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L’Asie du Sud-Est 2022

Bilan, enjeux et perspectives

L'Asie du Sud-Est 2022Edited by Christine Cabasset and Jérôme Samuel
IRASEC, Bangkok,
February 2022, 498 p.
ISBN : 978-2-35596-073-4
Langue française French text

L’Asie du Sud-Est 2022 offers a detailed and synthetic analysis of the main political, economic, social, environmental and diplomatic events of 2021 in each of the eleven countries of the region, complemented by a focus on two personalities of the year and a news item with striking images. The book also features five thematic dossiers that address issues of regional concern : China’s normative influence, Covid-19-proof tourism, foreign ownership of land and property, the internationalisation of higher education, and escalating tensions in the South China Sea and Europe’s "third way". Practical tools are also available, including a country fact sheet and timeline, and a booklet of key demographic, social, economic and environmental indicators.


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Table of contents

The contributors
Foreword (Christine CABASSET et Jérôme SAMUEL)



China’s normative influence on Southeast Asia : a preliminary estimate of the impact of China’s outward foreign direct investment on local labour norms (Elsa LAFAYE DE MICHEAUX)

Southeast Asian tourism and the Covid-19 challenge (Christine CABASSET et Emmanuelle PEYVEL)

Can foreigners own land ? A comparative analysis of urban land rights in Southeast Asia (Adèle ESPOSITO)

Trends and issues in the internationalization of higher education in Southeast Asia : Mundus without Erasmus (Jimmy STEF et Jérôme SAMUEL)



Escalation of tension in the South China Sea and the European “third path” (Jérémy BACHELIER et Éric FRÉCON)



Burma - The end of the democratic momentum (Aurore CANDIER et Rémi NGUYEN)

Brunei - Recession, resignation, and rebuke (Marie-Sybille DE VIENNE)

Cambodia - Diplomatic acrobatics in time of pandemic (Julie BLOT)

Indonesia - Between internal challenges and international positioning (Sarah ANDRIEU)

Laos - Drastic public health measures and economy at a standstill (Éric MOTTET et Anne ÉON)

Malaysia - A false air of political epilogue in the shadow of the pandemic (David DELFOLIE)

Philippines - Second year of Covid-19 (François-Xavier BONNET et Elisabeth LUQUIN)

Singapore - State-building versus political cleavages (Éric FRÉCON)

Thailand - A political crisis exacerbated by the health crisis (Alexandre BARTHEL et Christine CABASSET)

Timor-Leste - A pre-election year, between health crisis and AUKUS (Christine CABASSET et Marguerite COGNÉ)

Vietnam - Resilient Việt Nam, from the “anticovid guerrilla” to the quest for a new post-pandemic dynamic (Jean-Philippe EGLINGER et Pierre JOURNOUD)

Key Indicators - Graphical Representation






China’s normative influence on Southeast Asia : a preliminary estimate of the impact of China’s outward foreign direct investment on local labour norms (Elsa LAFAYE DE MICHEAUX and Min-Hua CHIANG)

China as a norm changer in Southeast Asia ? Given the speed of China’s progress in the international scene, the answer is likely to be yes. With the development of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), many Southeast Asian countries are increasingly involved in several China-backed infrastructure development projects. Initiated or decisively supported by China, economic projects in the region are likely to enhance local governments’ legitimacy as well as China’s political influence. This chapter emphasises, among others, the normative role of growing China’s outward foreign direct investment in Southeast Asian countries since the early 2000s, especially developing countries with insignificant outward foreign direct investment like Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia whose reliance on China appears to be significant. More specifically regarding labour norms, given developing countries’ poor social standards and weak rule-based governance, China may easily adjust local labour regulations in favour of Chinese firms. However, it remains to be seen if economic dynamics will in turn reinforce the Chinese government’s control over ASEAN countries’ domestic politics, and erode or sacrifice domestic labour rights.

Keywords : China’s outward foreign direct investment, China-ASEAN relations, labour norms, international norms, China’s political influence


Southeast Asian tourism and the Covid-19 challenge (Christine CABASSET and Emmanuelle PEYVEL)

Tourism is one of the sectors that has suffered the most from the pandemic, especially in Southeast Asia where governments have opted for a sustained restrictive border closure. We first outline the severity of this crisis at the regional, national and local levels, particularly in monofunctional areas dependent on international tourism. We then show that the public and private measures carried out have been ultimately insufficient, despite financial aids and stimulus packages. Although the tourism sector has proven its resilience, notably by encouraging domestic tourism and creating new promotional offers, these strategies did not compensate the collapse of international flows. Reauthorised at the end of 2021, tourists were essentially channeled towards a few islands. We finally consider whether the changes caused by the Covid-19 crisis may have been one-off or long-term, influencing structural evolutions. Indeed, if Covid-19 has been an accelerator of change, challenges remain, particularly in the environmental sphere.

Keywords : Covid-19, International tourism, Domestic tourism, Tourist bubbles, Destination recovery


Can foreigners own land ? A comparative analysis of urban land rights in Southeast Asia (Adèle ESPOSITO ANDUJAR)

This paper offers a comparative analysis of the regulations that have restrained or forbidden the access of foreign individuals or companies to land ownership rights in countries from Southeast Asia. It argues that Southeast Asian nation states crafted these regulations in order to resist foreign domination and to legitimate sovereignty. Drawing on Foucault’s notion of illegalism, it examines the socio-economic tactics that negotiate or transgress these land laws in order to override their limitations. These tactics are widespread in countries that heavily rely on foreign investments. Their success depends on the tolerance of state authorities and the ability of these tactics to maintain a façade of legality. “Condominium laws” in Southeast Asia have legalised, with different temporalities, foreign ownership on condominium units. The separation between property and land ownership conciliates land-based claims of national sovereignty with the strong internationalisation of real estate markets in Southeast Asia.

Keywords : Land law, condominium, illegalism, internationalisation, real estates


Trends and issues in the internationalization of higher education in Southeast Asia : Mundus without Erasmus (Jimmy STEF et Jérôme SAMUEL)

This article discusses the internationalisation of higher education in Southeast Asia in its national and regional dimensions, beginning with its headway across the region and the policies implemented in the different countries. While Singapore and Malaysia are recognised as leading providers of higher education, most of their neighbours have similarly initiated endeavours in the same directions. The article then examines student mobility—a powerful indicator of national education systems’ openness and integration in a globalised world. It shows that intra-regional mobility remains sluggish, evincing a lack of integration in this region, despite the tools and structures put in place within the framework of the ASEAN.

Keywords : Higher education, Internationalisation, Southeast Asia, Public policies, Student mobility


Escalation of tension in the South China Sea and the European “third path” (Jérémy BACHELIER et Éric FRÉCON)

The South China Sea has become a cause of contention between world powers. This rise in tension has placed the ASEAN countries—in particular the requesting states in terms of maritime claims (Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam) —in a delicate position. In such a situation, constant oscillation between Beijing and Washington in the custom of hedging is probably no longer the most viable option. Also, the growing presence of powers other than the United States and China should be seen as a real alternative for the ASEAN countries, not only for both the stability and prosperity of this region, but also vis-à-vis its search for centrality in the face of the large number of security, maritime and environmental problems. “Friends, allied but not aligned” : this diplomatic adage alone sums up a position which is in line with the “inclusive” diplomacy promoted by both the EU as the ASEAN, and is propitious to partnerships.

Keywords : ASEAN, China, European Union, South China Sea, USA, Maritime Security


Burma/Myanmar - The end of the democratic momentum (Aurore CANDIER and Rémi NGUYEN)

Since the Covid-19 outbreak and the military coup in February 2021, Myanmar has been facing political, economic and social issues. Two governments have been drawn from the coup : the first one is the National Unity Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, which is the Burmese government in exile formed by the CRPH in April 2021, and the second one is the State Administration Council of the Government of Myanmar, which was established by Min Aung Hlaing in August 2021. Furthermore, the country has been hit hard by civil war and cash shortages. Being one of the poorest countries in Asia, the population is suffering and no longer has access to survival means. While elections are scheduled in August 2023, prospects of improvement are yet to be seen.

Keywords : Politics, Coup d’état, Economic sanction, Conflicts


Brunei - Recession, resignation, and rebuke (Marie-Sybille de VIENNE)

After a lockdown of nearly 18 months, Brunei Darussalam slipped into recession in 2021 due to fluctuations in hydrocarbon prices and the sharp decline in downstream industries’ output, which might reverse in 2022. The budgetary deficit almost quadrupled in absolute terms over 2020/21, bringing it to 19.7% of GDP, a level that is now unsustainable. The economic downturn has hit a population clinging to the comforts dispensed by a welfare monarchy. This is all the more so since employment woes were palpable well before the start of the pandemic. Moreover, the number of temporary residents (i.e. immigrant workers) decreased by 8.6% in less than two years. Adding to the gloom were the difficulties of the ASEAN Chairmanship, which placed the sultanate in the midst of great turbulence following the coup in Myanmar, especially since the Bruneian authorities did not hesitate—with their usual discretion—to increase diplomatic pressure on the Burmese junta, both directly and through ASEAN channels.

Keywords : Hydrocarbons, Budgetary deficit, ASEAN Chairmanship, China, Myanmar


Cambodia - Diplomatic acrobatics in time of pandemic (Julie BLOT)

While Cambodia was not directly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in the former year, 2021 saw the first death from the virus. Sanitary measures were reinforced with little attention to human rights in the isolation of positive cases in prison-like camps. The economic situation started to unravel due to the absence of the tourist, and different kinds of trafficking appeared, including smuggling across the Thai border or the abuse of foreigners as online workers for illegal money-grabbing on social media. While Cambodia celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Paris Peace Agreements, which had put an end to the civil war, critics called out the lack of application of a multiparty democratic system agreed upon by all parties in 1991. These criticisms as well as the authorities’ close links with China are an embarrassment to Cambodia in the year of its ASEAN Chairmanship in 2022.

Keywords : Pandemic, Paris Peace Agreements, Multiparty system, Diplomacy, ASEAN


Indonesia - Between internal challenges and international positioning (Sarah Anaïs ANDRIEU)

At the end of 2021, the Covid-19 pandemic continues to affect many sectors in Indonesia. An economic recovery has however begun, expanding rapidly in the digital field. At the same time, observers report a general deterioration of democracy in the country, with an increasing centralisation of executive power in the hands of the president. The two provinces of Papua have often been in the spotlight, be it with respect to the jurisdiction concerning the renewed statute of autonomy or the violent conflict opposing the government and independence movements. 2021 was also marked by the government’s growing awareness of environmental problems, despite significant internal contradictions. Finally, the country seeks to strengthen its diplomatic influence in the field of international relations, be it in the Indo-Pacific region or within the ASEAN and finally the G20 Presidency.

Keywords : Covid-19, Economic recovery, Papua, Democratic regression, Diplomatic influence


Laos - Drastic public health measures and economy at a standstill (Anne EON and Éric MOTTET)

As the Covid-19 virus which now affects tens of thousands claimed its first deaths among Laotians in 2021, the health situation in Laos, which was relatively stable and not very alarming during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic, abruptly deteriorated. Hit hard by the health crisis and the closure of the country for many months, the whole economy has been severely impacted, especially in the labour-intensive sectors such as agriculture, tourism and manufacturing. Finally, since the opening ceremony of the railway on December 3, Laos has entered a new era, with the country taking an important step in transiting from a land-locked mountain nation to a logistics hub linked with neighbouring countries, particularly China.

Keywords : Covid-19, Health crisis, Economic crisis, High-speed train, Renewal of the Elites


Malaysia - A false air of political epilogue in the shadow of the pandemic (David DELFOLIE)

As in 2020, Malaysia faced a difficult situation in 2021. Following a steady deterioration, the Covid-19 pandemic peaked at the end of August, with multiple social consequences for the population. However, the country has since regained economic growth and succeeded in its national vaccination campaign. Yet, due to dissensions within the majority, the controversial management of the health crisis by the government precipitated the resignation of Prime Minister Muhyddin Yassin, replaced by Ismail Sabri Yaakob, a member of UMNO which was removed from power in 2018. The victory of the party and its allies in two important electoral tests sounded the true epilogue of the democratic transition of May 2018. Nevertheless, various indicators plead for a more nuanced analysis, beyond the fact that the partisan reshuffle initiated in February 2020 remains uncertain before the next general election.

Keywords : Malaysia, Pandemic, Government, Democratic transition, UMNO


Philippines - Second year of Covid-19 (François-Xavier BONNET and Elisabeth LUQUIN)

Domestically, 2021 was a year of unprecedented economic and social crisis caused by the extension of various types of lockdown (the longest in the world) since March 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. This crisis is accentuated by one of the greatest scandals of the Duterte administration : the Pharmally scandal. In preparation for the general elections which will take place on May 9, 2022 is an epic political game among the presidential and the vice-presidential candidates. Internationally, while the government is vigorously protesting China’s actions in the South China Sea, it is benefiting from China’s vaccine diplomacy. The year 2021 is also marked by a rapprochement between the Philippines and the United States especially in the context of the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Mutual Defense Agreement. This rapprochement is largely linked, again, to the vaccine diplomacy led by Washington since the fall of 2021.

Keywords : Confinement, Pharmally, War on drugs, Vaccine diplomacy, Mutual Defense Agreement


Singapore - State-building versus political cleavages (Éric FRECON)

Based on Stein Rokkan’s theoretical framework, state-building in Singapore is now facing four challenges or “cleavages”, namely “penetration”, “standardisation”, “equalisation” and “redistribution”. Firstly, the city-state has to move away from the usual diplomatic “hedging” (Evelyn Goh) and the Chinese-American dilemma, with the European Union and/or France as a possible “third path”. Secondly, nation-building is far from being a smooth process beyond the official narrative of “racial harmony”. Thirdly, Singapore is still seen as an illiberal or “flawed democracy” (Wolfgang Merkel), with the (lack of) freedom of expression as a major criterion, and because of new laws such as the Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act or FICA. For example, Singapore has not been invited by Washington to the Summit for Democracy. Fourthly, the government has made strong efforts to counter the Covid-19 pandemic by moving away from a zero-Covid policy, and promoting the idea of a minimum wage, which had been a taboo.

Keywords : ASEAN, Elections, Nation-building, Welfare State


Thailand - A political crisis exacerbated by the health crisis (Alexandre BARTHEL and Christine CABASSET)

While Thailand was only marginally affected by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the kingdom experienced an explosion in the number of cases and deaths due in particular to the Delta variant in 2021, along with major delays in its vaccination campaign. The management of the health crisis provided the basis for increased parliamentary activity by opposition parties, and anti-government protests in the streets with the same demands as in 2020 for the resignation of the Prime Minister and the reform of the monarchy. However, a significant recovery in exports as well as initiatives to reopen international tourism, combined with an increase in the vaccination rate, led to a certain return of optimism at the end of the year. At the international level, Myanmar’s crisis unfolding at Thailand’s doorstep has generated intense migration and humanitarian pressures that the kingdom needs to deal with.

Keywords : Vaccination, Anti-government protests, Exports, Tourism, Myanmar crisis, Refugees


Timor-Leste - A pre-election year, between health crisis and AUKUS (Christine CABASSET and Marguerite COGNÉ)

2021 was already a busy year for East Timorese politics in view of the presidential elections in 2022. While Timor-Leste was praised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for its good management of the pandemic in 2020, it faced in 2021 the highly virulent Delta variant wave, as did other Southeast Asian states, resulting in severe social and economic impact in the capital of Dili as in the rest of the highly rural country. The national budget was further burdened by the exigencies ensuing the major human and material damage caused by Cyclone Seroja in early April. On the diplomatic front, especially with regard to AUKUS-related dynamics, it is worth looking away from the Indo-Pacific great powers to focus on the small but strategically located Timor-Leste. The latter will in addition be busy in 2022 with the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of its official independence.

Keywords : Covid-19, Presidential election, Independence, Disaster, Aid diplomacy, AUKUS


Vietnam - Resilient Việt Nam, from the “anticovid guerrilla” to the quest for a new post-pandemic dynamic (Jean-Philippe EGLINGER and Pierre JOURNOUD)

While Việt Nam scored one of the world’s best annual GDP growth rates with 2.9% in 2020, it was ranked among one of the weakest performances in 2021 with an estimated annual growth of 2.5%. The Covid-19 pandemic seems to have revealed that the economic development model of Việt Nam of more than 35 years based on low-cost exports, land speculation and domestic consumption is now out of breath. In the international field, Việt Nam has been faced with China’s growing assertiveness, the bipolarisation of the US-China relations, and renewing tensions in the region. It has been seeking a closer relationship with the United States without damaging its ties with China, its first commercial partner. To overcome this strategic dilemma, Việt Nam has enhanced its multilateral role and responsibilities, from the ASEAN to the United Nations. It could also engage with Europe more intensively in this dynamic.

Keywords : Covid-19, Economic model, Strategic dilemma, Multilateralism, Europe