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South East Asia

South East AsiaFurther India that is, Indo-China, the Malay Archipelago and the Peninsula was commonly known to the earliest western writers as the "Golden Chersonese", and the Chinese also spoke of it as the "Land of Gold". In the early Indian literature it appears as Suvarnabhumi, to which region the Jatakas mention long and perilous voyages being made as early as the fifth century BC. However, it was probably in the time of the great warrior statesman Chandragupta (316-292 BC) that Hindus first began to found settlements in Java, Siam and Cambodia, and to introduce Brahmanism into those countries. Less than a hundred years later, in the time of the equally famous Asoka, a small Buddhist colony, which was later to develop into a well-organized state with great influence and power, was founded in Sumatra.

Indian historical records are few and poor, and the early history of the outlying colonies is shrouded in obscurity. That they continued to exist and to carry on a more or less constant trade is evident from frequent references contained in old Tamil poems and other similar sources from southeastern India. Sumatra and Java were jointly known to the Tamils as Chavakam, and for many centuries were, in the words of a recent writer, "the El Dorado of India where the adventurous, the ambitious, the rebellious, and the discontented sought power or wealth or refuge". The first century of the Christian era and those immediately following it seem to have been the time of most active migration and the period when the seeds of the later empires were sown.

From other sources it seems that the early Brahman colonies established themselves most firmly in eastern Java, which remained their stronghold from the time of the earliest settlements down to the Mahommedan conquest and beginning of the modern period. Their activities, until the foundation of Madjapahti in the thirteenth century, seem to have been confined largely to the eastern two-thirds of Java itself, and not to have extended to other islandsexcept possibly Bali and Madura. On the other hand, Buddhist influence appears to have established itself strongest in southeastern Sumatra, the seat of its power being the kingdom of Sri-Vishaya (or Sri-Vijaya) in the district now known as Palembang. From this center its influence was extended widely throughout the Archipelago, and until about the thirteenth century it was stronger than the Brahman power.

South East Asia is conventionally divided into two cultural, linguistic and geographic regions: mainland Indo-China [Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos PDR, Myanmar (or Burma), the Philippines, and Vietnam] and the islands of Macronesia [Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua-New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore and Timor Leste]. Tibeto-Burman, Austronesian and Austro-Asiatic are the major language families of this area. Most of these states are members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). There are a variety of other sub-regional cooperation frameworks, including the Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Philippines-East Asia Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA), Indonesia Malaysia Thailand-Growth Triangle (IMT-GT), Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy (ACMECS), Cambodia Laos Myanmar Viet Nam (CLMV), and Heart of Borneo.

South-East Asia is a region of vast development diversity but also many commonalities. South-East Asia is characterised by tropical rainforest, monsoon climates with high and constant rainfall, heavily-leached soils, and diverse ethnic groups. Viewed generally the archipelago is peopled by Malays, who are mostly Mohammedans, and Melanesians, who are nearly all pagans. Although predominant to the west of Wallace's Line, the Malay spread to the nearer Sunda Islands, and many of the Moluccas. The Melanesians occupy the more eastern islands. South East Asia is an area where Islam already co-exists with democracy, though in some instances, South East Asia is an epicenter of terrorism.

Politically the Archipelago was long divided between the two European Powers, Spain and Holland. The Philippines passed from the possession of Spain to that of the United States; and except for the eastern moiety of Timor, which was Portuguese, and a considerable area of the north-west of Borneo, which was a British Protectorate, the remainder of the Malay Archipelago formed the magnificent possession of Netherlands-India.

The Japanese push in South-East Asia in the 1940s dramatically emphasized the strategic importance of the region. Interest sharpened when the loss of China left to the free world only the fringes of the continent. By the end of the 1960s stability in the region was jeopardized by the internal weaknesses of states still seeking the right mixture of traditional practices and modern institutions after a long period of colonial rule. The leaders of Southeast Asia were further distracted by the rivalries and frictions which frequently characterized their relations with one another. Prince Sihanouk viewed Cambodian history as essentially a struggle to forestall national extinction at the hands of more aggressive Thai and Vietnamese. The burgeoning dispute between Malaysia and the Philippines over the ownership of Sabah threatened to disrupt efforts to achieve greater regional cooperation. Thailands longstanding doubts about the loyalty of its ethnic Malay peoples caused Bangkok to deny full cooperation to Kuala Lumpur in joint efforts to deal with security problems along their common border. For their part, the Malaysians remained suspicious of Indonesian ambitions in Borneo, despite Sukarnos departure from the scene. And Singapore was persistently fearful of absorption by its Malay and Indonesian neighbors.

In most states, the central government had little capacity to mobilize national resources; and in several countries, border provinces were remote and neglected, and there was widespread alienation among ethnic andreligious minorities. Other broad social problems and poorly functioning economies added further to the burdens of the frequently inefficient civilian and military leadership. Economic weaknesses - inadequate utilization of resources, capital shortages, low export earnings were also conspicuous among the problems of South-east Asia.

Economic growth in South East Asia accelerated in the 1970s. During the following decades there was a major transformation of the international economy, where a group of East and Southeast Asian countries has attained an increasingly important role. These developing economies made remarkable progress in terms of growth and economic liberalization. Although these countries had fairly extensive experience with import substitution strategies, by the 1990s each had made a transition to a greater outward orientation. Trade came to occupy an increasingly large share of GDP for these countries, and foreign investment played a significant role in industrialization. Southeast Asia has undergone rapid economic development and supports some of the fastest growing economies in the world (e.g. Vietnams GDP grew at 7% in 2002 while Thailands GDP grew by 5%).

However, all of these countries maintained relatively complex barriers to trade and investment. The continued presence of state-owned corporations was a major obstacle to further reform. Even by 2010 corruption and illicit trade undermined development, investment, tax revenues and legitimate business in the region, creating insecurity in communities and long-term barriers to growth. Projections made by the International Energy Agency in its World Energy Outlook 2002 indicated that more than 60% of the increase in world primary energy demand between 2000 and 2030 will come from developing countries, especially in Asia. Critical to satisfying this demand is a move to develop South East Asias massive gas resources; large reserves have been found in Indonesia (158 trillion cubic feet) and also in the Malaysian/Thailand Joint Development Zone (7.6 trillion cubic feet). Producing and exporting these reserves, particularly as LNG to South Korea, Japan and China, represents a huge export revenue generator.

South East Asia is widely regarded as a center of threatened biodiversity owing to extensive logging and forest conversion to agriculture. In particular, forests degraded by repeated rounds of intensive logging are viewed as having little conservation value and are afforded meagre protection from conversion to oil palm. It is projected that crop yields could increase up to 20% in East and South-East Asia due to climate change, while they could decrease up to 30% in Central and South Asia by the mid-21st century. Coastal areas, especially heavily-populated mega-delta regions in South-East Asia, will be at greatest risk due to increased flooding from the sea and, in some mega-deltas, flooding from the rivers. South-East Asia is vulnerable to disasters including storms, floods, fire, earth fall, earthquakes, depending on the geographical nature and climate of the area. A large fraction of the world's population -- particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and in South East Asia -- is chronically hungry.

ASEAN has the highest share of intra-regional trade to total trade (at 26.3% in 2008) among the regional economic groupings in the developing world. This reflects the high level of inter-dependence between regional production networks operated by both manufacturers and producers.

If considered as a single economy, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will be the seventh largest economy in the world, with over 600 million people and a combined gross domestic product of USD$2.4 trillion - equal to that of Russia. The AEC should not be seen as separate from the other two pillars of the ASEAN: the ASEAN Political-Security Community (APSC) and the ASEAN Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC). They cover policy areas that are important to the overall aim of a socio-economic and political integration.

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