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Thailand’s ruling junta has pledged to wage war on government waste – but that hasn’t stopped it setting aside a little money to make sure it can rule in suitable style.

As General Prayuth Chan-ocha, coup leader and prime minister, prepares to host his first cabinet meeting on Tuesday in an office in the midst of a near-$8m revamp, officials are playing down reports that the changes are driven by feng shui. Continue reading »

Of all the colonial legacies left by Britain, France and the Netherlands in Asia, one of the least talked-about – yet arguably one of the most lasting and problematic – is the patchwork of legal systems that divides the region.

Doing business in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) is gradually getting easier thanks to the elimination of tariff barriers, expansion of supply chains and gradual harmonisation of customs procedures.

Yet one of the big “soft” barriers to greater Asean integration, and one which makes life hard for multinationals and ambitious local companies alike, are the differing jurisdictions across the 10-member bloc. Continue reading »

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha’s Thursday metamorphosis from Thai coup leader to prime ministerial nominee hammers home the military’s near-total control over the country’s main political and economic levers. But the flip-side is that the generals now have responsibility for Thailand’s troubles – but no one to blame if things go wrong. In a draft budget rubber-stamped without debate by the military’s puppet parliament this week, Gen Prayuth promised big spending rises for transport, education and – to no-one’s shock – defence. Here are five charts that show the coup-makers’ priorities – and some of the difficulties they face. Continue reading »

“When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time”, US Army officer and Vietnam veteran Creighton Abrams once said.

In his new book, The Rise of the New East, Ben Simpfendorfer does just that. His elephant is “The East”, the group of almost 50 emerging markets ranging from Turkey to China that is home to well over half of the world population.

Simpfendorfer gives his topic a thorough treatment. While his insights seem logical and intuitive, taken together they give an impressive oversight of into key trends shaping the region. beyondbrics noted five insights that particularly stood out. Continue reading »

By Dan Gallucci, Asean Confidential

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, leader of the May 22 coup d’état that returned Thailand yet again to a state of military rule, has repeatedly emphasised the country’s need for a “return to happiness” following months of political chaos. He has even released a song about it.

The coup-makers appear to have so far accomplished this task according to some yardsticks: consumer confidence is up nationwide (see chart), and in Bangkok the streets are safer and traffic is no longer disrupted by protests. Many Thais approve both of the coup itself and the job the generals have done managing the country since. Continue reading »

It is a truth almost universally recognised that internet penetration in the 10-member bloc known as Asean – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – is low, even though the region is humming economically.

Or is it?

UBS has come out with some interesting research that will give the e-commerce crowd something to cheer. The bank finds that Asean has a 32 per cent “internet penetration rate”, or almost 200m users, out of a total population of 620m.

This contrasts with market data apparently widely accepted – and cited by UBS – saying that penetration could be as low as 62m users. Continue reading »

Dan Gallucci, Asean Confidential

Whatever progress toward a stable democracy Thailand has lost with the military’s ouster of the elected Puea Thai government, an economic analysis of the country’s latest coup must confront the following facts. First, the Yingluck Shinawatra administration had severely mismanaged the Thai economy even before the political crisis began. Second, the economy has been far more impacted by this turmoil than headline numbers currently reveal.

It will be difficult for any government the junta installs to do worse. Continue reading »

By Gavin Bowring, Asean Confidential

It might seem odd to think of Cambodia as a haven of political stability. Labour unrest in Cambodia’s garment factories turned violent in January this year, while the country’s opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has boycotted Parliament for six straight months in protest of last year’s “flawed” general elections.

Nevertheless, in the space of a week, Cambodia has seen thousands of Chinese residents in Vietnam fleeing across the border as a result of escalating tension between China and its southern neighbour, Vietnam. Meanwhile, the recent military coup in Thailand led to implicit suggestions by the lawyer of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra that Cambodia might be willing to host his “government-in-exile”, though these suggestions have been denied by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen. Continue reading »

Demonstrators in Bangkok blocked some polling stations in the Thai capital and continued to insist that they would ignore the results of the vote, but in spite of their protests, voting went ahead across the country. Michael Peel reports.

If you are doing business in Asean – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – be prepared for an electric shock.

Analysts at ANZ have looked at what’s happening with electricity prices across the region and are warning that they are set to rise, making it considerably more expensive to run factories. It will also add half a basis point on average to inflation, which is already inching up. Continue reading »

Thai anti-government protesters rally at Asoke intersection in Bangkok on January 13, 2014.

Demonstrators march towards the government building in Bangkok

Thailand’s prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, called a snap election on Monday, but failed to halt fresh mass street protests aimed at ousting her government. Read the full story on FT.com.

Has the Bank of Thailand blinked in the face of the country’s escalating protests? In a surprise move, the bank cut its policy interest rate on Wednesday by 25 basis points to 2.25 per cent a year, highlighting weaker than expected growth in the third quarter and the “ongoing political situation”.

Indeed, growth is expected to be weaker towards the end of 2013 and through 2014. But has the bank made the wrong call? Continue reading »

Thailand’s GDP figures were a bit of a disappointment on Monday, showing growth in Q3 of just 2.7 per cent.

The main culprit was domestic demand, which fell 1.2 per cent year on year. That’s a particular blow as local consumption has up to now been one of the most consistent drivers of growth: since 2007, domestic demand has fallen only in the exceptional circumstances of the global financial crisis of 2008-09 and Thailand’s huge floods of 2001. So what’s the problem now? Continue reading »

Another week, another barrage of criticism for Thailand’s massive rice subsidy scheme.

This time the attack on a programme that is costing the government billions of dollars a year and adding to worries about the country’s economy is delivered diplomatically, but none the less forcefully, by the International Monetary Fund. Continue reading »