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ASEAN ANALYSIS  25  August 2010

Economic scenario in Asean’s “heart”

By David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs   25 August 2010

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“Connecting the dots” is a frequently used term and a valid intellectual exercise. Recent news stories suggest that four years before the advent of the Asean

Economic Community in 2015, there could be economic improvement in what could be described as the “heart” of Asean: the close grouping of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia.

There are three economic losers in the region: Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

At one time, Myanmar, then known as Burma, was more prosperous than Thailand as it contains a large amount of energy and mineral resources.

The isolationist military combined with the generals’ inept and greedy handling of the country’s wealth have made Myanmar a poor country, except for the

junta and friends. Myanmar is “Asean’s problem child” and sure to remain that without internal changes, which appear unlikely.

Cambodia and Laos still seem to be slowly recovering from the aftereffects of war and in the case of Cambodia, the “killing fields”.

Thailand has emerged as an economic powerhouse with its recent economic results showing GDP growth of 9.1 percent. The Thai currency, the baht, has

appreciated this year more than just about any other currency in the region.

Along with its developing economy, Thailand appears to have a developing environmental consciousness. A citizens group was successful in a Thai court to

stop about 70 operations in the map Ta Phut zone of eastern Thailand because laws safeguarding the environment were simply ignored.

This decision from the bench was a landmark event in Thailand and one can surmise that most ventures expanding within or coming into Thailand will be more

scrupulous in the future about closely following Thailand’s environmental regulations.

AseanAffairs recently printed a news article that described the opinion of Thai leaders that the country might want to “farm out” some of the industrial

developments that Thailand could not accommodate.

The scenario could be that Thailand will take the investments and developments most suitable for its own soil and those not acceptable might find a place in

neighboring Laos or Cambodia, thus raising the standard of living in those extremely poor countries.

As the Asean Economic Community moves closer, look for increased cross-border commerce, investment and development between the wealthier Asean countries and their poorer Asean partners.

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