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L’Asie du Sud-Est 2024

Bilan, enjeux et perspectives

L'Asie du Sud-Est 2024Edited by Gabriel Facal and Jérôme Samuel
IRASEC, Bangkok,
February 2024, 452 p.
Langue française Texte français

For each of the region’s eleven countries, “L’Asie du Sud-Est 2024, bilan, enjeux et perspectives” offers a detailed, synthetic analysis of the main political, economic, social, environmental and diplomatic events of 2023, complemented by a focus on two personalities of the year and a news picture. The book also features four thematic dossiers that tackle subjects dealt with on a regional scale : Chinese yuan policy in Southeast Asia, MERCOSUR-ASEAN relations, individual aid in Southeast Asia and online scam centers in the Philippines and Burma. Practical tools are also available, including a fact sheet and timeline for each country, as well as a notebook containing key demographic, social, economic and environmental indicators.


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Table of contents


Foreword (Gabriel Facal and Jérôme Samuel)



Dynamics and prospects of yuan internationalisation in Southeast Asia (Clément Berthou)

ASEAN-MERCOSUR interregionalism : diplomatic and economic relations (Oscar Fernández-Guillén)

The evolution of individual donations in a troubled region (Rosalia Sciortino)

Scamming : casinos and online scams From Filipino POGOs to Burmese compounds (François-Xavier Bonnet, Miko and Laure Siegel)



Burma - A time of doubt for the junta ? (Tim Gascon)

Brunei - Between end of crisis and societal transitions (Marie-Sybille de Vienne)

Cambodia - Latent Tensions in Times of Crises (Téphanie Sieng)

Indonesia - For a “Golden Indonesia 2045”, the continuation of a great agreement ? (Gabriel Facal)

Laos - Intensification of the crisis against a background of massive debt (Martin Rathie)

Malaysia - Not all roads lead to Medina (David Delfolie)

Philippines - Inflation and tensions in the South China Sea (François-Xavier Bonnet and Elisabeth Luquin)

Singapore - Waiting for a Start (Éric Frécon)

Thailand - Difficult compromises, social fractures and the quest for economic renewal (Henning Glaser)

Timor-Leste - Myanmar crisis and ASEAN, Australia and major gas projects : a busy geopolitical and geo-economic agenda (Christine Cabasset)

Vietnam - Facing the resurgence of war, the crisis of multilateralism and globalisation : necessary readjustments (Jean-Philippe Eglinger and Pierre Journoud)






Dynamics and prospects of yuan internationalisation in Southeast Asia (Clément Berthou)
The strategy behind the internationalisation of the yuan is based on the global reliance on the Chinese production system. Beijing is progressively deploying a financial system with global ambitions (i) adopting Western standards, (ii) driven by the imperative of domestic stability, and (iii) essentially focused on the countries of the Global South. Southeast Asia is at the forefront of this internationalisation strategy due to its geographical, economic, and political proximity to China. Southeast Asia now benefits from privileged financial connections to mainland China and Hong Kong, positioning the region at the heart of China’s financial expansion strategy. Still, the full yuanisation of Southeast Asia is not yet guaranteed. Internally, the region organises the interconnection of its domestic financial systems in local currencies. Externally, China is not alone in its monetary ambitions for Southeast Asia. Indeed, even if it is too early to speak of the internationalisation of the rupee, India, an increasingly close partner of Southeast Asia, is showing signs of a growing ambition for monetary integration and development beyond its borders.
Keywords : China – global financial architecture – renminbi – yuan – Southeast Asia – CBDC – currency internationalisation – Global South – dedollarisation.

ASEAN-MERCOSUR interregionalism : diplomatic and economic relations (Oscar E. Fernández-Guillén)
This chapter offers a study on comparative regionalism analysing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR) as integration processes with some proximities and common characteristics. Even with geographical, historical, and cultural distances, different origins, functioning, and results, the 21st century shows a growth in their economic interdependence at the trade level. Through empirical research supported by documentary compilation techniques and statistical data, the chapter describes the diplomatic rapprochement process between both sub-regions, the formalisation state of the ASEAN-MERCOSUR inter-regional relations, and their economic interactions in trade and investment during the period 2000-2022. It concludes that there are reasons to relaunch and deepen the inter-regionalism based on the consolidation of the ASEAN-MERCOSUR Dialogue Society, indefinite and on stand-by since the 1990s, which also could be an opportunity to begin the construction of a South American position towards the Indo-Pacific without polarisation between the United States and China.
Keywords : economic integration – regionalism – international economic relations – South America – Southeast Asia – Global South.

The evolution of individual donations in a troubled region (Rosalia Sciortino)
This chapter focuses on individual giving both during and after the pandemic in Southeast Asia. In an increasingly complex philanthropic environment, individual funding has proven to be extremely responsive in times of crisis, especially when of a humanitarian nature. Deep ingrained traditions of giving and mutual assistance are slowly changing, having broadened their reach with new technologies and having taken up new dimensions in support of more transformative causes. By juxtaposing the example of giving during COVID-19 across the region (as a continuation of disaster relief) with that in support of opposition movements in Myanmar and Thailand, the article shows that the role of individual funding has become diversified, besides as supplementary or in alternative to government endeavours now also hostile to them. This discussion, based on literature study and on the author’s ongoing research on philanthropy and social protection, will lead to some reflections on the future of individual funding in Southeast Asia.
Keywords : individual giving – philanthropy – COVID-19 – social protection – opposition movements – crowdfunding – Southeast Asia.

Scamming : casinos and online scams. From Filipino POGOs to Burmese compounds (François-Xavier Bonnet, Miko and Laure Siegel)
Illegal scam networks originated in Taiwan in the 1990s in the form of telecommunications fraud. Over the next 30 years, they spread and developed as the Internet spread to the border regions of Southeast Asia. After China and Taiwan signed a joint legal agreement in 1998 prohibiting such activities on their territory, a first wave of Chinese entrepreneurs moved into the Philippines, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos, taking advantage of the lack of regulation and lax rule of law in these neighboring countries. Over the past 20 years, telecommunication fraud has rapidly evolved into online scams, aided by the development of crypto-currencies and the covid-19 pandemic in which most transactional activities have become cashless.
Citizens of dozens of countries, of all ages, genders and social classes are affected at one level or another by these scams, in their bodies by forced labor and/or exploitation, in their lives by extreme punishment and/or neglect for those working directly in these companies, in their social lives by online blackmail, in their money or employment by the permanent loss of their savings. These criminal activities not only endanger the lives of hundreds of thousands of victims, but also pose a massive threat to international security. As no country can solve this problem alone, governments should work together to identify and prosecute the leaders of these companies, and strengthen the mechanisms of the financial system to control the large illegal profits.
Keywords : online scam – online casino – forced labor – modern slavery – mafia – money laundering.

Burma/Myanmar – A time of doubt for the junta ? (Tim Gascon)
Since the February 2021 coup by the Myanmar military (Tatmadaw), the country has been rocked by a violent civil war. Throughout 2023, it appears that the resistance has reinforced its capacities, while the military has been through a progressive but continuous erosion. On 27 October, the Three Brotherhood Alliance (MNDAA, TNLA, AA) launches Operation 1027, a widescale offensive in Northern Shan State. Making swift progress over an unprepared Tatmadaw, they seize several towns and strategic border crossings. This initiative quickly spills beyond Shan State, and the resistance seizes towns in Sagaing and Chin State ; in Rakhine State, the war resumes with the Arakan Army. This operation benefits the most active Ethnic Armed Organizations (EAOs), and bolsters their political and military influence. Ultimately, this may undermine the opposition National Unity Government (NUG), which does not manage to take a leading role.
On the political stage, the regime decides to postpone general elections and the National League for Democracy (NLD) is dissolved, thereby foreclosing two potential exits. Within the military, Min Aung Hlaing appears fragilised by successive military setbacks. On the diplomatic scene, China seems to have turned a blind eye to Operation 1027 ; it might have considered that the existing leadership is not a long-term guarantee of stability anymore, and might be seeking alternatives. Out of solutions, outstretched across the country, and with low morale, the Myanmar military faces its steepest challenge in decades.
Keywords : Myanmar – Tatmadaw – National Unity Government – Operation 1027 – Three Brotherhood Alliance – Shan State.

Brunei – Between end of crisis and societal transitions (Marie-Sybille de Vienne)
The turbulence of the world has spared, as usual, the Bruneian micro-state that its government strives to preserve from the major international medias, despite some unprecedented upheavals at the Palace and the start of societal reforms such as a mandatory minimum wage. The precarious recovery of the sultanate’s economic growth depends more and more on Chinese investment in downstream industries and infrastructures. Brunei nevertheless manages to remain on the razor’s edge of a diplomacy of balance in an international context more and more unstable as illustrated by its position on the Ukraine’s and Gaza’s wars.
Keywords : disgrace – Palace – minimum wage – Chinese investments – foreign policy.

Cambodia – Latent Tensions in Times of Crises (Téphanie Sieng)
In the context of post-covid globalisation and an increasingly outward-looking economy, the country’s current situation is marked by the return of a strong central government’s tendencies in favour of an ever more centralised approach. Hence, Cambodian government is reinforcing the influence of a selected families on power. Development efforts seem also focused more and more on the domestic economy. Following a period of economic decline during the covid-19 period in key sectors as services, the authorities wanted to position their population—and the socio-cultural values of the “Khmer spirit” that were attributed to them—as a primary resource in the event of a crisis. However, the regime is not neglecting its external partners, such as the ASEAN countries or China, with whom relations are crucial to the return to an economic growth. Thus, Cambodia, like its Asian neighbors, is part of the process of geostrategic reversal of global power, supporting Asia’s central position as the new territory of international stakes.
Keywords : ASEAN – development – elections – influence – strategy – tourism.

Indonesia – For a “Golden Indonesia 2045”, the continuation of a great agreement ? (Gabriel Facal)
Indonesia has continued to draw up its development plan to achieve the objectives of a “Golden Indonesia 2045”, based on increasing productivity, making work more flexible and continuing to invest in infrastructure to improve connectivity between the islands. The country’s diplomatic roadmap is becoming increasingly clear, as Indonesia becomes the first emerging country to join the G20 and the first ASEAN country to aspire to OECD membership. The year was marked by the presidential campaign (14 February 2024), with Prabowo Subianto-Gibran Rakabuming Raka (son of the outgoing president) gradually gaining ground in the polls despite the weak programme lines of the various tickets. The fundamental issues of democracy and the environment remained in the background, despite importqnt dysfunctions and major questions for the years to come.
Keywords : Golden Indonesia 2045 – presidential election – mega coalition – development plan – energy transition – conflict in Papua.

Laos – Intensification of the crisis against a background of massive debt (Martin Rathie)
This paper highlights the many risky partnerships that both state and private actors have entered into as a means to resuscitate the Lao economy and revitalise the image of the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. In 2023, Laos aligned itself within the Russian orbit, while also bolstering its engagement with China. Having taken the gamble of conceding large sections of land for SEZs and plantation scale contract farms, the Lao state has run short of options on ways to create sufficient revenue to successfully lead the country out of LDC status. Consequently, a number of dubious enterprises have risen to the fore as stopgap measures to steer Laos back to its pre-Covid-19 growth levels. At the same time the LPRP is seeking to regain its legitimacy by cultivating a new ideological basis and conducting a critical assessment of its members as a new generation takes charge.
Keywords : connectivity – (Party) plenums – cryptocurrency – elitism – living costs.

Malaysia – Not all roads lead to Medina (David Delfolie)
In Malaysia, 2023 saw the first year in office of the national unity government led by Anwar Ibrahim. These initial steps were particularly expected, as the apparent heterogeneity of the new ruling coalition, which brings together the Alliance of Hope, the National Front, and the main local parties of the Borneo states, could lead to fears of the perpetuation of the instability that has characterised the Federation since 2018. However, thanks to a restoration of order in each camp, the Prime Minister was able to impose his authority and his political orientations. His contrasting reform project has been much analysed as the result of the narrow compromises that have to be found, not without contradiction, to retain the support of his plural majority. In fact, it really shows the coherence of his deep convictions, strongly inspired by the utopia of a model of Islamic civilisation in phase with a certain conception of modernity. This clarification had the merit of removing misunderstandings about the extent of his democratic aspirations. It also gives an explicit course to the country, which has lacked one for a long time. However, by assuming such an assertive stance that aggregates discontents in an already fragmented society, Anwar Ibrahim has chosen a risky gamble for the future if it does not produce quick results.
Keywords : national unity government – democratic transition – Islam – Anwar Ibrahim.

Philippines – Inflation and tensions in the South China Sea (François-Xavier Bonnet and Elisabeth Luquin)
On the domestic front, 2023 is characterised by both strong economic growth and high inflation. The latter particularly affected food products, including rice, and contributed to the beginning of a decline in the popularity of President Marcos Jr. and Vice-President Sara Duterte. What’s more, the unity displayed during the 2022 elections between the Marcos-Romualdez and Duterte families seems to be gradually unravelling, as rivalries and personal ambitions take their toll.
Internationally, 2023 saw a reversal in the Philippines’ position towards China. Ayugin Atoll (Second Thomas Shoal), in the heart of the Spratly Islands, became the focus of tensions between the two countries. The Philippines have moved dramatically closer to the United States after six years of estrangement under President Rodrigo Duterte (2016-2022).
Keywords : inflation – rice – political discord – peace improvement – Ayugin Shoal – EDCA.

Singapore – Waiting for a Start (Éric Frécon)
In Singapore, 2023 confirmed the feeling of a political apathy, passivity, or conformism, across the society—echoing previous works on this topic in literature and political science. The election of the former deputy Prime Minister Tharman as a new president, some unexpected cases of corruption, the hundredth birthday of the founding father Lee Kuan Yew, the official announcement of the transition to a new Prime Minister, and even extramarital affairs among politicians did not contribute in the politicisation of the younger generations.
Similarly, at the international level, the government keeps relying on foreign workers to support its economy, to build its infrastructure, and to help hard-working parents at home. In the same vein, it mainly relies on foreign powers as chaperones, protectors, or close friends.
That said, some windows of opportunity are open to facilitate innovation and to explore some diplomatic “third paths”, besides the two great powers. Stay tuned…
Keywords : China – democracy – political opposition – diplomatic bipolarisation – economic incentives – Singapore.

Thailand – Difficult compromises, social fractures and the quest for economic renewal (Henning Glaser)
The most important event of the year 2023 was the May election. Amidst a historic voter turnout the large two opposition parties, Move Forward Party (MFP) and Pheu Thai Party (PTP), garnered a clear majority of the votes, which due to the involvement of an unelected Senate in the creation of the government did not manifest in the formation of a corresponding government. Instead, to the disappointment of many voters across the political spectrum, PTP formed a coalition government with its erstwhile adversaries from the royalist-military establishment, led by Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin and driving the progressive MFP into the opposition. In an arguably related development former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra returned from exile to Thailand, a move unthinkable until recently.
An envisioned populist social welfare scheme, political amnesty and a reform of the 2017 Constitution remain among other political stumbling blocs in the way of too confident expectations towards a stable coalition. 
Increasingly coming into the awareness of society are structural societal problems such as an alarmingly unequal and aging society coupled with sluggish economic recovery and an inadequately developed social system. To tackle them, the new government subscribed to the overarching imperative to stimulate economic growth in a time of rising geopolitical tensions and growing environmental concerns.
Furthermore, Thai foreign policy has shifted towards a more assertive and economy focused approach than seen in previous years.
Keywords : economic diplomacy – coalition – royalist-military establishment – populist social welfare – political amnesty – reform of the Constitution.

Timor-Leste – Myanmar crisis and ASEAN, Australia and major gas projects : a busy geopolitical and geo-economic agenda (Christine Cabasset)
The legislative elections of 2023 marked the return of the political tandem of José Ramos-Horta as President of the Republic and Xanana Gusmão as Prime Minister, both being old hands at politics and international relations. Major development projects are more of a priority than ever, notably the Tasi Mane petrochemical development cluster on the south coast, which is closely linked to gas projects in the Timor Sea. The green light for the exploitation—likely with Australia—of both, the still untapped Greater Sunrise gas field and the Bayu-Undan depleted gas field as a Carbone Capture and Storage project is yet on hold. On the diplomatic front, Timor-Leste has received a roadmap from ASEAN in order to bring itself up to ASEAN standards in the hope of joining the organisation as soon as possible. However, the statements and initiatives from Timor-Leste’s outspoken leaders against the Burmese junta was deemed imprudent in the context of its ASEAN membership.
Keywords : Timor-Leste – ASEAN membership – elections – petroleum & gas – carbone capture and storage – Myanmar crisis.

Vietnam – Facing the resurgence of war, the crisis of multilateralism and globalisation : necessary readjustments (Jean-Philippe Eglinger and Pierre Journoud)
The multiplication of tensions, crises and international conflicts, from Ukraine to the South China Sea via the Gaza Strip, challenge the founding principles of the post-Đổi mới era and suggest a new grammar of the international relations. Since the 12th Congress of the Vietnamese Communist Party in 2016, Vietnam has promoted a “bamboo diplomacy” mainly based on maintaining an equidistant and cautious line in its external relations, particularly with the great powers, and which is reflected in the economic field through a vast effort to internationalise its businesses and its economy. The article aims to take stock of these efforts, in the light of the geopolitical and economic news of 2023, without obscuring their limits and contradictions, and to outline some perspectives.
Keywords : Viêtnam – Bamboo Diplomacy – U.S-China relation – South China Sea – Israeli Palestinian conflict – Economic internationalisation.