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October 1998 Volume 5 Number 10

Asia: Urban-Rural, Economy


Urban-Rural. There is a significant urban-rural migration within southeast Asia, with rural-urban migrants returning to villages as they lose urban jobs. An estimated 75 percent of the two million unemployed workers in Thailand are migrants from rural areas, and one million rural-urban migrants have returned to their villages in a massive urban-rural migration. However, in rural areas, there is little work between rice planting and harvesting.

Thailand has removed the most foreign migrants since the financial crisis that began in summer 1997--about 260,825, mostly Burmese. Thailand is also becoming a center for human trafficking, as Burmese and others sneak in, and Thais emigrate to countries such as Japan.

Many Southeast Asian governments are discouraging job-seekers from going to large cities. After the Muslim holiday Idul Fitri, when many villagers traditionally go to the city to seek work, the Jakarta government launched Operation Yustista to clear the city of migrants. At bus stations, police checked identity cards of arriving passengers, and those without Jakarta addresses were sent back to the bus. There is even a song about Indonesia's rural migrants entitled, "No One Told You to Come to Jakarta."

Chinese Indonesians are complaining that the Indonesian government is not doing enough to protect them. About 30,000 ethnic Chinese left Indonesia in 1998, and many have not returned. Some 1,200 people, mostly ethnic Chinese, were killed during riots in May 1998, and human-rights groups charge that 168 Chinese women were victims of organized rape during the riots.

In a poll of business executives conducted by the Far Eastern Economic Review and CNBC Asia, 75 percent of business executives said that Asian countries should offer asylum to Indonesian Chinese.

At a seminar sponsored by Thailand and the International Organization for Migration on September 17, Thailand's foreign minister urged the international community and neighboring countries to work towards a regional mechanism to manage migration in the region. The IOM reported that migratory pressures are increasing and, with no avenues for orderly migration, smuggling and trafficking is up.

The Philippine Overseas Employment Administration reported that the Asian financial crisis has resulted in fewer employment opportunities abroad for Filipinos. During the first six months of 1998, there was a two percent drop in the number of overseas Filipino workers deployed overseas, from 401,897 in 1997 to 394,568 in 1998.

Countries that have ordinarily sought foreign workers have sharply reduced their labor imports. Malaysia hired only 2,731 new Filipinos in the first four months of 1998, a 64 percent drop from 7,637 during the same period in 1997. Filipino employment in Taiwan, Japan and Brunei rose in 1998. About one-third of newly deployed Filipinos go to the Middle East, some 126,937 in 1998.

Economy. As Asia enters its second year of economic crisis, review articles re-examined the Asian miracle and Asian values: conflict is avoided for the sake of harmony; politeness is valued over directness; individual rights are held in lower regard than societal responsibility. Some argued that Asians accepted political authoritarianism as the price of communal economic advancement.

Most reviews of why some Asian nations grew very fast between 1970 and 1995 cite four reasons: (1) a rapidly growing labor force; (2) high savings and investment; (3) education and training that improved the quality of the labor force; and (4) enlightened authoritarian governments that caused these economic factors to combine to maximize growth. This fourth element is being questioned in 1998 in many countries. The notion that enlightened authoritarian governments can resist the claims of special-interest groups and thus speed up economic growth has been found wanting from Korea to Indonesia.

In mid-September, President Clinton announced his support for measures to restart the global economy, arguing that with 25 percent of the world's population living in countries in recession, the US is threatened because overseas trade has accounted for 30 percent of US growth since 1993.


David Lamb, "Terrorized Ethnic Chinese Still on Edge in Indonesia," Los Angeles Times, October 3, 1998. Keith B. Richburg, "For Migrant Workers, Path From Boom to Bust Leads Home," Washington Post, September 8, 1998. "ASEAN Parliamentarians Discuss Economic Crisis," Asia Pulse, August 24, 1998.
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