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In this essay, Benjamin Reilly ponders the puzzling pattern of democracy’s presence or absence across Southeast Asia. Indeed, the dearth of democracy in the region’s richest countries (Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore), together with its strength in the poorest (Indonesia, the Philippines, and Timor-Leste) seems to defy the idea—so basic to modernization theory—that stable democracy is fostered by economic development. The reason for this seemingly anomalous situation, says Reilly, lies in the realm of history and geography. He argues that physical proximity to China and the traditional degree of Chinese influence (heavier on the mainland, lighter on the offshore periphery) offer the best explanation of how democracy is distributed across Southeast Asia.