New York, NY: Orbit Books, 2014
It is not surprising that this book is a multiple award winner (e.g. the 2014 Hugo and Nebula novel prizes, among others) because it is an astonishing vision of a distant human future. The central figure, Breq, was once the artificial intelligence powering a giant spaceship. The complexity of operations that giant spaceships are obliged to manage requires numerous semi-autonomous mobile units and, for these, it is convenient to use the dead or, at least, the permanently sequestered. Humanity is engaged with a colonial project involves invading and conquering planets that are vexatiously rebellious. To crush the morale of the rebels, prisoners are taken and imprisoned in the holds of ships and then used as meat puppets by fractions of the ship’s mind for face-to-face conversations. This is both horrifying and apparently successful as a policy.
However, where such power is available, inevitably there will be conflict and Breq has suffered as a result. Where once she was thousands of individuals all directly linked to the central intelligence, now she is just one body and somewhat frustrated as a result. However, she is not without resources and her superior intellect has provided her with the means to obtain as much money as she needs to accomplish her goals of investigation and revenge. Still she must face the problems that all individuals face in going from place to pace and organizing transport and logistics. Along the way, she takes company with a drug-addled space cadet named Seivander who may have played a role in the central event of her life – the moment when she changed from being the Justice of Taen to becoming One-Esk – that is, the destruction of the greater part of her existence and the integrity of her memory of that event. The unlikely couple pursue the quest of understanding that is going to occupy several novels.
In addition to the science fiction background of aliens, space travel and surviving in harsh environments, this book is concerned with identity and reality. To what extent can we, as people, be assured that our existence is as we perceive it to be or do we edit and re-edit the narrative of our life to account for changes that we did not predict (which is slightly reminiscent of the guy who lives with the cat called The Lord)? What is the relationship between mind, body and consciousness? The development of these ideas is not very sophisticated so far but this may change in future episodes. However, it is quite enjoyable to find a science fiction novel in which not only does the dialogue convince but the characters have a means of development. One of the recommendations on the back cover likens the author to Iain M. Banks and this is a useful comparison. Like Banks, she can bring the almost inconceivable into fictional reality and combines humanity with acts of extraordinary wickedness. All in all, then, a terrific book and I look forward to the next episode.
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.
This weekend I was at the Grande Westin Sukhumvit Hotel for the Second ERIA (http://www.eria.org/) Workshop on Cross-Border E-Commerce in ASEAN and East Asia.
My paper was “The Role of E-Commerce in Enabling Mekong Region Subsistence Farmers to Enter Regional and International Markets Equitably.”
There are still large numbers of subsistence farmers in the Greater Mekong Subregion who live in or close to poverty. A recent four-country survey found that nearly half of all people interviewed has some form of food insecurity experience over the past year and these results were higher for people in rural areas (Hapfel & Walsh, forthcoming). Problems from which such households suffer include lack of capital and education, poor access to specific inputs and technical knowledge and no awareness of how to obtain market access. When farmers do enter into contracts for cash-crop production, they face problems such as lack of effective contract law, contracts in verbal not written forms and the propensity of either side to the contract to change conditions in response to short-term price changes. In any case, farmers suffer from the need to trade commodities in volatile markets, the lack of local market development that would make product diversification less risky and inability to convert commodities into value-added products in the context of a region vulnerable to environmental shock and the emerging effects of global climate change. While farmers’ fortunes have been transformed in Thailand, this was at least partly the result of an active, interventionist private sector and extensive transportation and distribution infrastructure that do not exist to anything like the same extent in other Mekong region countries. However, what people in rural areas do now have in great numbers is access to the internet through relatively cheap mobile telecommunications. The penetration of mobile telephones in every country has now become very high and, while freedom of speech with respect to political issues is still restricted, this rarely has an impact on commercial relationships and networks. At the very least, this technology permits people to exchange knowledge about market prices and demand conditions for various products. However, the technology does not permit communications with people speaking a different language nor suggest how to find new market contacts, especially when they are cross-border in nature. There is a need, therefore, to try to understand what mechanisms need to come into existence in order to promote the kinds of remote linkages required to help bring farmers into market relationships on a more or less equitable basis. Is it necessary to introduce either new laws or regulations to ensure e-commerce takes place in a desirable manner or else to change the way that existing laws or regulations are policed? This paper identifies the current conditions under which farmers in the Mekong region currently exist and analyses their ability to access both mobile telecommunications in itself and the network benefits that may flow from it. It also outlines what legal and regulatory frameworks exist and how they may need to be modified to promote equitable market development. The analysis leads to a discussion of what might be achieved through e-commerce in this context and provides recommendations for stakeholders at a variety of levels.
Keywords: agriculture, e-commerce, equitable development, Greater Mekong Subregion, markets
The event went well and we researchers are now asked to submit the final version of the papers on August 20th, 2017.
Last week I also attended the International Convention of Asian Scholars (http://icas.asia/icas-10-chiang-mai-2017), also held at the International Convention Centre in Chiang Mai (http://www.cmecc-mice.com/).
(Mr Eric Bediako, PhD candidate at Shinawatra University, prepares to give his paper.)
My paper was “Fostering Economic Cross-Border Interactions in the Greater Mekong Subregion”
The Thai governments plan to create a series of border special economic zones (SEZs) in provinces bordering Lao PDR, Cambodia, Myanmar and Malaysia has raised a number of questions. Among these is the issue of how the SEZs will actually stimulate the cross-border complementarity of resources that appears to be envisaged, as well as the secondary or indirect effects that this will have on individuals and organizations. Cross-border trading is increasing in nearly every part of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) but the nature of the trade can still involve basic commodities and non-value-added products. This contributes to the possibility of asymmetric trade that benefits one side more than the other, as has often been the case with cross-border contract farming, for example. In addition to trade, cross-border visits involve leisure, retail and health issues, as well as land speculation and real estate development. This paper takes a case study approach to several instances of cross-border interactions in the GMSR, including the proposed border SEZ at Nong Khai and the link with Vientiane, the Poipet-Aranyaprathet cross-border casino-real estate boom and the northern Myanmar-China series of interactions. It is argued that these interactions can function reasonably well without additional regulation but that their effects are complex and unpredictable. From a developmental perspective, one positive approach from states would be to assist in building necessary infrastructure as an enabling technology and then allowing people to make use of it.
Last week I attended the International Conference on Thai Studies (http://www.icts13.chiangmai.cmu.ac.th/) held at the International Conference Centre in Chiang Mai (http://www.cmecc-mice.com/).
(Walden Bello acting as discussant).
My paper was “Spatial Economic Initiatives in Thailand.”
In common with other mainland Southeast Asian countries, Thailand has historically been dominated by a primate city, Bangkok, in which all principal economic, social, political, religious and monarchical institutions have been concentrated. Awareness of the problems that this concentration has caused has been recognised in developmental plans since the 1950s, when efforts at decentralization were first introduced. Assisted by improvements in transportation infrastructure made during the Cold War period, initiatives such as the creation of the Northern Region Industrial Estate have been intended to develop other parts of the country to modify migration flows and reduce income inequalities which have become more marked through the years. The Board of Investment has been instrumental in offering incentives to foreign and domestic investors in industrial estates to the north of Bangkok in Pathum Thani and Ayutthaya, where good roads link the places of production with the markets of the capital and the main port of Laem Chabang. Currently, the border special economic zone policy aims, insofar as its objectives have been coherently stated, to promote development in border regions which can take advantage of cross-border trade and investment. In these efforts, success has usually been achieved when public sector agencies have provided what private sector interests wanted and this is likely to continue in the future. This paper explores the various economic spatial initiatives that have taken place in the country and attempts to analyse when and where these have been successful and what lessons failures have been able to provide.
Keywords: Thailand, special economic zones, economic geography, regional development
Khine, Moe Moe and John Walsh, “Job Satisfaction among Opthalmologists in Myanmar,” International Review of Management and Development Studies, Vol.1, No.3 (2017), pp.6-28, available at: http://crcltd.org/images/Job_Satisfaction_among_Ophthalmologists_in_Myanmar.PDF.
Lomethong, Jen and John Walsh, “Management of Drug Eradication Schemes in Myanmar,” International Review of Management and Development Studies, Vol.1, No.3 (2017), pp.29-39, available at: http://crcltd.org/images/Management_of_Drug_Eradication_Schemes_in_Myanmar.PDF.