Monday 26 Oct 2020 | 21:50 | SYDNEY
Monday 26 Oct 2020 | 21:50 | SYDNEY

The polite revolution in Southeast Asia


Andrew Carr


10 November 2011 12:13

The Economist's Banyan columnist makes an astute point:

Another part of the world can also boast a year of transformative change: South-East Asia. Certainly, this has not been a full-blown spring as in the Middle East; the gains have been more modest, the shifts less obvious. But the forces unleashed this year may be impossible to stem, in which case they will have brought irreversible change in one of the most politically conservative regions of the world. Furthermore, all this has been achieved with very little bloodshed and no currency crises. Call them polite revolutions....Most strikingly, unlike in the Arab countries, much of this has been top-down politics; governments, rather than “the street”, have usually taken hold of the reform process, channelling it through measured political action in countries such as Myanmar and Malaysia. Governments, however, have most certainly been nudged, even pushed, by the direct threat of people power.

I'm more cautious than the author about including Myanmar and Thailand, given their unique internal challenges, but the changes The Interpreter has documented in Malaysia and Singapore shouldn't be downplayed.

Unlike America's torn instincts over the Arab Spring, Australia can strongly embrace Southeast Asia's changes. Not only are most countries moving in a more open, democratic and capitalist direction, but as The Economist notes, long term this also puts pressure on China by slowly removing the 'string of pliant, like-minded dictators to its south'. Everyone may be looking at whether the US-China relationship can hold, but in some ways more fundamental to Australia is how Southeast Asia will react if it doesn't.