Book Review: Political Economies and Neoliberalism in Asia

31 Dec

The Political Economy of South East Asia; Conflicts, Crises, and Change (Second Edition) edited by Garry Rodan, Kevin Hewison, and Richard Robison

Empire and Neoliberalism in Asia edited by Vedi R. Hadi

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The Political Economy of South East Asia, published by Oxford University Press, dissects the phenomenon of the 97 Asian financial crisis using mainly three established models, namely the neoclassical political economy; historical instituitionalism; and social conflict theory. The latter forms the backbone of this book as the writers seek to explain using the thesis to explain the crises. They also touch on the commonly held fallacies of modernisation and dependency theories in how they fail to completely explain the situation.

By bringing us through the history of the individual countries and charting the rise and fall of their economies, the book draws parallels in the south east asian nation. Yet, differences are highlighted by explaining how different governments are forced to react due to their political realities.

The chapter on Economic Crisis and the Political Economy of Economic Liberalism in South-East Asia, is perhaps most insightful. It is a summary of how post financial crisis reforms are affected by the nationalistic sentiments, political climate and governmental will. The following chapter about labor, which describes the rise of unionism and subsequent clampdown in certain nations, counts as essential reading since labor is often relegated to a minority role in study of political economics. The last chapter by Mark on Japan, seeks to explain how the revered east asian economic leader, has not tried extending its political hegemon in the region.

Required reading for people who are interested in the political realities and economies of the south east asian region post 1997 financial crisis.

On the other hand, Vedi’s more recent book, post 9/11 and Iraqi Invasion, paints a less pretty picture of US imperialism efforts in the region . Some of the writers in the book, prefers to call it US hegemony instead. The essays in this collection, while uneven in quality, contains essays, worth trawling.

The chapter by Elmar Altvater which touches on fossil energy regimes explains why current global economic growth, driven by fossil fuel and financial markets is unsustainable while the rise of the necons, charted by Mark Beeson, explains the tradition of American exceptionalism and how it has always influenced American foreign policy. History lessons much needed.

Garry Rodan and Kevin Hewison’s chapter on Singapore and Thailand details the creeping authoritarianism due to the advent of Bush’s war on terror. The writers explain how Bush’s preemptive doctrine has strengthened both governments and gave them ammunition to clamp down on legitimate human rights criticisms. Vedi’s article on Indonesia provides an insight on the “fragility of Indonesia’s democracy” due to the war on terror. The world’s largest Muslim nation, not only has to contend with rising anti-US sentiments, but also increasing threats of a “back to Suharto” military rule. On the other hand, Taiwan’s move towards democracy, prompted by the growing interdependent relationship between China and the US, faces another set of strategic issues. China’s policy on Taiwan has also affected the latter’s politics as Presidential leaders play on the external China threat to their advantage.

To have an understanding of contemporary Asian and South East Asian politics and their economies, both books are a good start.

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