CRC Conference Programme December 16th, 2017

Good evening,

This is the conference programme for next Saturday, December 16th: there will be some changes as new people will join and others cannot attend. The programme is Con-Pro Dec 17.


Regulating the Governance of Special Economic Zones in the Greater Mekong Subregion


I am back from the International Research Symposium on Public Management in Asia: Innovation and Transformation, which was held at the Education University of Hong Kong. My paper was “Regulating the Governance of Special Economic Zones in the Greater Mekong Subregion.”



The countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) (i.e. Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam) have all adopted the special economic zone (SEZ) as a means of facilitating their trajectory through the Factory Asia paradigm of import-substituting, export-oriented intensive manufacturing based on low labour cost competitiveness. The SEZs supplement and in some cases supercede the previously built places of development which are industrial estates and industrial parks of various sorts. They offer the benefit of having demonstrated success (as the hundreds of millions of Chinese people raised out of poverty testifies) with a political system that does not require democracy or political pluralism. This is also not required by the international treaties that are in place in ASEAN and in its relationships with trade partners. In terms of governance, each country has introduced new legislation to regulate SEZs and, thereby, encourage further inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI) and the benefits it is believed that will bring. The range of legislation includes prime ministerial decrees and comprehensive laws aiming to provide all-encompassing treatment of activities. By definition, these regulations apply to specific pieces of territory and not to the remainder of the country. They may also be limited in time, as in Vietnam, where the use of SEZs as a policy experiment is most clearly evident. However, it is not clear that international best practice has been achieved in SEZ governance because each country feels the need to adopt an individual approach to it and each has designed SEZ policy for its own developmental and political goals. These goals range from the need to maintaining good relationships with China in the case of Kyaukphu SEZ in Myanmar to the security issue of migrant workers in Thailand’s proposed border SEZs to the fostering of cross-border activities in the Mohan-Boten zone. This paper examines the different legal frameworks that have been used to regulate SEZs in the GMS and seek to identify which aspects are more useful in attracting FDI and in delivering developmental goals more generally. The paper then goes on to explore the extent to which these regulations may be brought into national usage, which is based on international comparisons.

Keywords: development, governance, Greater Mekong Subregion, policy, special economic zones

Nation-Building in Myanmar: The Role of Drug Eradication Schemes


Announcing: Lomethong, Jen and John Walsh, “Nation-Building in Myanmar: The Role of Drug Eradication Schemes,” The Myanmar Journal, Vol.4, No.2 (2017), pp.31-40, available at:


ABSTRACT : Production of opium has been problematic in Myanmar for many
centuries, particularly in the contemporary era where there has been a
shortage of alternative suitable cash crops for subsistence farmers struggling
to face the challenges of globalization. Various drug eradication programmes
have been tried in the country, often in conjunction with international
partners but these have been of limited success because the military
government was unwilling to allow access to many parts of the country to
observers and, indeed, some parts of the country were not available even to
the military government. In addition, local warlords had patronage networks
which extended into government circles and caused divided loyalties among
at least some of those people charged with eradication. This paper explores
the existence and performance of drug eradication schemes in contemporary
Myanmar and then argues that none is likely to be successful until steps are
taken to raise confidence in peace and stability among all important
stakeholders. This, in turn, can only be achieved with nation-building
initiatives. It is recognised that the current political settlement is fragile and it
is not impossible that democracy will be lost again. The example of the
Rohingya refugees and the recent outbreaks of ethnic violence in urban
Myanmar show the limits of state institutions and technical capacity in this
Key words : drug eradication, Myanmar, nation-building, state capacity

Myanmar’s Mothers at a Time of Structural Change


Win, Sandi and John Walsh, “Myanmar’s Mothers at a Time of Structural Change,” The Myanmar Journal, Vol.4, No.2 (2017), pp.13-30, available at:


ABSTRACT : The intersectionalities of Myanmar’s patriarchic system have
represented significant challenges to the country’s women, particularly its
mothers. The confluence of class, ethnicity and patronage networks contains within itself the numerous barriers to women working outside the house, particularly after marriage. This manifests itself is social mores as well as practical issues relating to the ability to balance child care with outside activities. This situation is now changing because of the relative opening of the state to democracy and the forces of globalization. In Mandalay, capital of the Northern Division of the country and centre of agricultural production, globalization is represented by the physical infrastructure of the road linking the city to Thailand, India and China, the dry dock and special economic zone, the spread of capitalism to more sectors of society and the opportunities to consume international products through newly-opened retail spaces such as in Ocean Plaza, as well as the access to information from mobile internet access cross-border television shows. These changes are affecting the decisions women can make about their lives and the expectations placed upon them to be not just wives, mothers and daughters but, also, modern consumers and producers in a developed capitalist society. This paper reports on qualitative research conducted with a diverse range of mothers in Mandalay through in-depth personal interviews. A semi-structured research instrument is used to encourage the respondents to discuss issues related to work-life balance, aspirations, life chances and relationships with other people, including family members, institutions and the market. The findings are presented within a framework that combine practical, cognitive and spiritual elements.
Key words : gender, modernity, mothers, Myanmar, work-life balance

Border Economic Zones Linking China with Myanmar, Lao PDR and Vietnam: Categorization and Assessment of Sustainability

I attended the Wenzao Southeast Asia International Conference at Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. The paper I gave was “Border Economic Zones Linking China with Myanmar, Lao PDR and Vietnam: Categorization and Assessment of Sustainability.” Here is the abstract:

China’s southern border region has throughout history been diverse, multidimensional and contested. At least some parts of the area belong to the anarchic upland Southeast Asian region some have called Zomia and labelled beyond the reach of the state. However, in recent decades, even the remotest parts are being brought under state control of some sort, although progress is uneven and sometimes unpredictable. China’s One Belt and Road policy will intensify the ability of state agencies to enforce control but, at the moment, a transitional period may be witnessed in which private sector agencies are taking the place of state agents. The private sector has organized a series of different economic systems in the border regions of Myanmar, Lao PDR and Vietnam, ranging from cowboy capitalism that seems to exploit all it touches to formalized economic zones and special economic zones that systematically organize production activities that have become parts of global value chains. The formation and administration of these different systems is affected by the difficult terrain, the antipathy felt by some peripheral ethnic minority groups to the central authority and the actions of transnational organizations such as the Asian Development Bank aiming to link the region together more tightly through building physical infrastructure. This paper documents the different types and scales of economic activities taking place in the three border regions identified and categorizes them. Suggestions are made as to how to promote higher levels of equality and sustainability of the different categories and an assessment is made as to how these activities will, if at all, be incorporated into the more formal state systems that will in due course be put into place.

Keywords: borders, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, special economic zones, Vietnam

I am hopeful of the publication of this paper in a subsequent book or journal from the conference organizers in due course.

Urban Change and Economic Transformation: The Case of Phnom Penh

Lovichakorntikul, Petcharat and John Walsh, “Urban Change and Economic Transformation: The Case of Phnom Penh,” International Review of Management and Development Studies, Vol.1, No.4 (June, 2017), pp.40-6, available at:

Abstract: Capital cities are required to fulfill some or all of a variety of functions: home of the monarchy, center of religious monuments, commercial and social center of the state. Yet Phnom Penh, historically, is rarely fulfilling any of these functions. The center of religious monuments and the legitimization this offered was located in Angkor, while the home of the monarchy was moved from place to place on a regular basis. When it did become established as the capital city, Phnom Penh passed through periods of transformation based on economic and commercial change rather than for political or legalistic reasons. Different ethnic communities lived next to each other in more or less harmony on the basis that they occupied different economic and occupation-based activities. This was managed by the colonizing French and, after a brief and somewhat decadent post-colonial period, Phnom Penh suffered its most debilitating changes
after the Communist revolution of 1975 brought the Maoist Khmer Rouge into power.
Antithetical to urban living and mostly manned by people who had never visited a large
conurbation, Phnom Penh was almost completely emptied as the city dwellers were forced into agricultural collectivization or imprisoned or forced into exile. Historical monuments, for example the Catholic Cathedral, were razed to the ground while others, Tuol Sleng notably, have become reconfigured as monuments for the genocide conducted in the city. After the Khmer Rouge were evicted by Vietnamese armed forces and the long and painful transition towards democracy commenced, the city returned to some form of life. Significant inflows of investment were sourced through transnational non-governmental organizations and government overseas development and assistance and that investment were aimed at both institutional improvement at the macro-social level and help for businesses and entrepreneurs often at the micro-social level (since large business corporations can be assumed to develop from association with government and social elites). Changes to the city, therefore, have been largely driven by commercial interests. Simultaneously, the real estate sector is booming and the government is planning large increases in the downtown areas. In some cases, this has featured the forcible relocation of slum dwellers to new areas far from the city. This paper investigates the nature and cause of changes in Phnom Penh over recent decades and seeks to explain what changes are likely to be seen in the future.
Keywords: Urban Change, Economic Developments, Culture, Commercial change, Phnom Penh

Unity and Uniformity in Thailand’s Urban Environments after the 2014 Coup

Walsh, John, “Unity and Uniformity in Thailand’s Urban Environments after the 2014 Coup,” International Review of Management and Development Studies, Vol.1, No.4 (June, 2017), pp.34-9, available at:’s_Urban_Environments_after_the_2014_Coup.PDF.

Abstract: The Thai economy and society have grown to be heavily dependent on low-cost
migrant labor, whether that migration is domestic or cross-border in nature. That means the post-2014 campaigns against migrant workers in various categories is more complex than it might at first appear. Consequently, the vending has returned to the streets even where additional market areas have been targeted for closure and low-cost housing areas to be cleared. People are obliged to use the weapons of the weak to try to find and reclaim their places in urban environments, even while gentrification projects are being pressed forward and all gatherings of people subject to summary arrest and periods of attitude adjustment. The lens of unity and uniformity through which the junta would like observers to view Thai society is challenged by the very presence of the diverse people who make it a fundamentally unequal nature persist. This paper explores these issues using ethnographic observation in different parts of Thailand with a view to identifying the reality of everyday politics on the streets of the country.
Keywords: diversity, junta, street vending, Thailand, weapons of the weak