Asia is a huge continent, and it’s sheer size holds just under 40% of the earth’s population, yet so much of the region remains largely underrepresented on the world stage. Southeast Asia in particular is vastly diverse area, from the unitary state of Muslim-majority Indonesia, with it’s landmass stretching across over 735,000 square miles, to the Catholic-dominated Philippine Islands, which sprawls the so-called Ring of Fire, the region’s earthquake and volcanic zone.
SouthEast Asia History
Much of the SouthEast Asia region’s diversity is accredited to indigenous and colonial influences, as many of Asia’s traditional customs have intermingled with British, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch practices to create unique dispositions in each nation and territory. The Special Administrative Region of Macau was a former ‘rented’ Portuguese territory for 422 years and curiously survived the 1974 Carnation Revolution, before being handed back to China in 1999, although an arrangement exists to uphold autonomy until 2049. The example of Macau demonstrates the often complex arrangements that exist in SouthEast Asia, garnering influences from both Asian and European standards of governance with the cooperation of two different countries.
Vegas of the East: The former Portuguese territory of Macau is governed through a “one country, two systems model”
Democracies and Autocracies
Other nations however, lack good governance and thus suffer socio-economic stagnation. Infamously, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), colloquially known as North Korea is often touted as the pariah of the region. As a one party dictatorship under the guidance of Juche; an apparently revolutionary theory pertaining to thoughts of the North Korea’s founder Kim Il-Sung, the cult of personality that developed has caused international isolation and cemented the country’s position as a pariah state. The hereditary style monarchy that exists in North Korea has now reached its third generation, with the young Kim Jong-Un governing a state comprehending nuclear weapons.
Intergovernmental organisations such as the United Nations have also been engulfed in the numerous territorial disputes seen within the SouthEast Asia region. The Spratly Islands remain a focal point in the race to secure territory rich in oil and mineral deposits; Taiwan, Brunei, China, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are all hoping for a stake in the area with overlapping claims of ownership. Each nation has pressured the United Nations to disregard the claims of their rivals, with China in particular taking the most authoritative approach in actively dredging islands and reclaiming land for habitation and military purposes. Mischief Reef in the Spratly Islands remains a prime example of land reclamation in the region, as China had completed an artificial island by dredging around the rim, building a number of structures and airstrips for military occupation.
The Disputed Spratlys: Nations such as China and Vietnam have taken to building settlements on dredged islands in the South Pacific.
SouthEast Asia: A region in unity, or a region divided?
The role of military within the region has had the ability to destabilize society and cause wide-scale upheaval. For example, the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar’s Rakhine State had gripped the attention of the international media, as the nation’s military junta sought revenge for the attacks on Myanmar-Bangladesh border by separatist insurgents. The crackdown had a profound effect of the lives of civilians in Rakhine State, prompting a mass exodus of civilians to the Bangladeshi border, and to a lesser extent Malaysia; yet regional powers have yet to mediate in the crisis as a whole.
Given the social and political diversity of Southeast Asia, economic prosperity has chimed a lot louder than conflict and despair, as regional economies such as China, Vietnam and South Korea have roared ahead, previously being classed as developing nations 50 years go. Conversely, there are many pockets of instability and poverty in parts of Asia that have been plagued with corruption and conflict.
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