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The impact of EU crisis on EU-ASEAN Relations

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The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries have watched the crisis in Euro zone closely. Southeast Asia countries experience similar crisis towards the end of 1990s which shattered ‘the Asian micracle’ and, arguably, shifted EU interests away from the region.

Nowadays, peoples and governments in ASEAN countries perceived the EU crisis differently. These mixed responses reflect how Asian countries have assessed suspected sources and impacts of the crisis on the European integration. From those mixed responses, one may analyse some possible directions of EU-ASEAN relations.

This article addresses the impacts of EU financial crisis to inter-regional cooperation between EU and ASEAN such as EU-ASEAN dialogue, ASEAN Regional Forum, and Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). It is built around the argument that ASEAN countries would keep EU as an important partner but the character of the inter-regional relations is likely to change Despite EU financial difficulties and integration problems, people in ASEAN countries still believe that historically-proven European endurance would bring EU survive the crisis. The financial crisis, however, make the Southeast Asians not only perceive  EU less powerful than before but also  find out that  the global power has shifted to Asia. The study is based on primary and secondary data gathered from document study, Focus Group Discussion (FGD), interview with key actors, and observation of EU activities in ASEAN countries

The organization of the article is as follow: a short explanation on the importance and significance of the study is succeeded by an elaboration on the existing inter-regional relations between ASEAN and EU. It is continued with a description on economic and diplomatic relations  based on quantitative and qualitative data. Finally, the article analyses the impacts of the crisis on ASEAN-EU relations.

 

A. EU crisis and the need to study ASEAN-EU inter-regionalism
Crisis in Euro zone unfolded since 2009 has halted EU’s efforts to maintain a high standard welfare to peoples in its member countries. Indeed, the austerity packages in the crisis-thorned countries –the PIGS- to save their economies and the Euro have driven some people to question the objective of EU integration. The crisis in Euro zone started in Greece in 2009. A year later, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain  experienced similar troubles.  This crisis has brough EU to continuing financial problems.

In Southeast Asia in which severe financial crisis rampaged toward the end of 1990s, bringing down some of the strongest regimes and collapsed what so-called ‘Asian economic tigers’, the EU crisis has been perceived with a mixed response.  Some are surprised given the fact that Euro was stronger than the US dollars for many years. Others see the crisis as the consequence of EU strange economic arrangement – having a single currency but maintaining independent fiscal policies. Some other are more positive toward the European strength, thinking crisis is natural in Europe and the people would overcome the crisis with their resilience that they would re-emerge stronger after the crisis. Nevertheless, a few people believe that the crisis is a ‘karma’ to the Europeans because of what they did to Asian people during the Asian financial crisis. These mixed responses reflect how Asian countries have assessed suspected sources and impacts of the crisis on the European integration. From those mixed response, one may analyse some possible directions of EU-ASEAN relations.

Within the context of Euro zone crisis and the mixed responses from people in Southeast Asia, the question on the future of EU-ASEAN inter-regionalism deserves a careful study. The question is important as the two regional institutions represent almost one third of world’s population and can form an alternative axis of global trade. ASEAN and EU key figures can be seen below:

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The significance of the study lies in three aspects. Firstly, ASEAN-EU inter-regionalis excludes the US, creating an alternative international relations from politico-strategic as well as economic and cultural perspectives. Secondly, the region-to-region, rather than country-to-country relations are a distinctive and new practice in international relations that requires an understanding of its merit and limitations.  This inter-regional pattern of interactions in international relations has arisen in the last two decades, so it is reasonable to investigate what can work or not work and what can be expected from such relations. Thirdly, the relations between Europe and  Southeast Asia date back to more than five centuries ago when the first European fleet when through the Straits of Malacca and started establishing colonialism. The centuries European occupation and trade monopoly have left various colonial legacies –positive and negative- in Southeast Asian countries. Any contemporary interactions between the two regions can not be made immune from the colonial experience and the feeling of anti-colonialism sometime emerge from the Asian side. The feeling sometimes stronger as the Southeast Asian countries shared common historica legacy vis-a-vis their European counterparts in the inter-regional relations.

The term ‘inter-regionalism’ refers to region-to-region relations, defining as a group of countries that become the member of regional institutuions, which in this study focus on ASEAN and EU. ASEAN countries consist of ten countries in Southeast, ie. Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and  Myanmar.  The EU consists of 27 member states namely  Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Pepublic, Crovatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Findland, French, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Greece, Malta, Netherlands, Latvia, Lithuvania, Luxemburg, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Sweden, Slovakia Republic, Slovenia, Spain, United Kingdom. ‘Regionalism’ refers to the design and implementation of a set of preferential policies among countries within the same geographical area in order to build harmonious relations in any or all aspects such as politic-security, economy or socio-culture. Regionalization is defined as ‘the grow of societal integration within a region and to the often undirected process of social and economic interaction’ (Hurrell 1995). Thus, what differentiates regionalism from regionalization is the design; while the former is directed by governmental agreements the latter is officially undirected and grows more naturally among non-state actors. This study is focused on the inter-regionalism.

Previous scholars have written on the inter-regionalism between ASEAN and EU. The inter-regionalism of ASEAN and EU were observed within the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), as an exercise ground for a new pattern of global relationship ASEM has been observed as an exercise ground for a new pattern of global relationship (Dent 1997/1998; Cammak and Richards 1999; Gilson 2002, 2005). Nevertheless, there are two contrasting views of the application of the interregional framework. The earlier studies of ASEM treat the inter-regional relations between Asia and Europe in ASEM as the consequence of the failure of ASEAN-EU relations in 1980s  and as an alternative axis in the regional-based world order (Dent 1997/1998; Hanggi 1999; Cammak and Richards 1999; Dent 2001; Yeo 2007). Later studies on the inter-regional level of analysis and suggest that the inter-regionalism should be examined with a focus on the relations of the two regions, that is the social interactions between them, rather than as the consequence of some outside phenomenon (Gilson 2002, 2005).  

The focus on the importance of the inter-regional framework between Asia and European countries is particularly relevant when accepting the notion that the post-Cold War era is the time for the emergence of regional order, substituting the strategic competition of a bipolar world with cooperation and discord in the regional framework).  ASEAN-EU has also posed challenges in its mission to connect the Asian and European countries as they have different approaches to cooperation and international relations. Despite the rhetoric in ASEM’s summit statements that call for a deeper understanding towards each other, the Asian and European countries brought their own cooperation culture and approaches to international relations, thereby creating divertgent of interest. At the end, inter-regional relationships such as ASEM  and ASEAN-EU may work in both functional and cognitive ways (Gilson 2005, p. 310).

The inter-regionalism can also be approached with constructivist framework. In their analysis on inter-regionalism, Hettne and Soderbaum (2002), and Fawcett (2004) emphasize that regionalism is socially constructed through cognitive processes as actors respond to each other and to their environmental pressures. The framework helps identify the emergence of a defensive identity vis-à-vis external actors (Lee and Park 2001; Yeo 2003). It was also applied by Gilson (2002) in investigating the cognitive process of ASEM inter-regionalism  which reveals the social construction of regional identity for both ASEAN countries and their partners in Northeast Asia vis-a-vis EU countries through communication and interpretation of ‘us’ and ‘other’.

Study the inter-regionalism between EU and ASEAN as the consequences of the financial crisis in Euro zone area, thus, could provide insights into not only the competences of ASEAN and EU as regional actors but also recent perceptions of ASEAN and EU towards ecah other.

 

B. History of EU-ASEAN inter-regionalism
ASEAN and EU have been linked since 1970s when the European Economic Community (EEC) became the first institution that built a linkage for dialogue and cooperation with countries in the Southeast Asia. This linkage was formalized in 1977 in the 10th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting which followed by the first forum in Brussels.  Despite the creation of  EU-ASEAN Cooperation Agreement in 1980, however, the inter-regional framework could not develop further to enhance the relations of the two regions. Geographical distance between the two regions is a problem to strengthen economic and socio-cultural relations, nevertheless the difference of political values and agenda of cooperation seem to be the main reason for the deadlock. The most disagreement is on political issues, especially on human rights and democratization (Palmujoki 1997; Wisela 2007). Autoritarian governments in ASEAN countries were irritated with criticism from EU countries while the Europeans thought they should participate actively in global politics as the champion of human rights and democratization. Therefore, the contacts in 1970s and 1980s were more rhetorical than substantial in nature (Leifer and Djiwandono1998, p. 203; Stockhof and van der Velde 1999).  
It was the rapid and high economic development in East and Southeast Asia during the 1980s that drew the Europeans’ attention to what was perceived as ‘the world’s most dynamic region in the 21st century’ (Edwards and Regelsberger, 1990, p. 5; see also Richards and Kirkpatrick, 1999; Forster 1999). Consequently, EU launched ‘the New Asia Strategy’ in 1994 that underpinned the need of European countries to resume close ties with the Asian countries whose economic growth had been seen as a world phenomenon (European Commission, 1994).  

The inauguration of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Bangkok in 1996 was celebrated with enthusiasm and hopes in the two regions because this region-to-region forum represented a breakthrough in Asia-Europe relations and a unique arrangement: it did not include the United States (US) and was the first forum to which Asian countries have been summoned as a group to sit vis-à-vis their Europeans counterparts.  For Southeast Asian countries, the region-to-region relations between Asian and European countries in ASEM have some characteristics that are unusual in terms of their engagements in regional and global affairs. ASEM does not include the United States (US) and it was initially expected to balance the US-EU-Asia triangle. In addition, ASEM is the first forum in which Southeast Asian countries have been able to meet and coordinate collectively with countries in Northeast Asia, namely Japan, China and South Korea vis-à-visanother partner.  However, the enthusiasm soon shifted toward pessimism and criticism after the Asian financial crisis in 1997/1998 and following the war against terrorism after 9/11. Nevertheless, ASEM –now has 51 members- has survived despite the many criticisms about its ineffectiveness (Fitriani 2010).

The climate for inter-regional discourse has also been changing. Despite some downturns at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s, the inter-regional relations between Asia and Europe in ASEM have been constructed during a critical period of world history when East Asia has been developing as an economic powerhouse, while Europe has been seeking an identity as a global actor under EU. In January 2003 EU and ASEAN sigh joint declaration on Cooperation to Combat Terrorism. In July of the same year, EU commission launced its policy paper ‘A new partnership with Southeast Asia’.  This inter-regional cooperation was expanded in 2007 with the Nurenberg Declaration on the enhancement of EU-ASEAN Partnership followed by the Plan of Action which is adopted in the first ASEAN-EU Commemorative Summit in Singapore.   A year later, the inter-regional cooperation was planned for a free trade as the two regional entities agreed to negotiate a free trade agreement (FTA). This plan has been suspended in 2010 and EU started negotiating bilateral FTA with several ASEAN member states such as Singapore (concluded), Malaysia, and Thailand.

The development of the inter-regional relations between EU and ASEAN has been revivalized  since 2012. In April the two adopted Bandar Seri Begawan Plan of Action 2013-2017 to define to rout map of cooperation in the next five year. In July, EU also signed the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC).     EU delegation in ASEAN countries has also been busy with various approaches and events to speed up the cooperation, not only between Government-to-Government but also between Business-to-Business.

 

C.  Impact of the Euro crisis on ASEAN-EU economic relation

The crisis in Euro zone and the continuing problems of settlement process have put a stress on Euro value.  The exchange rate on this currently has decreased significantly since 2008 the when first hit of global financial crises took place. Chart1 shows the drecreasing trend of the Euro value against the US Dollars.

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The Euro crisis and the financial crisis in the US have caused a shard declined of global trade experienced (see Chart 2 below). The collapsed of the rate of global trade in the period of 2008 to 2010 was believed as badly as the financial crisis during the great recession in 1930s.

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The declined global trade seems to bring no impact on EU-ASEAN trade relations as the trade between the two regions has kept growing after a sudden drop in 2009. The following chart show the development of EU-ASEAN trade from 1995 to  2011.

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Despite the increasing trend of EU-ASEAN trade in term of value, the place of EU among ASEAN trading partners decresed. The main trading partners of ASEAN countries are their Southeast Asian neighbours.   Chart 4 below implies that ASEA’s intra-regional trade remains the highest.

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In term of investment, EU countries has maintained their collective position as the second biggest source of FDI to ASEAN countries. The value of EU investment increased in 2011, however its proportion to the total investment in ASEAN fell.  The table below shows the figures from 2009 to 2011 gatherred by the ASEAN Secretariat.

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Notes: Details may not add up to totals due to rounding off errors.
1/ Ranked according to FDI inflows in 2011; covers countries on which data is available.
2/ Includes inflow from all other countries, as well as total reinvested earnings and inter-company loans in the Philippines.
3/Singapore’s data for 2011 excludes inter-company loans as geographical and industry breakdown are presently not available. Inter-company loans with intra-/extra-ASEAN breakdown for 2011 shown are estimated by the ASEAN Secretariat.
Source: ASEAN Secretariat FDI Statistic

 

The gap left by EU investors was quickly filled by intra-regional ones. The data in the following table reveals that capital inflows inform of FDI to ASEAN countries has increased drastically –threefold- since 2009.

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The above data also bring about the fact that for the first time, intra-ASEAN investment has grown significantly, jumping from 6,000 million US$ to almost 26,000 million US$ in three years. Economic integration among ASEAN economies, besides the worsening investment conditions in other parts of the world, may have encouraged ASEAN countries to send FDI to each other.

The financial crisis in the Eurozone also hit official development assistant from EU to ASEAN countries. The figures are fluctuated with a decreasing trend. While reached the highest in 2008, the annual growth of EU ODA to the Southeast Asian countries decreased in 2009 before hiked again in 2010 and followed with a drastic drop in 2011.

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The data shows that the financial crisi in Euro zone has brought some negative impacts on EU economic engagements in ASEAN countries. The conclusion of FTA negotiation between EU with Singapore and negotiation with Thailand and Malaysia seems to contribute to the rise of the trade value between EU and ASEAN countries. The EU position among ASEAN trading partners, however, decreased in 2011. Trading with China and intra-ASEAN continue to dominate ASEAN trade.  Similar trend –increasing in value but decreasing in proportion againts other ASEAN partners- also took place in regard to EU investment in ASEAN countries. It is unavoidably the result of EU financial difficulties. In addition, the shortage of EU financial resource also hit the flow of development assistant from EU to ASEAN countries  that have been fluctuated since 2006.  The total amount of FDI flow from EU to ASEAN countries has decreased since 2010 despite the fact that EU maintains a position as the second biggest source of FDI for Southeast Asia. Similarly, the annual growth of ODA from EU to ASEAN countries has slowed down to 20% in 2011 compared with 80% in 2008. In short, in economic relations, EU is an important partner of the ASEAN countries; the European countries, however, are not the most important one.

 

D. Impact of the Euro crisis on ASEAN-EU

Previous section has shown briefly the economic impacts of the Euro crisis on EU-ASEAN relations. This section analysis further impacts of prolonged crisis on the European and Southeast Asian countries political and diplomatic interactions.

Toward the end of the first decade of the 21st century, whereas the Euro zone experienced financial crisis, the ASEAN countries enjoyed an economic growth accelerated by the rise of China economy. Indeed, the East Asia became the engine of the global growth when the EU and the US suffered from the financial problems. The Southeast Asian region that was overlooked by the EU due to the financial crisis a decade before was transformed to a lucratic market of 600 million population with growing middle classes and increasing purchasing power. Consequently, there is an increasing trend in which EU pays more attention to ASEAN countries. As a global trading actor, EU naturally turns to see ASEAN countries as it main interests. Since 2009, there has been more enthusiasm from the EU side to approach to ASEAN.  In the same year, EU started appointing Ambassadors as representative to ASEAN after the Southeast Asian countries launched the ASEAN Charter that transform the regional institution as a legal entity.

In the subsequent years, EU launched an active economic diplomacy toward ASEAN. In 2011 the ASEAN-EU Business Summit (AEBS) was conducted in Jakarta to be followed by the second Summit in Phnom Penh a year after. EU Delegation in Southeast Asia and member states also exercised an active diplomacy to attract ASEAN investors. The regional FTA, which had been negotiated since 2007, was aborted in 2010. Subsequently, EU changed its strategy to approach ASEAN countries through bilateral FTA with the most advanced countries in Southeast Asia. The shift of efforts to establish regional FTA (EU-ASEAN) to bilateral FTA with several ASEAN countries shows EU short term strategy to accelerate trade relations with the most convenient partners while accepting the fact that ASEAN countries so vary in term of economic development and the readiness to wage effective trade relations. Despite the change of FTA strategy, EU trade deficit against the ASEAN countries prevailed.

Nevertheless, EU is keen to support the ASEAN integration. Provide funds for ASEAN integration projects. Since 2007, EU has actively assisted ASEAN integration.  The amount of official development assistants that EU provided for projects towards ASEAN integration to 70 million Euro for the period of 2007-2012.  It was used for various initiative in supporting ASEAN three communities.

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Table 3 shows that EU supports for the regional integration of ASEAN vary from establishing trust to trade liberalization and climate change. On one hand, those various supports reflect EU competence to play its role as a partner in regional development. On other hand, however, the supports were likely to be ineffective since they were operated through the project-based cycles in which sustainability is problematic. EU officials frequently stated that a more integrated ASEAN is better for the EU. This opinion perhaps derived from their frustration in negotiating with ASEAN member states. With the decreased of EU development assistant to ASEAN as showed in Chart 6, the European support for the regional integration in ASEAN is also under questions.

Under the active economic diplomacy, leaders of EU institutions as well as EU member states have frequently visited ASEAN countries. All top leaders from EU biggest member states took the difficulties of long haul flights from Europe to meet their counterparts in the capital cities of ASEAN member states. This trend – so many high profile figures from EU and EU member states to visit ASEAN countries- is never seen before. This phenomenon is in contrast with the frequent absence of EU leaders in the ASEM summits, especially those after the Asian financial crisis.

EU active economic diplomacy and the frequent visit of U top leaders have created a better atmosphere in EU-ASEAN relations. EU criticism on social or political practices in ASEAN countries continues but with a less frequency and intensity. This change on EU diplomatic style may derive from several factors. The first is EU leaders and official realized that they had a higher priority to pursue economic interests vis-à-vis the ASEAN countries. Secondly, the changes that took place in Southeast Asian countries have addressed different perspectives between EU and ASEAN countries, especially in political issues and human rights. The political openness and transformation in Myanmar, that used to be the problems in EU-ASEAN relations, seem to contribute indispensably in this improvement of political atmosphere. Thirdly, perhaps by paying more attention to ASEAN countries and by realizing their interest in the region, the Europeans are able to build a more culturally, socially, and politically sensitive approach in their diplomacy with ASEAN.  With this kind of approach, the EU officials as well as officials of EU member states  seem to be more open mind and more ‘appreciate’ to  what have been considered as Asian values and ‘ASEAN way’. The approach is reflected in more prudent comments on political issues in ASEAN countries and more restrain in putting forward criticism towards the ‘ASEAN way’. One of strategic steps taken by the EU is to accede to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) in July 2012.

The crisis in the Euro zone and its impacts on EU active diplomacy in Southeast Asia has created mixed perceptions in ASEAN. An optimist view sees EU as a crisis fighter and believe that, as those in the past, the European countries would reemerge from the crisis stronger. However, the financial crisis has also spread skeptical views on regional integration and strengthened the refusal of ASEAN Economic Community. Those who adopt the latter perspective believe that the European integration and the common currency are very risky experiments that could create social, political and economic disaster if not chaos. The crisis in the Euro zone is a valuable lesson learn for regional integration in other parts of the world including in Southeast Asia. In addition, what has happened in Europe encourage perceptions that EU’s power is decreasing.

Despite the financial crisis and challenges to EU’s role as a global player, EU has shown an intention to deepen its relations with ASEAN. In April 2012, the two regional entities adopted the Bandar Seri Begawan Plan of Action which states to strengthen EU-ASEAN enhanced partnership for 2013-2017. The plan to enhance the inter-regional relations includes cooperation in policy and security. In 2012 and 2013, EU Representatives and high level officials from member states frequently stated that they expect EU could play a bigger role in the regional security.  However, it is not clear the reason behind this intention and what kind of role that EU could play in the Asian security. For ASEAN countries, China’s rise, its increasing assertiveness and the US’ pivot have increased tension in the regional politics and security. It would be a question whether EU needs a pivot to Southeast Asia too.  

 

E. Conclude
Inter-regional relations between ASEAN and EU have been established since 1970s.  This region-to-region engagement has gone through three crises that shape not only the nature of the relations but also the perceptions of each side towards each other.  The first is the strained relations during 1980s due to different political values that can be categorized as the crisis of common values between ASEAN and EU. This crisis hampered the development of the inter-regional relations; EU however preceded by enhancing bilateral relations with individual ASEAN countries namely Singapore and Thailand. The second is the Asian financial crisis that cracked some ASEAN countries towards the end of 1990s; the crisis that switched European previous interests and hopes on what so called ‘Asian economic miracle’. In the context of EU-ASEAN relations, this crisis loomed the relations and created a substantial negative feeling among affected ASEAN countries as the EU economies failed to respond as sincere partners that could be relied on for real supports and needed assistance. This crisis halted the development of not only ASEAN-EU relations but also their relations in the ASEM process. EU countries seem lost their interests in ASEAN and switched their attention to newly integrated countries in Central and Eastern Europe. The third and most recent event is the financial crisis in the Euro zone that has been responded variously by people and key persons from ASEAN, creating a momentum to re-address the inter-regional relations. This period is concomitantly with continuously high economic growth in East Asia, including main countries in ASEAN, encouraging the EU countries to realize on the importance of ASEAN economies for their own. The relations mirror those in early 2000s when enthusiasm in at side was met by cautiousness and restrained at the other side.

The data collected for this study show that economic relations between the two regions have been influenced by the crisis in the Euro zone since 2009. In term of trade, export and import of goods between the two regions has increased steadily after a drop in 2009. The data implies that the Euro crisis has boasted trade between the two regions, indicated by more active governments and business from EU countries to approach their partners in Asia. The trade, nevertheless, booked a surplus for the ASEAN countries. The increased trend of an active engagement in the inter-regional trade did not take place in investment and official development assistant.

The Euro crisis has created a more balanced enthusiasm in EU-ASEAN relations. Whereas EU seems to lost interests in Southeast Asia after the Asian financial crisis, the European countries return their attention to the lucratic market of ASEAN countries when they experience the crisis.  It may not ideal relations but economic interests continue to be the primary motive of the relations between the two regions.

The financial crisis in Euro zone makes the Southeast Asians not only perceive EU less powerful than before but also find out that the global power has shifted to Asia. It seems that ASEAN countries would keep EU as an important partner either in ASEAN-EU Dialogue Forum, ARF or ASEM; however, the character of the inter-regional relations is likely to change.

 

REFERENCES

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Economy

The Blazing Revival of Bitcoin: BITO ETF Debuts as the Second-Highest Traded Fund

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It seems like bitcoin is as resilient as a relentless pandemic: persistent and refusing to stay down. Not long ago, the crypto-giant lost more than half of its valuation in the aftermath of a brutal crackdown by China. Coupled with pessimism reflected by influencers like Elon Musk, the bitcoin plummeted from the all-time high valuation of $64,888.99 to flirt around the $30,000 mark in mere weeks. However, over the course of the last four months, the behemoth of the crypto-market gradually climbed to reclaim its supremacy. Today, weaving through national acceptance to market recognition, bitcoin could be the gateway to normalizing the elusive crypto-world in the traditional global markets: particularly the United States.

The recent bullish development is the launch of the ProShares Bitcoin Strategy ETF – the first Bitcoin-linked exchange-traded fund – on the New York Stock Exchange. Trading under the ticker BITO, the Bitcoin ETF welcomed a robust trading day: rising 4.9% to $41.94. According to the data compiled by Bloomberg, BITO’s debut marked it as the second-highest traded fund, behind BlackRock’s Carbon fund, for the first day of trading. With a turnover of almost $1 billion, the listing of BITO highlighted the demand for reliable investment in bitcoin in the US market. According to estimates on Tuesday, More than 24 million shares changed hands while BITO was one of the most-bought assets on Fidelity’s platform with more than 8,800 buy orders.

The bitcoin continued to rally, cruising over the lucrative launch of BITO. The digital currency rose to $64,309.33 on Tuesday: less than 1% below the all-time high valuation. In hindsight, the recovery seems commendable. The growing acceptance, albeit, has far more consequential attributes. The cardinal benefit is apparent: evidence of gradual acceptance by regulators. “The launch of ProShares’ bitcoin ETF on the NYSE provides the validation that some investors need to consider adding BTC to their portfolio,” stated Hong Fang, CEO of Okcoin. In simpler terms, not only would the listing allow relief to the crypto loyalists (solidifying their belief in the currency), but it would also embolden investors on the sidelines who have long been deterred by regulatory uncertainty. Thus, bringing larger, more rooted institutional investors into the crypto market: along with a surge of capital.

However, the surging acceptance may be diluting the rudimentary phenomenon of bitcoin. While retail investors would continue to participate in the notorious game of speculation via trading bitcoin, the opportunity to gain indirect exposure to bitcoin could divert the risk-averse investors. It means many loyalists could retract and direct towards BITO and other imminent bitcoin-linked ETFs instead of setting up a digital custodianship. Ultimately, it boils down to Bitcoin ETFs being managed by third parties instead of the investor: relenting control to a centralized figure. Moreover, with growing scrutiny under the eye of SECP, the steps vaguely intimate a transition to harness the market instead of liberalizing it: quiet oxymoronic to the entire decentralized model of cryptocurrencies.

Nonetheless, the listing of BITO is an optimistic development that would draw skeptics to at least observe the rampant popularity of the asset class. While the options on BITO are expected to begin trading on the NYSE Arca Options and NYSE American Options exchanges on Wednesday, other futures-based Bitcoin ETFs are on the cards. The surging popularity (and reluctant acceptance) amid tightening regulation could prove a turn of an era for the US capital markets. However, as some critics have cited, BITO is not a spot-based ETF and is instead linked to futures contracts. Thus, the restrain is still present as the regulators do not want a repeat of the financial crisis. Nevertheless, bitcoin has proved its deterrence in the face of skepticism. And if the BITO launch is to be marveled at, then the regulations are bound to adapt to the revolution that is unraveling in the modern financial reality.

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Is Myanmar an ethical minefield for multinational corporations?

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Business at a crossroads

Political reforms in Myanmar started in November 2010 followed by the release of the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and ended by the coup d’état in February 2021. Business empire run by the military generals thanks to the fruitful benefits of democratic transition during the last decade will come to an end with the return of trade and diplomatic sanctions from the western countries – United States (US) and members of European Union (EU).  US and EU align with other major international partners quickly responded and imposed sanctions over the military’s takeover and subsequent repression in Myanmar. These measures targeted not only the conglomerates of the military generals  but also the individuals who have been appointed in the authority positions and supporting the military regime.

However, the generals and their cronies own the majority of economic power both in strategic sectors ranging from telecommunication to oil & gas and in non-strategic commodity sectors such as food and beverages, construction materials, and the list goes on. It is a tall order for the investors to do business by avoiding this lucrative network of the military across the country. After the coup, it raises the most puzzling issue to investors and corporate giants in this natural resource-rich country, “Should I stay or Should I go?”

Crimes against humanity

For most of the people in the country, war crimes and atrocities committed by the military are nothing new. For instances, in 1988, student activists led a political movement and tried to bring an end to the military regime of the general Ne Win. This movement sparked a fire and grew into a nationwide uprising in a very short period but the military used lethal force and slaughtered thousands of civilian protestors including medical doctors, religious figures, student leaders, etc. A few months later, the public had no better options than being silenced under barbaric torture and lawless killings of the regime.

In 2007, there was another major protest called ‘Saffron Uprising’ against the military regime led by the Buddhist monks. It was actually the biggest pro-democracy movement since 1988 and the atmosphere of the demonstration was rather peaceful and non-violent before the military opened live ammunitions towards the crowd full of monks. Everything was in chaos for a couple of months but it ended as usual.

In 2017, the entire world witnessed one of the most tragic events in Myanmar – Again!. The reports published by the UN stated that hundreds of civilians were killed, dozens of villages were burnt down, and over 700,000 people including the majority of Rohingya were displaced to neighboring countries because of the atrocities committed by the military in the western border of the country. After four years passed, the repatriation process and the safety return of these refugees to their places of origin are yet unknown. Most importantly, there is no legal punishment for those who committed and there is no transitional justice for those who suffered in the aforementioned examples of brutalities.

The vicious circle repeated in 2021. With the economy in free fall and the deadliest virus at doorsteps, the people are still unbowed by the oppression of the junta and continue demanding the restoration of democracy and justice. To date, Assistant Association for Political Prisoner (AAPP) reported that due to practicing the rights to expression, 1178 civilians were killed and 7355 were arrested, charged or sentenced by the military junta. Unfortunately, the numbers are still increasing.

Call for economic disengagement

In 2019, the economic interests of the military were disclosed by the report of UN Fact-Finding Mission in which Myanmar Economic Corporation (MEC) and Myanmar Economic Holding Limited (MEHL) were described as the prominent entities controlled by the military profitable through the almost-monopoly market in real estate, insurance, health care, manufacturing, extractive industry and telecommunication. It also mentioned the list of foreign businesses in partnership with the military-linked activities which includes Adani (India), Kirin Holdings (Japan), Posco Steel (South Korea), Infosys (India) and Universal Apparel (Hong Kong).

Moreover, Justice for Myanmar, a non-profit watchdog organization, revealed the specific facts and figures on how the billions of revenues has been pouring into the pockets of the high-ranked officers in the military in 2021. Myanmar Oil & Gas Enterprise (MOGE), an another military-controlled authority body, is the key player handling the financial transactions, profit sharing, and contractual agreements with the international counterparts including Total (France), Chevron (US), PTTEP (Thailand), Petronas (Malaysia), and Posco (South Korea) in natural gas projects. It is also estimated that the military will enjoy 1.5 billion USD from these energy giants in 2022.

Additionally, data shows that the corporate businesses currently operating in Myanmar has been enriching the conglomerates of the generals and their cronies as a proof to the ongoing debate among the public and scholars, “Do sanctions actually work?” Some critics stressed that sanctions alone might be difficult to pressure the junta without any collaborative actions from Moscow and Beijing, the longstanding allies of the military. Recent bilateral visits and arm deals between Nay Pyi Taw and Moscow dimmed the hope of the people in Myanmar. It is now crystal clear that the Burmese military never had an intention to use the money from multinational corporations for benefits of its citizens, but instead for buying weapons, building up military academies, and sending scholars to Russia to learn about military technology. In March 2021, the International Fact Finding Mission to Myanmar reiterated its recommendation for the complete economic disengagement as a response to the coup, “No business enterprise active in Myanmar or trading with or investing in businesses in Myanmar should enter into an economic or financial relationship with the security forces of Myanmar, in particular the Tatmadaw [the military], or any enterprise owned or controlled by them or their individual members…”

Blood money and ethical dilemma

In the previous military regime until 2009, the US, UK and other democratic champion countries imposed strict economic and diplomatic sanctions on Myanmar while maintaining ‘carrot and stick’ approach against the geopolitical dominance of China. Even so, energy giants such as Total (France) and Chevron (US), and other ‘low-profile’ companies from ASEAN succeeded in running their operations in Myanmar, let alone the nakedly abuses of its natural resources by China. Doing business in this country at the time of injustice is an ethical question to corporate businesses but most of them seems to prefer maximizing the wealth of their shareholders to the freedom of its bottom millions in poverty.

But there are also companies not hesitating to do something right by showing their willingness not to be a part of human right violations of the regime. For example, Australian mining company, Woodside, decided not to proceed further operations, and ‘get off the fence’ on Myanmar by mentioning that the possibility of complete economical disengagement has been under review. A breaking news in July, 2021  that surprised everyone was the exit of Telenor Myanmar – one of four current telecom operators in the country. The CEO of the Norwegian company announced that the business had been sold to M1 Group, a Lebanese investment firm, due to the declining sales and ongoing political situations compromising its basic principles of human rights and workplace safety.

In fact, cutting off the economic ties with the junta and introducing a unified, complete economic disengagement become a matter of necessity to end the consistent suffering of the people of Myanmar. Otherwise, no one can blame the people for presuming that international community is just taking a moral high ground without any genuine desire to support the fight for freedom and pro-democracy movement.

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Economy

The Covid After-Effects and the Looming Skills Shortage

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The shock of the pandemic is changing the ways in which we think about the world and in which we analyze the future trajectories of development. The persistence of the Covid pandemic will likely accentuate this transformation and the prominence of the “green agenda” this year is just one of the facets of these changes. Market research as well as the numerous think-tanks will be accordingly re-calibrating the time horizons and the main themes of analysis. Greater attention to longer risks and fragilities is likely to take on greater prominence, with particular scrutiny being accorded to high-impact risk factors that have a non-negligible probability of materializing in the medium- to long-term. Apart from the risks of global warming other key risk factors involve the rising labour shortages, most notably in areas pertaining to human capital development.

The impact of the Covid pandemic on the labour market will have long-term implications, with “hysteresis effects” observed in both highly skilled and low-income tiers of the labour market. One of the most significant factors affecting the global labour market was the reduction in migration flows, which resulted in the exacerbation of labour shortages across the major migrant recipient countries, such as Russia. There was also a notable blow delivered by the pandemic to the spheres of human capital development such as education and healthcare, which in turn exacerbated the imbalances and shortages in these areas. In particular, according to the estimates of the World Health Organization (WHO) shortages can mount up to 9.9 million physicians, nurses and midwives globally by 2030.

In Europe, although the number of physicians and nurses has increased in general in the region by approximately 10% over the past 10 years, this increase appears to be insufficient to cover the needs of ageing populations. At the same time the WHO points to sizeable inequalities in the availability of physicians and nurses between countries, whereby there are 5 times more doctors in some countries than in others. The situation with regard to nurses is even more acute, as data show that some countries have 9 times fewer nurses than others.

In the US substantial labour shortages in the healthcare sector are also expected, with anti-crisis measures falling short of substantially reversing the ailments in the national healthcare system. In particular, data published by the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges), suggests that the United States could see an estimated shortage of between 37,800 and 124,000 physicians by 2034, including shortfalls in both primary and specialty care.

The blows sustained by global education from the pandemic were no less formidable. These affected first and foremost the youngest generation of the globe – according to UNESCO, “more than 1.5 billion students and youth across the planet are or have been affected by school and university closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic”. On top of the adverse effects on the younger generation (see Box 1), there is also the widening “teachers gap”, namely a worldwide shortage of well-trained teachers. According to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), “69 million teachers must be recruited to achieve universal primary and secondary education by 2030”.

From our partner RIAC

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