ISEAS Perspective 2021

ISEAS Perspective provides analysis of specific current events and their significance for the Southeast Asian region. This will be published occasionally, and is aimed at keeping decision-makers in both the public and private sectors informed; as well as scholars, laymen and the interested public.


2021/42 “The Milk Tea Alliance and China’s Power Gap in Southeast Asia” by Quinton Temby


2021 No. 42

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Following the February 1 coup, Myanmar became the latest country to be included in the online pan-Asian pro-democracy movement known as the Milk Tea Alliance. The Milk Tea movement began as a whimsical internet meme in 2020, channelling dissent against China’s authoritarianism by youth activists in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Thailand—countries where sweet […]



2021/41 “Vietnam’s Economy in the Wake of Covid-19” by Nguyen Chien Thang and Pham Sy An


2021 No. 41

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Vietnam’s economic growth in 2020 declined sharply due to the Covid-19 pandemic, from a high of around 7 per cent to 2.91 per cent. This is better than many other countries where growth rates were negative. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the economy on both the supply and demand fronts. On the demand […]



2021/40 “Online Grocery Markets: Impact of Pandemic on Consumers” by Cassey Lee


2021 No. 40

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY The Covid-19 pandemic created both demand and supply shocks in online grocery markets. Demand shifted noticeably from brick-and-mortar stores to online grocery markets. On the supply-side, control measures disrupted production and more stringent border controls slowed down the movements of goods. Intermittent episodes of stock unavailability were observed for some online grocery products […]



2021/39 “The Belt and Road Initiative in Southeast Asia after COVID-19: China’s Energy and Infrastructure Investments in Myanmar” by Kaho Yu


2021 No. 39

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Regardless of its eventual scale, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) will likely remain a cornerstone of China’s foreign and economic policies, with an increased strategic focus on Southeast Asia. Energy and transport infrastructure investments will remain its key priority. The ASEAN market has become more important to China’s BRI since the onset […]



2021/38 “Digital Media: An Emerging Barometer of Public Opinion in Malaysia” by Pauline Pooi Yin Leong


2021 No. 38

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Digital media is an integral part of politics in Malaysia, having become an essential communication channel for both the government and the opposition, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Mobile phone Internet users reached near saturation point at 98.7% in 2020. The top online activity is communicating via text, while social networking is the […]



2021/37 “Harvesting Rural Votes in Malaysia: The Importance of Agriculture” by Geoffrey K. Pakiam and Cassey Lee


2021 No. 37

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Agriculture’s role in the Malaysian economy has been steadily diminishing, both in terms of relative output and employment. Despite agriculture’s relative decline, the sector exerts a disproportionate influence on Malaysian politics due to malapportionment in the distribution of parliamentary seats.   Agricultural policymaking in Malaysia is diffused and overlapping. Three key ministries are involved, […]



2021/36 “Malaysia’s New Economic Policy and the 30% Bumiputera Equity Target: Time for a Revisit and a Reset” by Lee Hwok Aun


2021 no. 36

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Malaysia’s New Economic Policy (NEP), which turns 50 this year, is most intimately associated with the 30% Bumiputera equity ownership target. Drafts of the forthcoming Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 have restated this target as the perennial under-achievement justifying continuation of pro-Bumiputera policies. However, the equity target needs to be revisited, and the Bumiputera […]



2021/35 “Malaysia’s Rubber Glove Industry – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” by Francis E. Hutchinson and Pritish Bhattacharya


2021 No. 35

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Malaysia’s rubber glove industry is riding a huge surge in demand arising from COVID-19, spawning a crop of new producers and minting new billionaires in the process. This is good news for the country, as the sector’s growth helps offset contractions elsewhere, generates much-needed jobs, and capitalises on Malaysia’s resource base and comparative […]



2021/34 “Upstream Dams Threaten the Economy and the Security of the Mekong Region” by Murray Hiebert


2021 No. 34

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY China’s 11 hydropower dams built on the upper Mekong River held back massive quantities of water over the last two years, causing crop failure and depleting fish catches, and threatening the livelihoods of the 60 million people living downstream: a) Recent storage of massive amounts of water behind these dams has starved Tonle […]



2021/33 “Russia’s Defence Diplomacy in Southeast Asia: A Tenuous Lead in Arms Sales but Lagging in Other Areas” by Ian Storey


2021 No. 33

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Although Russia has been increasing its defence diplomacy activities in Southeast Asia, its military cooperation with the region remains overwhelmingly focused on arms sales.  Russia is at risk of losing its position as the number one arms seller to Southeast Asia due to increased competition from American, European and Asian defence companies, as […]