Editorial #3

mark_bibby_jacksonThe times they are a-changin’. It might be more than 50 years since Bob Dylan created his haunting ballad, but one of its themes is as valid now in ASEAN as it was then in the US – social change.

Even the most cursory of glances will reveal the transformation that both mature and frontier economies across the region are experiencing. Whether it is the opening of shopping malls, the construction of apartment blocks, or the advent of designer goods and luxury cars, ASEAN is going through a period of rapid consumer growth. While this provides great opportunities for entrepreneurs and consumers alike, it also carries with it a potential sting in the tail.

Take the current construction boom in Cambodia. Are these luxury apartments and condominiums within the reach of the nascent, young middle class? If the inevitable economic benefits of the new community are truly to be shared with its people then providing a home for all is surely at their crux?

In our cover story, we look at a scheme based upon the Singapore Social Housing Model – which helped transform the city state from “one of the world’s worst slums” into a thriving metropolis – that could place affordable housing within the reach of young Cambodians. We also consider the Kingdom’s previous social housing experiment by looking retrospectively at the work of Vann Molyvann, the father of the New Khmer Architecture movement in the 50s and 60s.

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Housing is not the only arena where Cambodia is turning towards Singapore for inspiration. In September, a delegation of companies from the republic is travelling to Phnom Penh in search of potential local franchise partners.

The emergence of franchises is part of a more general trend towards brand awareness that can be noticed in the country. Major retail brands such as Rolls-Royce, Rimowa, Hugo Boss, BMW and Porsche can be seen on the streets of the Cambodian capital – something that was unimaginable when I first stepped foot on these shores a decade ago.

In #3 of ASEAN Forum, we take an in-depth look at the development of franchises and luxury brands to see how these can benefit the economy.

However, where there is a ying you will always find a yang lurking in its shadow. Thailand’s recent explosion in household debt offers a cautionary tale to those who see consumer growth as an economic cure-all. Currently running at 85 percent of GDP and rising, personal debt is not just threatening any potential post-coup economic recovery, but it also impacts upon the lives of many, who were encouraged to enter into debt with the promise of sustained economic growth and generous stimulus progammes.

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Myanmar is a country embracing economic and political transition. While many investors wait for the results of the November 8 election before deciding whether to take the plunge, ASEAN Forum visited a symposium where experts advised speculators to take a longer-term outlook before converting their dollars into kyats.

Although Vietnam may be further along the economic path towards salvation than its westerly neighbour, it is still struggling with its political identity. Capitalist or Communist or a hybrid of the two? We visit the coffee bars of Hanoi to find out where the country stands, and whether it really matters?

With cybersecurity, Mekong river tours, Cambodia’s hidden island hideaways and the top movies coming out on DVD, I trust that you find ASEAN Forum your essential guide to doing business in the region.

Mark Bibby Jackson, Editorial Director ASEAN Forum mark@aseanforum.asia

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