The Thai Elections of 2019: the Rise of the Illiberal Middle Classes

In early 2019, Thailand’s military junta held elections for the first time since removing the elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra from office five years earlier. The elections took place under a new constitution, which gave the coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha an insurmountable advantage. Ironically, some of Prayuth’s strongest supporters were the same middle classes that fought in the streets for democracy in the 1990s. The result is a Thai polity that can only be described as constitutional authoritarianism.

South Korea’s Progressive Turn

Two years have passed since disgraced former President Park Geun-hye was dismissed and President Moon Jae-in took office in Seoul. While South Korea’s newspapers remain filled with accounts of acrimonious encounters between opposing blocs of legislators and their supporters, a profound shift has occurred in the political order. For just about the first time in […]

A Road to Forgetting: Friendship and Memory in China’s Belt and Road Initiative

A new Sino-Kazakh coproduction recounts the time that celebrated Chinese musician Xian Xinghai spent in Kazakhstan in the early 1940s, focussing on the friendship between the artist and a local composer named Bakhitzhan Baykadamov. While the movie intends to celebrate the renewed friendship between China and the former Soviet republic under the auspices of Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative, it also serves a darker purpose: to obfuscate the reality of the mass detention of ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz in ‘reeducation camps’ in Xinjiang.

Descending into Debt in Cambodia

Cambodia today is the site of one of the world’s largest microcredit sectors. While it is widely believed that the extension of microcredit to Cambodia’s poor should be cause for all-round celebration, this essay reveals disquieting evidence of a deeply problematic development intervention. Indebted to microcredit institutions, increasing numbers of Cambodia’s poor population have been forced to accept exploitative labour conditions in the garment and construction industry, driven to despair due to the loss of their land, and, in the worst cases, had no choice but to ‘sell’ themselves as bonded labour to brick kilns owners.

Chinese Digital Ecosystems Go Abroad: Myanmar and the Diffusion of Chinese Smartphones

Myanmar’s recent economic opening has prompted a dramatic upsurge in access to mobile phone and Internet technologies. Lower-cost smartphones finding their way across the border from China often have limited Burmese language support and come with WeChat and other Chinese apps preinstalled. This situation is resulting in a localised form of China’s digital ecosystem with Burmese characteristics.

Bharat Bandh: Millions Challenge Modi’s Labour Agenda

A massive, nationwide strike—popularised as Bharat Bandh (literally ‘India closed’ in Hindi/Sanskrit)—caused major disruption to India’s economy on 2 September 2016. Some unions have claimed this was the largest general strike in history, with up to one hundred and fifty million workers involved and costs to business of around 2.7 billion US dollars. While these figures […]

Illicit Economies of the Internet: Click Farming in Indonesia and Beyond

Click farms are often considered either a form of fraudulent online marketing or as a type of exploitative digital labour based on an illegitimate business operation that produces ‘click spam’. There has, however, been limited research on how these entities operate, who the actors are, and how the market is organised. In an ethnographic spirit, this essay takes click farmers not as an aberration, but rather as a starting point for approaching the ‘like economy’.

Online Activism and South Korea’s Candlelight Movement

The Candlelight Movement of 2016 and 2017 that successfully called for president Park Geun-hye to step down is among the largest social movements in South Korean history. This movement attracted millions of participants over a sustained period of time, while maintaining strikingly peaceful demonstrations that ultimately achieved their goal. This essay looks at the role of the Internet and new media in fostering a new generation of activists and laying the foundation for a successful social mobilisation.

‘Hun Sen Won’t Die, Workers Will Die’: The Geopolitics of Labour in the Cambodian Crackdown

Over the past year, the Cambodian government has engaged in a full-frontal assault on freedoms of expression, association, and assembly. The latest development has seen Cambodia effectively becoming a one-party state, after the ruling party swept all 125 seats on offer in the National Assembly at the polls held in July 2018. This essay examines the ways in which both labour politics and China have played a role in these changes.

China and Development Aid: The Case of Anti-trafficking and Seafood in Southeast Asia

Chinese-funded aid to developing countries does not require either mitigation strategies or environmental and social impact assessments. In this essay, Sverre Molland looks at the Mekong region and assesses the impact of China’s increasing influence in the area on the attempts to introduce humanitarian and human rights standards in labour migration.

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