Special Economic Zones in East Asia: Form; Purpose and Development

My abstract has been accepted for inclusion in a forthcoming handbook on development to be published by Routledge in 2015:

Special Economic Zones in East Asia: Form; Purpose and Development


The special economic zone (SEZ) has become an absolutely central central symbol and representation of the Factory Asia paradigm: low labour-cost competitiveness in export-oriented, import-substituting manufacturing in geographical areas bound in space and time where the interests of capital are placed above those of labour. The success of this approach in promoting rapid economic development is attested to by the enormous spread of SEZs to every country in the East Asia region. Using them in this way is very logical for governments eager for the benefits of rapid development. However, that desire for growth is not always matched by a desire for democracy and SEZs have been used to funnel resources towards important international and domestic investors while allowing just enough to trickle down to prevent widespread social disorder, at least for some period of time. Until the Lewisian point is reached, wages can be repressed through drawing more workers from the agricultural sector because no matter how exploitative or alienating workplace conditions within SEZ factories might be, jobs within them remain popular because they offer the ability to purchase consumer goods. After the Lewisian point is reached, greater use of force is usually used through suppression of freedom of speech, freedom of association and collective bargaining, as well as the use of violence. Eventually, the limits of the Factory Asia growth model will be reached as part of the Middle Income Trap that means that the methods by which a state can raise itself from low income to middle income status are not the same as the methods by which it can move from middle income to high income status. SEZs can play an important economic role in moving to the high income stage through becoming centres of connectivity that link together the places of production with the places of consumption. As Alfred Marshall pointed out in the nineteenth century, the presence of complementary firms in close proximity with each other provides numerous forms of innovation and productivity improvements. These areas then join international investment with local small and medium-sized enterprises and can transfer technology to the benefit of domestic companies, institutions and consumers. However, the theoretical benefits that SEZs might bring are often not realized in practice owing to factors such as poor governance and mismatch of objectives. This paper examines the different types and forms of SEZs and looks at how their role changes through time and through the development trajectory followed by most East Asian states.

Keywords: East Asia; economic development; labour; Middle Income Trap; special economic zones.

There will be a workshop in Seoul in August 25-26th for authors to present their papers and discuss the process of publishing.

Vietnamese Migrant Workers in Thailand – Implications for Leveraging Migration for Development


Announcing: Nguyen, Nancy Huyen and John Walsh, “Vietnamese Migrant Workers in Thailand – Implications for Leveraging Migration for Development,” Journal of Identity and Migration Studies, Vol.8, No.1 (2014), pp.68-94, available at: http://e-migration.ro/jims/Vol8_No1_2014/Articles/JIMS_Vol8_No1_2014_pp_68_94_HUYEN_WALSH.pdf.


A greater flow of people to and from each of the Mekong countries is catching the attention of the general public and academic researchers. As one of the fastest growing countries in the GMS, Thailand is attracting the majority of migrant workers from its neighbours. At a smaller scale, when compared with those from Lao PDR, Cambodia and Myanmar, Vietnamese workers are also joining this increasing trend in immigration to Thailand. By analyzing information from secondary data sources, this research paper attempts to provide further insights into the social and economic impacts generated by the Vietnamese migrant workers in Thailand both at home and the host country. The study discovers that moving to Thailand for work has eased the pressures of rural unemployment and underemployment that have plagued Vietnam recently. Meanwhile, Vietnamese workers are helping soothe the stress caused by the increasing demand for unskilled and low skilled labourers in Thailand. The study further learns that the long-established community of Vietnamese migrants in Thailand is encouraging the increasing movement of Vietnamese workers to Thailand. The study findings suggest meaningful implications for future policies in leveraging labour migration for development.

Keywords: Vietnamese migrant workers, cross-border migration, labour, employment, remittances, networks, Thailand, Greater Mekong Subregion.


Environmental Degradation and Decent Work

One of the most blatant and important effects of economic development is  environmental degradation. Pre-industrialised societies tend to maintain a  reasonably harmonious relationship with nature: sometimes they relies on  resource extraction or agricultural practices that are close to being  sustainable or, at least, result in only the long-term depletion of resources.

Read the full article here.

Demographic Change and Sustainable Economic Development: Employment Perceptions of Older Workers in Thailand


Walsh, John and Sittichai Anantarangsi, “Demographic Change and Sustainable Economic Development: Employment Perceptions of Older Workers in Thailand,” Economics and Organization of Future Enterprise, Vol.1 (2011), pp.1-13, available at: http://www.orgmasz.pl/wydawnictwo/files/jofeco_1.pdf.


Thailand has risen to the ranks of middle income countries largely through application of the East Asian Economic Model, which is based on export oriented manufacturing based on low wage cost competitiveness. Social and educational institutions have been established to support this model and also to ensure that members of elite and ruling classes reserved better opportunities for themselves and their offspring. Consequently, the Thai labour market displays very weak labour rights, incremental salary increases based on age and entry level wages set by educational qualifications. These factors have made older workers less popular in the non-professional sectors of the labour market. When economic conditions are poor, then older workers tend to suffer more and are generally less able to adapt to changing job market conditions. However, as the Thai population begins to age, these factors will have to change as well or else problems of elderly unemployment and poverty will intensify. As part of the effort to understand the need for changes to combat these future events, research was conducted into the perceptions of older workers in Thailand through qualitative interviewing. The possibility of creating new employment opportunities in entrepreneurial sectors was considered, in addition to job opportunities in the formal sector. Society must absorb the lessons and implications of an increasing number of older people and fewer younger people if economic and social development are to progress on a sustainable basis in the future.

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.