This morning I presented, remotely, “Impacts of China’s Cross-Border Linkages with the Mekong Region Countries,” at the Inter-Asian Connections Conference VI: Hanoi (4-7th, December, 2018), hosted by the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences (https://www.ssrc.org/programs/child-component/interasia-program/interasian-connections-conference-series/interasian-connections-vi-hanoi-2018/).
Abstract: China has been reaching out to its neighbours through political, economic and physical means with a view to improving relations in ways that meet its own long-term objectives. While some initiatives take a similar form in every country, in other cases there are unique configurations based on location-specific factors, such as the border special economic zones in Myanmar, the building of governmental institutions in Cambodia and accommodation with Jack Ma and others in Thailand’s Eastern Economic Corridor. These interactions offer both opportunities and threats since there have been various warnings that some countries accepting loans for infrastructure development are at danger of becoming heavily indebted. This paper investigates the different kinds of cross-border interactions that Chinese organizations have had with neighbouring countries in the Mekong Region (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam) with a view to identifying both positive and negative aspects of those interactions. The political, environmental and cultural contexts of these interactions, which have united China with the Mekong Region throughout recorded history, are all encompassed.
Keywords: China, co-operation, cross-border, infrastructure, Mekong Region
Earlier today, I attended the 5th International and National Stamford Conference (http://conference.stamford.edu) 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.
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.
Announcing: Walsh, John, “Uneven Development and the Special Economic Zones of the Greater Mekong Subregion,” Journal of Perspectives on Development in the Greater Mekong Region, Vol.3, No.1 (January-June, 2015), pp.1-16, available at: http://icmr.crru.ac.th/Journal/Journal%205/1%20Uneven%20Development%20and%20the%20Special%20Economic.pdf.
The use of industrial estates in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) has been very successful in terms of numbers of projects launched, number of factories opened, amount of goods manufactured and so forth. However, although aggregate levels of creation are impressive, it is not clear that the value added to the economies involved overall is very high. One important means of enhancing the quality of the connectivity between economic actors located within an industrial estate and other economic actors in the wider economy. This would involve connectivity that would be characterized as becoming greener and smarter. This paper argues that the concepts of environmental friendliness and intelligent relationships can be folded into the construct of connectivity as a framework for analysis. This is used to inform the study and discussion of a series of case studies of industrial estates within the GMS and helps to refine a future research agenda.
KEYWORDS Connectivity, Greater Mekong Subregion, Industrial estates, Special economic zones, Uneven development
This is the third abstract from the forthcoming IFRD Conference, co-authored with Phramaha Min Putthithanasombat:
Monk Travellers: Spreading the Opportunity to Do Good under Theravadin Buddhhism
In Theravadin Buddhism, which is the most prevalent form in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMSR), the monk is a central figure in giving people the opportunity to do good by donating food on the early morning perambulation and on other occasions. Moving from one place to another is, therefore, an inherently important aspect of the monk’s daily routine. As part of the everyday politics of life as experienced by most people in the region, monks have become prominent features of the quotidian landscape and, hence, influencers of opinion and feelings by virtue of their presence. However, what impact does it have if the monk travels further afield, even internationally? Research has indicated that cross-border travel in the GMSR for religious purposes can help to improve social relations and that the management of facilities related to temples (wats) can be organized along religious-philosophical lines. This paper uses a qualitative research approach to extend the previous analysis to consider the role of the monk as both manager and agent of change in the role of international traveller. It is argued that elements of Buddhist dharma can explain the role of the monk as manager, especially when taken in conjunction with parts of management literature.
Keywords: Greater Mekong Subregion; monks; perambulation; Theravadin Buddhism; travel
Phramaha Min Putthithanasombat, School of Management, Shinawatra University
John Walsh, School of Management, Shinawatra University
This is the abstract of the paper I am going to present at the conference on mainland Southeast Asian nation relations to be held at Salaya Campus of Mahidol University, next month (June 24th-25th):
Cross-Border Labour Migration in Mainland Southeast Asia
As new stages in the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) are approached, a great deal of attention has been placed on the possibilities for migration in certain categories of skilled labour. Yet this phenomenon is dwarfed in size and importance by the movement of unskilled and semi-skilled labour in the region. Millions of workers from neighbouring countries have travelled to Thailand to take advantage of better wages available there, while there are smaller but still important movements of Vietnamese workers and traders to Laos and Chinese investors, traders and workers in all countries. These movements offer opportunities and threats to those included but are not unproblematic from social or political perspectives. Successive governments in Thailand, for example, have sought to regulate the movements of migrant workers and bring more of them into the formal sector of the economy through documentation. At the same time, the construction of increasing numbers of special economic zones in all the countries of the region has provided new magnets for labour migration, including cross-border migration under the border region zones being proposed for Thailand. This paper seeks to identify the principal causes and effects of labour migration in mainland Southeast Asia and the various societal and political implications that arise from their presence. Migration, it is argued, is a rational response to uneven development and one that can lead to a number of benefits to all involved. However, in an era of occasionally intemperate nationalism, there is considerable scope for negative outcomes and these should be addressed. Some policy options are provided as the result of the analysis.
Keywords: informal sector; economic development; labour migration; mainland Southeast Asia; special economic zones;
John Walsh, Shinawatra University