The first issue of ASEAN Economic Bulletin (AEB) was published in July 1984. It was set up to circulate research carried out by scholars in the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) and elsewhere on the key issues of the day, which were taken to include: “investment, industry, and trade; finance and monetary policy; food, energy, and commodities; transport and logistics; and political issues associated with promoting ASEAN Economic Cooperation”.
In 1984, policy-makers in the region experienced a very different reality from today’s. That year, Singapore’s economy grew 8.2 per cent and the Philippine economy, still in the grip of Marcos, contracted by 5.5 per cent. Malaysia’s GDP was smaller than the Philippines’ and the country was embarking on its heavy industry drive. Economic data on Laos, Vietnam, and what was then Kampuchea was scarce and hard to come by. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) had just welcomed its sixth member, Brunei, and a regional free trade agreement was not on the agenda.
That said, many issues from that time still resonate. Southeast Asia was emerging from a recession, and hopes were pinned on the positive effects of the re-election of the President of the United States. Then, as now, policy-makers in the region were grappling with: maintaining fiscal discipline; employment creation; urbanization; depletion of natural resources; and reducing non-tariff barriers.
Since the first issue of AEB, almost three decades ago, the Institute has continuously published the journal. During this time, the Bulletin has consolidated itself as an authoritative source on Southeast Asian economies and ASEAN. Seeking to reach out to policy-makers and academics alike, it has sought to reconcile the ideals of relevance, methodological rigour, and accessibility.
Early this year, the Directorship of ISEAS and AEB’s Editorial Board took stock of the journal’s considerable achievements. We remain committed to publishing research relevant to policy-makers and academics in the region. However, some adjustments were necessary in light of: new developments in the regional and global economic context; as well as certain existential questions that our readership has raised from time to time.
Turning first to the existential aspect, many prospective readers have assumed that this journal’s focus is on ASEAN as an organization. While ASEAN — as a regional grouping that encompasses the majority of countries in Southeast Asia — is central to our identity, an even more fundamental aspect of what we do is to seek to understand questions and issues at the national level.
Furthermore, now — as in 1984 — the membership of ASEAN maps imperfectly onto Southeast Asia. While ASEAN has expanded from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, and Brunei to include Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, Timor-Leste has, at the time of writing, yet to join. However, many of the issues that we cover on the ground are as relevant to Timor-Leste as they are to the formal members of ASEAN. Thus, we retain our commitment to covering all of Southeast Asia.
In addition, when the name for the Bulletin was coined, ASEAN was the regional grouping for countries in Southeast Asia to join. Today, following the stagnation of the Doha round, more and more countries are seeking to join multi-country trading agreements. At the time of writing, four Southeast Asian countries are in negotiations to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade agreement that spans the Pacific to include countries such as Chile and the United States. Other multi-country economic associations may well develop in the years ahead. Thus, ASEAN, while vital to the region, is no longer the only such grouping open to Southeast Asian nations.
New developments have also entailed additional sets of challenges for policy-makers to face, as well as different topics for academicians to pursue. First, structural changes in the economies of Southeast Asia has meant bigger and more diverse industrial and service sectors. Second, different growth rates and policy [End Page v] regimes have meant that countries that used to generate relatively little research interest have now taken centre stage. In particular, the economic reforms in Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam entail research on a greater variety of topics...