I attended the International Conference on ASEAN Studies organized by Pridi Banomyong International College of Thammasat University at the Sukosol Hotel in Bangkok (amidst heavy rain and floods in our soi and thereabouts). My paper was entitled “Myanmar Embraces the Asia Factory Paradigm.” Here is the abstract:
Some of the more important sites where rapid economic development will take place in Myanmar in the years to come are the special economic zones (SEZs) which will host the Factory Asia paradigm: import substituting, export oriented, low labour cost manufacturing based on the movement of labour from manufacturing to industry (pre-Lewisian point) and then suppression of workers’ rights (post-Lewisian point). This will, presumably, take place in the designated areas of Dawei, which will be dominated by Thai capital, and Thilawa, which will be dominated by Japanese capital. Peripheral SEZs in border areas have also been proposed but these are jeopardized by continued attempts to ensure autonomy for ethnic and tribal groups opposed to central Burman rule. The SEZs will be linked to the places of consumption and production across Asia by the Asian Development Bank’s Asian Highway Network, which consists of road and rail links which will, in the case of Myanmar, connect Yangon and Mandalay to Kanchanaburi in Thailand (and hence China to the north via Route 3) and the eastern border of India and, hence, make numerous potential export industrial sectors profitable which were not profitable with the existing level of physical and social infrastructure. There will be a human cost to pay for this transformation, despite aggregate increases of income overall. Alienation, state-sponsored violence and family conflicts are all to be expected, since these have routinely been found in the other countries to have embraced the Factory Asia paradigm. This paper explores the likely trajectory of development to be followed in Myanmar based on the history of neighbouring countries and the potential impact on the workers and family member involved in this paradigm. Policy recommendations are drawn from the analysis.
Keywords: Asian Development Bank, Asian Highway Network, Factory Asia, Special Economic Zones, Thailand