are clearly important: the Girls Speak Out project, for example, was helping to inform and empower victims of trafficking and abuse and that is a great thing. However, there is an underlying dynamic which needs to be considered: migration is a response to differences in the world: while poor people can earn more money if they travel overseas, then there is a powerful incentive for them to do so. States should recognise this and make appropriate plans for the equitable treatment of migrants where they are required to do the kind of 3D work (dirty, dangerous, demeaning) that, in this case, Thai people do not wish to do for the wages available for it.