Connectivity and the Healthcare Sector in Myanmar


Announcing: Walsh, John, “Connectivity and the Healthcare Sector in Myanmar,” paper presented at the First Workshop of the Second Phase of ERIA Digital Economy, Innovation, and East Asia’s Competitiveness (January 21st-22nd, Bangkok).

I attended the first workshop of the second phase of ERIA’s project on the Digital Economy, Innovation and East Asia’s Competitiveness at the Westin Grande Sukhumvit Hotel, here in sunny Bangkok earlier this week. It went well. Here is my abstract:

One of the results of the long isolation of Myanmar and its people has been the way in which its healthcare industry has become obsolete and lacking in resources. Although wealthy Myanmar people have been able to travel to Thailand or Singapore for contemporary standards of healthcare for the last few years, this option has not been available for the majority of the people. Instead, they have been required to rely on low-cost options, such as the use of generic pharmaceutical products and traditional remedies, in the absence of affordable and high-quality local services. The issues are compounded by the absence of modern healthcare products, the inability of healthcare staff to learn from overseas sources and the limitations on modern communications on almost any subject. However, this situation is changing as the country is opening to the world and burgeoning connectivity is enhancing the ability of individuals and organizations to exchange information, travel and import equipment and expertise. Inevitably, the degree to which people are able to benefit from these changes is uneven because there is not an even distribution of the means of connectivity, i.e. infrastructure, education, market access and equipment. This paper reports on both qualitative and quantitative programmes of research aimed at identifying the different uses of ICT in improving connectivity in healthcare in Myanmar, featuring respondents in both the urban centre of Mandalay and in rural areas. The quantitative research will focus on the everyday life of people and the ways in which aspects of connectivity are incorporated within those lives with respect to various aspects of healthcare. The qualitative research will focus on personal interviews with a range of relevant stakeholders in activities relating to healthcare, including healthcare provision, use of medical laboratories, importing of healthcare equipment, pharmaceutical distribution and hospital management. The results of the research are added to already existing knowledge of Myanmar society to illustrate the nature of rapidly changing lives that are inequitably providing previously unavailable opportunities and aspirations. Some policy recommendations are drawn from the analysis.

Keywords: connectivity; healthcare; inequitable change; Myanmar; social change

The next workshop is likely to be in Indonesia in April, by which time a draft paper should be available for all participants.


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


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.


Minimum Wage Systems of the Greater Mekong Subregion


Earlier today, I attended the 5th International and National Stamford Conference ( at the Asoke campus of Stamford International University at Exchange Tower. My paper was on “Minimum Wage Systems of the Greater Mekong Subregion.”


As a policy, the minimum wage has always been controversial and its results contested. Proponents claim that it leads to the eradication of the worst excesses of exploitation in a labour market, while opponents argue it prices poorly-skilled workers out of a job. Evidence is inconclusive for this basic issue, partly because of insufficient evidence and the research is even more limited when it comes to consideration of subtler objectives of the policy, such as the desire to promote regional development in an unequal society or protect particular sectors (e.g. Malaysian plantation workers) or to reconfigure spatial development within a country so as to manage flows of migrant workers more effectively. The evidence on minimum wages that does exist tends to be derived from the developed economies and to be bound within a single discipline (e.g. economics) which is unable to incorporate the range of other effects and implications with which a minimum wage is associated. Assessing the effects of minimum wages in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region (GMSR) is more complex because of the absence of reliable data in many areas, the prominence of the informal sector, the large-scale undocumented internal and cross-border migration flows and the continued importance of the agricultural sector. Even so, the importance of the minimum wage as a tool of social policy has been intensified as more and more parts of the region become subject to the Factory Asia paradigm of import-substituting, export-oriented, low labour cost competitive manufacturing. Adoption of this paradigm leads to the creation of a working class and significant rearrangement of gender relations, among other changes. There is a need, therefore, to investigate the current minimum wage systems used within the GMSR and the alternatives that might be adopted, seeking to understand how they are set (e.g. imposed by government or as a result of tripartite negotiations), at what levels are they set and why and to what extent is it possible to trace the relationships between minimum wage systems and other forms of social policy. The experiences of the GMSR members in this regard are ranged along the trajectory of the Factory Asia paradigm, with Myanmar and Laos just starting to embrace it and Thailand having reached the limits of what it can achieve and seeking an upwards exit. The minimum wage strategy is, consequently, affected by time as well as space and is also dependent to some extent on the external environment.


Savan-Seno Special Economic Zone and Industrial Development in Lao PDR



On Friday, I attended the 3rd National and International Conference on Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Rangsit University in Bangkok, which was organized by the Political Science Association of Kasetsart University, which is an active body with various conferences and journals published. It was not a very large conference but it was a friendly one and well-organized.

My presentation was entitled “Savan-Seno Special Economic Zone and Industrial Development in Lao PDR,” which was successfully conducted. There is a full-text version of the paper available but only the abstract was included in the conference proceedings so I will wait to see if it gets published (in revised form) elsewhere.


Provision of Educational Services in Special Economic Zones in the Greater Mekong Subregion

Yesterday I attended the last day of the Newton Fund Researcher Links Workshop at the Asia Hotel in Bangkok organized by the British Council and hosted by Khon Kaen University. The purpose of the workshop is to help foster links between British and Thai academics, particularly early career Thai academics.

My presentation was on Provision of Educational Services in Special Economic Zones in the Greater Mekong Subregion


Special economic zones (SEZs) are time and space-limited areas in which the regular laws of the land do not apply. Instead, various provisions are made to privilege capital above labour and, thereby, encourage domestic and especially international investment. States welcome this kind of investment because it provides direct employment and the prospect of technology transfer and industrial deepening. In the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) (i.e. Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Yunnan Province of China and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Zone) SEZs are being enthusiastically promoted because of the help it is hope they will provide states in passing through the Factory Asia Paradigm (FAP) – i.e. import substituting, export oriented, intensive manufacturing based on low labour cost competitiveness and a potential exit from it that would represent graduation from the Middle Income Trap. At various stages of the FAP, it is necessary to provide educational services to employees at different levels of seniority. This might include specific on-the-job training, vocational skills-based education or more advanced forms of learning to foster creativity and innovation. Within the GMS, educational provision has begun to be provided in some of the different types of SEZ that have been opened or which are still being built. More will be expected in the future as, for example, the Thai government has recently called for foreign universities to open facilities within its SEZs to try to meet state-level developmental goals. This paper investigates the current level of provision of such forms of education and compares it with what might be required, together with a brief consideration of how the gap might be bridged.

Keywords: education. Greater Mekong Subregion, special economic zones, vocational education

There is going to be book on the workshop’s themes in due course and I plan to submit a chapter to it.