Rural China’s economic model limps on

This picture taken on November 19, 2013 shows a farmer working in her rice field in the farming village of Gangzhong in China's eastern Zhejiang province. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Graeme Smith, ANU

‘Benghai’ was changing. Returning to my old office, my home for ten years of fieldwork in rural China, it was clear something was amiss. Gone was the grizzled caretaker, listlessly following his mop around the ground floor of the four-storey building. In his stead was a bank of impossibly cheerful uniformed women in their early twenties. Their smiles could signify only one thing: real estate. Read more…

Is RCEP just the same old trade paradigm?

Workers contruct the foundation at a new construction site for an office high-rise building in the Indonesian capital city of Jakarta on September 5, 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Sanchita Basu Das, ISEAS

What will it take to change the way Asia thinks about trade strategy?

As the negotiators of the RCEP agreement are meeting in New Delhi, India, from 1–5 December 2014, attention is turned to the question of whether this mega-regional represents a ‘new paradigm’ of regional trade agreements or not. Read more…

Three keys to unlocking Cambodia’s growth

Cambodian garment workers buy fish in front of a factory in Phnom Penh on 12 November 2014. The Cambodian government on 12 November raised the minimum wage for its garment workers by 28 percent, following a series of strikes and protests over pay and conditions, to the dismay of unionists. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Heng Pheakdey, Enrich Institute

After the global recession in 2009, Cambodia’s economy recovered steadily with its GDP growing at an average rate of 7 per cent per year in 2010–13. It is expected to maintain its growth rate of 7 per cent this year.

But despite these rosy short-term prospects, Cambodia’s long-term growth prospects might be hampered by its low competitiveness. Read more…

India needs to be clever about smart cities

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Author: Mahendra Sethi, National Institute of Urban Affairs

With more than half of the global population now living in urban areas, some in abject poverty, the path to sustainable development must pass through cities. In a meeting in July, the Working Group for the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals set a target to build ‘inclusive, safe resilient and sustainable’ cities and human settlements.

India is embracing this push for smart cities. Read more…

Modi’s new financial inclusion plan is a step in the right direction

Authors: Akshay Gakhar and Geethanjali Nataraj, Observer Research Foundation

On Independence Day 2014, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched his financial inclusion plan to provide a bank account to every Indian household. His ‘Jan-Dhan Yojana’ (Scheme for People’s Wealth) — which, in typical Modi vernacular, plays on rhyming words — seeks to provide financial independence to unbanked Indians through a two-phase plan.

Phase one focuses on providing every household in India with a free zero-balance bank account and a RuPay debit card — which allows for electronic payment at all Indian banks — with an aim of increasing financial literacy among the poor. Read more…

The past successes and future pitfalls of decentralisation in Vietnam

Author: Thomas Jandl, American University

Vietnam’s market reforms are inseparable from the policy of economic decentralisation, which allowed for local experimentation and forced provincial leaders into competition. This improved the business climate throughout the country. In this sense, decentralisation is a root cause of Vietnam’s attractiveness to investors around the globe. Yet it would be a mistake to view decentralisation as one smooth process. Instead, it has gone through two main phases and is now entering a third. Read more…

BRICS, banking on development

Night view of skyscrapers and high-rise buildings in Shanghai, China, 30 July 2014. Shanghai will host the headquarters of the BRICS New Development Bank that will challenge for the first time the US postwar dominance of multilateral lending institutions. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Keshav Kelkar, UBC

The creation of the BRICS New Development Bank (NDB) to finance infrastructure and sustainable development projects in emerging economies is a landmark achievement. Developing nations have lost faith in the current system with its strict conditions on development finance and its inability to insulate countries from financial shocks. International observers have however expressed mixed views about the creation of the bank and what it represents for the nascent multilateral BRICS bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Read more…

Indonesia’s manufacturing sector needs a new industrial policy

An Indonesian worker makes incense in Malang, East Java, 19 March 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Mohammad Zulfan Tadjoeddin, UWS

The World Bank and Asian Development Bank have recently advocated the importance of Indonesia’s manufacturing sector. Manufacturing is considered a key sector for the advancement of the country’s overall economy and as an important source of formal employment. The reality on the ground since the 1997–98 economic crisis, though, reveals a troubling picture about the sector. Read more…

Does a global growth target make sense for the G20?

G20 trade ministers from industrialised and emerging economies gather for a one-day meeting in Sydney, Australia, 19 July 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Author: David Vines, University of Oxford

The global recovery is strengthening but remains weak. A global growth target, pursued by the G20, could significantly strengthen this recovery process. But such a macroeconomic target needs to be supported by microeconomic reforms.

In advanced economies, demand is now growing more rapidly than in the previous three years, but output remains below potential. And the growth of potential output itself is low, due to reduced investment, low profitability and low demand. Read more…

India is not the bad guy, but it can do better

Indian daily-wage labourers load 50 kilo sacks of wheat onto a truck at a grain distribution point on the outskirts of Amritsar 16 May 2013. On 5 August 2014, India defended its decision to scuttle a landmark worldwide trade deal, saying it needed to take a tough stand at the WTO to ensure the survival of its impoverished farmers. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Rajiv Kumar, Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research

India’s recent veto of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA), agreed at the Bali Ministerial last year, raises several points that speak to its commitment to the multilateral system, the need for agricultural reform and India’s place in the world. Read more…

Cambodia’s LS2 Dam is a disaster in the making

Cambodian boys fish from their small boat next to the community where they live on the Mekong River in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 25 October 2002. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Ian G. Baird, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Lower Sesan 2 Dam (LS2) will be the first large hydropower dam built in the Mekong River Basin in Cambodia. The project is being developed by Chinese state-owned-enterprise Hydrolancang, along with the Royal Group of Cambodia, and while its size, capacity, and cost remain unclear, they were previously estimated — before the design of the project was altered — to be 400 megawatts of capacity and cost over US$800 million. The project is highly controversial. Read more…

Can Jokowi offer a new hope for the poor?

A woman takes a nap outside her hut in a slum in Jakarta, Indonesia, 4  April 2014. Around 40 per cent of the Indonesian population still live on less than US$2 a day. (Photo: AAP)

Authors: Arief Anshory Yusuf, CEDS, and Andy Sumner, IDI

As Joko Widodo (Jokowi) was declared president, new research revealed that the gap between Indonesia’s richest and poorest has never been so great. So will the new president — with his reputation for clean governance and modesty — be able to build on his progressive track record to deliver change for the poor and address rising inequality? Read more…

What happens in China, doesn’t stay in China

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks before the Congress in Brasilia, on 16 July 2014. The BRICS group of emerging powers met on Wednesday with South American presidents as they justified the creation of a development bank seen as an alternative to Western-dominated global financial organisations. (Photo: AAP).

Author: Yizhe Daniel Xie, Waseda University

The experience that Chinese leaders gain in domestic politics has a big impact on how they view and handle international issues. Many China watchers and political analysts often overlook these domestic roots of Chinese foreign policy, particularly in China’s push to reform the international financial system. Read more…

Lessons from aid workers in North Korea

A North Korean girl reads along a rural road north of Hamhung, South Hamgyong province, North Korea, 16 June 2014. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Eun Jeong Soh, ANU

Since the mid-1990s, various governmental and non-governmental organisations have delivered aid to North Korea’s orphanages and hospitals. But for some time now aid to North Korea has dwindled. The US has provided virtually no aid since 2009, South Korea has banned direct state aid and and limited private assistance since 2010, and UN World Food Programme operations have been running well below target levels. Read more…

China must accept slower growth to avoid no growth

Members of the Politburo Standing Committee, including President Xi Jinping, raise their hands to vote on reforms at the third plenary session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China in Beijing, 12 November 2013. (Photo: AAP)

Author: Ligang Song, ANU

In late 2013 the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee authorised far-reaching market-oriented reforms, including policies to deepen capital, labour, goods and services markets. The new model for economic growth seeks to increase the consumption and services share of the economy, raise the relative income of poorer people (especially rural residents and unskilled urban workers), and reduce environmental degradation. Read more…