Authoritarianism: the double-edged sword of Southeast Asia

PAD Demonstration. Sukhumvit Road. Bangkok. 20th October 2008.

The word diversity can define Southeast Asia. There are so many dialects, ethnicities, peoples and religions in just 4.100.000 km², that the uniqueness of the region and the entire subcontinent becomes consensual.

A China de Mao Zedong, is a pattern that is repeated today in Southeast Asia, when the authoritarian government took the first steps to eradicate poverty and homogenize the population creating the mainstays of contemporary China. The process was driven by Deng Xiaoping, in 1979, when starting the opening of the country to the world. Like a mirror, the southeast asia, marked by such culturally different countries has been converging in an intriguing pattern: fragile democracies, authoritarian governments and the general development of the fastest growing region in the world.

In Indonesia, the election of Joko Widodo meant a breakthrough in the political sphere by elevating to the presidency of the country a candidate unrelated to the local aristocracy, allowing the argumentative quality and intelligence to prevail over the networks of contacts and money. In counter-reading, even the British newspaper “The Guardian” defined the Jokowi government as “something of a political fairytale for Indonesia’s young democracy”: minority rights are increasingly fragile, freedom of expression is being undermined and, with the protests that bring together more than 10.000 students, great are the rumors of military intervention.

I'm Myanmar, Aung Sang Suu Kyi faces a different dilemma. His rise to power was marked by great expectations due to the history of his struggle against the military government in the country. His victory came, after all, thanks to the weariness of the military in front and the loss of the government's legitimacy with the youngest and the Buddhist clergy. Therefore, its consecration was only possible due to the massive support of the population, what, as a counterpart, press for the expulsion of the Rohingya Muslim ethnic group from the territory. The ethnic-religious conflict caused, in 2017, approximately 700 mil rohingyas, victims of torture and persecution because of their Muslim religious expression in a Buddhist country, who relegated them to statelessness in their own homeland, flee and take refuge in neighboring Bangladesh. However, due to their perceived neglect of the conflict, concerned that the reflexes of a confrontation between the two communities would stimulate the return of the military to power, Aung Sang Suu Kyi refrained from taking sides. Thus, she also joined the club of authoritarian rulers in Southeast Asia, especially after the few advances towards freedom of expression in the territory. In consequence, was threatened with having withdrawn the Nobel Peace Prize it had received in 1991, and ended up losing even the title of Ambassador of Consciousness granted by Amnesty International.

Similarly, Rodrigo Duterte had been elected, in 2016, President of the Philippines, with a promising speech against crime and corruption in the country. Can not, he kept his promises with excessive zeal, that resulted in ongoing murders of drug traffickers, but also from people from less favored social classes and opponents of their government, as journalists, local judicial authorities and government leaders. The Philippine Human Rights Commission believes that the number of extrajudicial deaths adds up to 27 One thousand people. Repression was instituted in the country, with even a curfew for young people at 22 hours. The lack of freedom of expression grows increasingly in the Philippines.

In contrast, it is interesting to note that the economic indexes of these authoritatively orchestrated governments, grow up, and also together. But this economic turnaround would indeed be just as surprising?

We are talking about countries that are receiving inheritances from the “older brothers”. After all, this surprising growth started when large transnationals from regional countries – China and Japan -, like Nike, were accused of labor exploitation and environmental destruction in their countries of origin, and focused their production on those who would accept such devastation as a gear for growth. The Japanese word “monozukuri”, which literally means “doing things”, out the key to Japan's success. In practice, this term applies to the process of creating replicas of products, applying improvements to them. By the way, this was the same procedure that made Japanese workers throughout the 20th century absorb “know-how” from European and American companies, become experts, and started to produce endogenously with technology better than that of the bases. That's how the world's first portable radio was created in 1955, in Japan, by Sony. As these countries specialize in technology-driven productions, its manufactured textiles and “bas de gamme” were gradually outsourced to neighbors in the southeast.

There was also no lack of free trade agreements and mutual support to leverage the growth of the Subcontinent. In addition to being located within the New Silk Road and receiving Chinese investments in the area of ​​infrastructure, Southeast Asia is also participating in several international and regional organizations relevant to cooperation. A ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), for example, establishes a set of initiatives to stimulate the regional integration process, counting, for so much,  with government discussion forums, economic rapprochement agreements and cooperation networks between Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. The ASEAN Declaration itself provides for coloring and mutual assistance in matters of common interest in the social fields, cultural, administrative, expansion of trade, improvements in transport and infrastructure and communication, that result in raising the standard of living of the populations of its members. With the implementation of this cooperation in the bloc, recognized the need to establish coordinated investment programs, initiating the “Framework Agreement on the Asian Investment Zone” (ZAI). This offers potential foreign investors an environment conducive to intensive production activities, implementation of industrial platforms and direct investments across the region.

In the face of ASEAN's success and the economic evolution of Southeast Asia, it was proposed, in 1989, by former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke, the creation of “Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation” / APEC , which added countries on the other side of the Pacific and removed from “Asian identity” to common interests. meantime, the lack of legal personality of the bloc in the field of international law, currently makes APEC act mainly as a forum for discussion and dialogue on topics of mutual interest. Although it is still not really effective, this collaboration demonstrates the great effort of western Pacific Rim countries to get closer to Asia.

In this context, the question remains that does not want to shut up: until when Brazil will be reluctant to privilege the commercial approach with the subcontinent?


FACTS AND DETAILS. Cheap Labor Industries in Asia. Available in: Access in: 20 mar. 2020.

FM2S. What monozukuri means in Lean. Available in: Access in: 20 mar. 2020.

THE ECONOMIST. Rodrigo Duterte’s lawless war on drugs is wildly popular. Available in: Access in: 20 mar. 2020.

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Anne Marie Gattini Nassif is an International Relations student at the Escola Superior de Propaganda e Marketing / ESPM. Interested in learning other cultures, mainly by studying different languages. Is a volunteer attendant at the Immigrant Reference and Service Center (CRAI), in Sao Paulo, and Junior Analyst at the Center for Asian Studies and Business / NENA, from ESPM.