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L’Asie du Sud-Est 2020

Bilan, enjeux et perspectives

L'Asie du Sud-Est 2020Edited by Christine CABASSET et Claire Thi-Liên TRAN
IRASEC et Les Indes Savantes, Paris, avril 2020, 456 p.
ISBN : 978-2-84654-544-0
Langue française French text


L’Asie du Sud-Est 2020 offers a detailed and synthetic analysis of the main political, economic, social, environmental and diplomatic events that occurred in 2019 in each of the eleven countries of the region, completed by a focus on two personalities of the year and a news item with striking images. The book also features four topics treated on a regional scale : illiberal constitutionalism, new forms of militarisation, the spread of Salafism, and trade relations between Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Practical tools are also available, including a fact sheet and a chronology for each country and for the region, as well as a booklet containing the main demographic, social, economic and environmental indicators.


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This book was supported by:

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Table of contents

In memoriam
The contributorsRetour ligne manuel
ForewordRetour ligne manuel



Southeast Asia as a Laboratory for Illiberal Constitutionalism (Eugénie MÉRIEAU)

New shapes of militarization in Southeast Asia : a threat or an opportunity for regional security ? (Éric FRÉCON)

The Diffusion of Salafism in Southeast Asia : Local Receptions of a Globalizing Thinking (Gabriel FACAL) Logo Youtube

Trade relations between South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa : The promises of further South-South cooperation (Diadé DIAW et Thi Anh Dao TRAN)



Burma - « We Stand with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi » (Aurore CANDIER)

Brunei - Between restraint and constraint (Marie-Sybille de VIENNE)

Cambodia - Sovereignty under pressure (Jean-Christophe DIEPART et Steven PRIGENT)

Indonesia - A mega coalition for accelerated development (Gloria Truly ESTRELITA et Gabriel FACAL) Logo Youtube

Laos - A development strategy at all costs : the headlong rush ? (Éric MOTTET)

Malaysia - The normalization of the parliamentary alternation, between progress and disappointments (David DELFOLIE)

Philippines - A stronger presidential power (François-Xavier BONNET)

Singapore - From « Singapour Inc. » to Singapore Nation… via the smart cities (Éric FRÉCON)

Timor-Leste - Small, remote… and at the center of strategic preoccupations (Christine CABASSET)

Thailand - Slowing economy, growing inequalities and a lesson in electoral authoritarianism (Stéphane RENNESSON)

Vietnam - Đổi Mới.2 or How to Become a Middle Power (Claire Thi Lien TRAN et Trung Dung VÕ

Indicateurs-clés - Représentation graphique*


*(erratum : rectificatif sur les tableaux de la page 432, 433 et 435)




Southeast Asia as a Laboratory for Illiberal Constitutionalism (Eugénie MÉRIEAU)

Southeast Asia has experienced three waves of constitutionalism : the independence wave following the end of World War II, the "reverse" communist and anticommunist wave during the Cold War, and the "third wave" of democratic transitions in the late 1980s. Since the mid-2000s, the third wave seems to be giving way to yet another “reverse wave”. Whereas during the first reverse wave constitutionalism declined as a source of political legitimacy, in the current reverse wave several countries have turned to rely on constitutional mechanisms and notably constitutional courts to secure their rule and contain demands for democratization. Southeast Asian innovative constitutionalism is ambivalent : it responds to demands for more human rights, including environmental rights, while protecting power-holders from political and legal challenges, sometimes leading to the demise of constitutional democracy altogether as in the case of Thailand and Cambodia.

Keywords : Southeast Asia, Illiberal Constitutionalism, Judicialization of Politics, Constitutional Consciousness, Waves of Constitutionalism


New shapes of militarization in Southeast Asia : a threat or an opportunity for regional security ? (Éric FRÉCON)

Based on budgets and military purchases, militarization would seem to be gaining ground across Southeast Asia. However, different ratios and statistics suggest that China is not the main factor to explain these acquisitions, mainly made up of old equipment. Moreover, military expenditure is not so worrying considering the proportion of the countries’ GDP it represents. Furthermore, on the political scene, leadership is not only under the influence of military officers. In fact, there seems to be a different kind of militarization : on the one hand, police forces and coast-guards are increasingly involved, with bigger and bigger assets, in conducting missions that were previously given to the armed forces – especially at sea. There is thus no risk of escalation of violence. On the other hand, military actors are extending their activities by acting either like diplomats – through exercises – or like law enforcement agents and logistics forces, particularly in case of natural disasters.

Keywords : Southeast Asia, Armed Forces, Arms Race, China, Non-Traditional Security


The Diffusion of Salafism in Southeast Asia : Local Receptions of a Globalizing Thinking (Gabriel FACAL)

Southeast Asia, which accounts for almost a fifth of the global Muslim population, is at the heart of the Salafist thinkings’ exportation circuits. The spread of this movement is a multi-secular process that gathered momentum at the end of the 1960s. Its presence lays on the deep and ancient rooting of multiple transnational Islamic components in Southeast Asia, like the Sufi brotherhoods’networks and the big Muslim organizations which emerged in the course of the nation-states’ buildings. Salafism development is also favored by the secular political parties’ increasing confessionalization and by the Muslim parties’ greater visibility. Other important leverages are the mutual political-economic strategies between the states of ASEAN and the Gulf countries. The Salafist factor sometimes has a strong weight on the religious radicalization processes. However, the quietist, activist or extremist movements, which coexist in the region, all require to take into account both the local ideological synthesis operated by the groups and their universalistic claims.

Keywords : Southeast Asia, Salafism, Gulf States, Sufi brotherhoods, Political Islam, Extremism


Trade relations between South-East Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa : The promises of further South-South cooperation (Diadié DIAW, Thi Anh-Dao TRAN)

Since the 2008 global crisis, the weight of South-South exports has exceeded that of South-North exports : in 2018, 57.6% of total exports from developing countries (here referred to as "the South") were destined for other developing economies. On this basis, it is possible to understand increasing trade ties between the countries of South-East Asia (SEA) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) since the beginning of the 21st century, in the wake of a trade revival among developing countries which has been shaped by the rise of China. The objective here is to analyze the intensified trade between the countries of SEA and SSA : how has this trade developed in a more general trend connecting Africa and Asia on the one hand, and in inter-regional relations between Southern countries on the other hand ? What are the major obstacles to this commercial momentum and which kind of policies would be required to cope with them ?

Keywords : South-South trade, Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Global value chains, Economic cooperation


BURMA/MYANMAR - « We Stand with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi » (Aurore CANDIER)

The pervasive presence of the army in Burmese power politics is a major concern of NLD’s first mandate. Yet the majority in Burma is satisfied with Aung San Suu Kyi’s overall achievement regarding the reform of education (primary teaching, exams, and national curriculum), the fight against corruption, and the action taken against ultra-nationalist Buddhist monks. However, unfulfilled expectations remain. The peace process has stalled, and violent internal conflicts affect northern Burma. China has taken advantage of the situation, playing the role of peace mediator and of an indispensable economic actor. Moreover, civil society demands the reform of the constitution, further dialog with ethnic groups, and the establishment of a transparent judiciary system. Finally, Aung San Suu Kyi’s defense at the International Court of Justice against accusations of genocide has failed to convince the international community.

Keywords : Myanmar/Burma, Politics, Reforms, Internal conflicts, Civil society


BRUNEI - Between restraint and constraint (Marie-Sybille de VIENNE)

Brunei’s major concerns are low GDP growth (barely 1% in 2019) and high unemployment, which puts Brunei at the forefront of ASEAN : unemployment for those under 25 is 30%, and part-time work affects one-fifth of the labor force. Since 2005, Brunei’s oil production decreased by half and gas production by a quarter, while the price of hydrocarbons nearly halved between 2013 and 2018. However, the Bruneian economy is still very far from hitting the bottom, especially since its external debt is almost nil. The international community has focused on the full enforcement of the Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO) on 3 April 2019, which introduced a range of corporal punishments, including death penalty for sexual offenses (adultery and male homosexuality) and religious offenses (apostasy or denigration of the Koran and the Prophet). Regardless of SCPO, some concern about the sustainability of the Bruneian socio-economic model begin to surge.

Keywords : Brunei, Unemployment, Syariah Penal Code, Infrastructures, Governance, Legco


CAMBODIA - Sovereignty under pressure (Jean-Christophe DIEPART, Steven PRIGENT)

The year 2019 saw struggles between the government and several of its partners or opponents. The continued negotiations with the European Union around the “Everything But Arms” commercial agreements took place in a context of increased alignment with China and heated diplomatic relations with the US. The ruling party maintained a strong pressure on the political opposition, reaffirmed its control over the administration but also gained some legitimacy by strengthening the tax administration towards successful fiscal reforms. The drought that has affected ecosystems across the country impacted the production and distribution of hydro-electricity but also renewed general concerns about natural resources management in the Kingdom, particularly in the Tonle Sap flood plain.

Keywords : Cambodia, “Everything But Arms”, Authoritarianism, Chinese influence, Drought


INDONESIA - A mega coalition for accelerated development (Gloria Truly ESTRELITA, Gabriel FACAL)

The year 2019 has been particularly intense in Indonesia. The return of the political and civic debate reflected in the recent elections seems to give a fresh hope to democratic recovery. Nevertheless, after months of political tension, the presidential and legislative elections in April were followed by striking settlements in ministerial reshuffles in October, revealing the intricate strategies of the “progressive” presidential team in dealing with the legacies of the former regime. At the same time, the liberalism represented by the President took an authoritarian direction, with the repression of social movements and new draft laws threatening fundamental freedoms. On the economic issue, the government’s major development program is successful ; however, it fails in dealing with growing inequality, and many projects severely harm the environment. Thus, Indonesia’s young democracy seems to hesitate between development driven by strong people’s demand and the restriction of individual freedoms, which stems from the religious conservatism and military culture inherited from the former regime.

Keywords : Indonesia, Joko Widodo, authoritarian liberalism, infrastructures, environment


LAOS - A development strategy at all costs : the headlong rush ? (Éric MOTTET)

While there are clear signs of economic recovery and foreign investment is flowing back into the country, there are many internal government problems (corruption, expropriation, forced displacement, general environmental degradation). Lacking solutions to the discontent of the rural and urban populations, Laos seems to have made a fresh start in its policy of unbridled (trains, dams, motorways) and unequal socio-economic development. The Party is convinced that improving regional connectivity is one of the keys to trigger the country’s potential growth, with the aim of ending poverty. The question now is whether this development model is appropriate for Laos.

Keywords : Laos, connectivity, hydro-power, international critics, drug trafficking, regional and international integration


MALAYSIA - The normalization of the parliamentary alternation, between progress and disappointments (David DELFOLIE)

In Malaysia, the coalition of the Alliance of Hope (Pakatan Harapan) had to prove itself in the exercise of power after its victory in May 2018 General Elections (GE14), which marked the beginning of a historical political transition. Following the critical period of the country’s first parliamentary alternation since its independence in 1957, 2019 was a sensitive year for the normalization of the initiated changes. Despite rather encouraging signals for the continuation of the process, several questions remain unanswered, in particular with regard to the cabinet’s ability to remain united in adversity and to continue the implementation of its program without major renunciations. Although plagued by internal tensions, especially on identity issues, the Alliance of Hope has been fairly successful in imposing its pragmatic reformist trajectory and consolidating in the long-term its legislature. Nevertheless, it rapidly lost a significant part of its popularity.

Keywords : Malaysia, Democratic transition, Political normalization, Alliance of Hope, May 2018 General Elections (GE14)


PHILIPPINES - A stronger presidential power (François-Xavier BONNET)

Faced with President Duterte’s resilience, his high popularity and his near-hegemony over the country’s institutions, the opposition has weakened considerably. President Duterte has also stepped up his policy of intimidating the opposition. The international community continues to press against the Duterte administration’s "war on drugs", but the latter counter-attacks by blocking, for an indefinite period, public aid from countries (including France) which have voted to the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate human rights violations in this country. 2020 could be a pivotal year for the Duterte administration. This could accentuate its distance from Western countries and move closer to China in a context of renewed tensions between the United States and the Philippines.

Keywords : Philippines, War on drugs, United Nations Human Rights Council, Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, Reed Bank, Philippine Offshore Gaming Operator


SINGAPOUR - From « Singapour Inc. » to Singapore Nation… via the smart cities (Éric FRÉCON)

In 2019, Singapore celebrated the bicentennial of… the British influence or of “modernity”, as the Prime Minister put it. This event highlighted the lack of debate about the Singaporean (de)colonization and the search for new national narratives. Since 1819, Singapore has risen as a global city. In 2019, despite the worrying GDP growth, the city still improved its infrastructures as a hub. Based on its digital economy, Singapore is now emerging as a smart city and it addresses the first challenges, namely resilience and sustainability. However, due to the uncertain freedom of expression, there would be a risk of moving from a “sensored” to a “censored” city. Global city, smart city, smart city 2.0 : is it time to consider the nation-building to move ahead ? The government is precisely changing its leadership before the next elections and, on the international scene, Singapore intends to behave autonomously, beyond the influence of great powers.

Keywords : Singapore, Decolonization, Infrastructures, Micro-State, Smart city


THAILAND - Slowing economy, growing inequalities and a lesson in electoral authoritarianism (Stéphane RENNESSON)

If polls have been more or less confiscated by refined electoral engineering, the skyrocketing of Future Forward Party embodies an alternative that appeals to the youth of the kingdom and beyond. But the junta achieved to associate the project of the former with the democratic, social and elective Western model while it has pushed further the collusion between aristocracy, army and business circles. The elections significantly contributed to the maintenance of this confiscatory machinery while the country has no more room for maneuver considering social and environmental resources. We are possibly witnessing a strong political polarization, the famous silent majority melting like snow in the sun. The widening rift contradicts the storytelling of the kingdom society’s pacification to which cling those who profit from the status quo. Will a potentially ostracized from the assembly FFP know how to design peaceful and effective modes of mobilization with grassroots bodies ? Will the business community correlate its interests with the fortification of the kingdom’s fast vanishing human and natural resources ?

Keywords : Thailand, Democracy, Inequality, Environmental risks, Army, Identity crisis


TIMOR-LESTE - Small, remote… and at the center of strategic preoccupations (Christine CABASSET)

The number of foreign delegations and the scale of the ceremony, in Dili, of the 20th anniversary of the 1999 auto-determination consultation reminded how « internationalized » the independent Timor-Leste was born. The Timor-Leste membership to ASEAN made another diplomatic and media’s major theme of the year, although based on a non-event : nine years after its application, the country is still waiting for a decision from the regional organization. Its membership is scrutinized as none other before it. Journalists and observers try hard to explain this delay in the light of the supposed resistance factors from ASEAN member-states. The analysis of the petroleum geoeconomy provides a basis for other interpretation. The increasing presence of China in the country could also explain the delay to get the ASEAN membership, as well as potentially disrupting Australia - Timor-Leste relations.

Keywords : Timor-Leste (East Timor), ASEAN membership, Geopolitics, Petroleum resources, Environment


VIETNAM - Đổi Mới.2 or How to Become a Middle Power (Thị Liên Claire TRẦN, Trung Dung VÕ)

The year 2019 seems to contradict the analysis of the appointment of Nguyễn Phú Trọng as Secretary General of the Party and President as an alignment with the Chinese model. The Party evidently continues to hold sole rule over Vietnam, but it has clearly chosen multilateralism over time, to become a middle power in Asia Pacific and internationally. Besides regional cooperation (ASEAN and Asia Pacific), the strengthening of cooperation with the United States, European Union and Russia characterizes 2019, while China continues to violate its maritime space. The Party is pursuing its fight against corruption and the cleaning of its public policies, as set out in the European free trade treaty signed this year. It has also to deal with a society which points out corruption and its management of climate change. Between the ambition of industrial revolution 4.0 and the social management of a hasty development, the gate is narrow.

Keywords : Vietnam, Anti-corruption campaign, climate change, illegal immigration, energy shortage, multilateralism, Revolution 4.0