The Graduate School of Korean Studies in the Academy of Korean Studies is a government-funded institution established to develop and globalise Korean studies. It brings together 50 faculty members and 250 students, a half of whom are international from 33 countries, to create an open and dynamic community to widen and deepen their knowledge in the fields of humanities and social sciences pertinent to Korea.
– Korean History – Diplomatics and Bibliography – Philosophy – Korean Linguistics·Korean Literature – Anthropology·Folklore – Religious Studies – Musicology – Art History – Cultural Informatics·Human Geography – Political Science – Sociology – Education – Korean Culture and Society
Benefits for International Students
– Tuition fees are fully waived for the whole coursework period. – About 70% of international students are provided with the Government Grant, a monthly stipend of ￡460. – A 5:1 student-faculty ratio enables close one-on-one guidance. – Korean language courses, tutoring, writing clinic, and various cultural activities are available free of charge, supporting students’ academic performance.
– English language proficiency equivalent to or higher than TOEFL iBT 80, IELTS Academic Module 6.5, or TEPS 301 for applicants for Korean Culture and Society major – Korean language proficiency equivalent to or higher than TOPIK(Test of Proficiency in Korean) level 4 for applicants except for Korean Culture and Society major
Application Applications are open on 24th September and close on 8th October 2021. Please apply online at gradaks.recruiter.co.kr
Why Study at GSKS?
As an educational institute established and funded by the Korean government with the aim of promoting Korean studies, we provide international students with excellent educational and living environments as follows:
Tuition fees are fully waived for the whole coursework period for all international students.
69.8% of international students benefit from the Government Grant, a monthly stipend of ￡460 for a year, renewable upon evaluation.
A 5:1 student-faculty ratio enables close one-to-one guidance by professors.
Korean language courses are available free of charge to assist international students with academic writing, presentations, and discussions.
Various programs such as tutoring, writing clinic, cultural activities and airfare subsidy for presentation abroad, etc. support students’ academic performance.
Currently, approximately 250 students including about 120 international students from 33 countries are enrolled in our Master’s or doctoral degree program in the fields of humanities and social sciences pertinent to Korea.
Coursework period is 2 years for a Master’s degree program and 3 years for a doctoral degree program.
An academic year consists of two semesters and courses are provided for 15 weeks per semester. A spring semester begins in March, and a fall semester in September.
Most courses are taught in Korean, while courses in Korean Culture and Society major are provided in English.
Students earn 3 credits each course. In order to graduate, students of a Master’s degree program should complete 24 credits, and a doctoral degree program 36 credits, other than mandatory Korean language courses which are non-credit. Both Master’s degree and doctoral degree students should write a thesis.
A keen interest in Korean studies, coupled with an undergraduate degree (for a Master’s degree program) or a graduate degree (for a doctoral degree program)
English language proficiency equivalent to or higher than TOEFL iBT 80, IELTS Academic Module 6.5, or TEPS 301 for applicants for Korean Culture and Society major
Korean language proficiency equivalent to or higher than TOPIK(Test of Proficiency in Korean) level 4 for applicants except for Korean Culture and Society major
Applications are sought twice a year. Application for 2022 spring semester will be open on 24 September and close on 8 October 2021. Applications for 2022 fall semester will be sought in March 2022.
How to Apply
To apply, visit here and complete the online application form. A soft copy or a scanned copy of the following documents should be uploaded on the application website:
A graduation certificate and official transcripts
A score report of TOFEL iBT, IELTS Academic Module, or TEPS (if applicable)
A TOPIK certificate (if applicable)
In addition, a letter of recommendation should be sent by email.
1st Process (If applicable) : Korean Language Proficiency Test
– If applicants do not submit a valid TOPIK score certificate, GSKS Korean language teachers conduct a phone interview to test their Korean language proficiency.
– Applicants for Korean Culture and Society major are not applicable.
2nd Process : Document Screening
– Document screening is held for applicants who meet all the application requirement.
– Overall evaluation of applicants’ research plan, academic ability, language proficiency, and academic background (shown in personal statement and a recommendation letter) takes place.
3rd Process : A Video Interview
– A video interview is held to those who have passed the 2nd process.
If you have any queries about the program or the application process, please contact us at email@example.com or +82-31-730-8183.
TYPE / ROLE
Master’s Degree or Doctoral Degree Program
Diplomatics and Bibliography
Korean Linguistics · Korean Literature
Anthropology · Folklore
Cultural Informatics · Human Geography
Korean Culture and Society (Only available for Master’s degree program)
Seongnam City – South Korea
Perched on the side of Cheonggye Mountain, 30km south of the center of Seoul, the campus provides a fantastic setting for the academic pursuits of students with its peaceful atmospheres and natural environments. Also, students can reach dynamic youth culture of Gangnam area within 30 minutes by bus as well as artistic and historic heritage of Seoul city center within an hour
Click here to find out more and fill in application.
To explore new political viewpoints and to facilitate a sharing processes in the ASEAN region and towards Europe, the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Southeast Asia – Hanoi office is calling for contributions on the themes: (i) Social-Ecological Transformation, (ii) Climate Justice and (iii) Food Sovereignty. Please find attached the full document for more details and please help share this to relevant stakeholders.
The contributions can be of various types like academic papers, interviews, political analyses, picture series, comics etc. The selected papers will be published by the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung in a joint book in English and German language.
The final paper should be maximum 15,000 characters describing ideas, concepts or projects of a Social-Ecological Transformation and how they can transform the society. The contributions may focus on projects and concepts in the five Southeast Asian Mekong countries Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Myanmar.
Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Southeast Asia will support the editing and publishing of papers that are relevant for our themes and approaches. For each selected paper we will provide an allowance of 350 EUR net.
Process of submitting papers:
· A first overview of the paper (maximum one page) should be sent before 6th of June 2021. Paper Selection will be finished by Mid-June
· The full paper of maximum 15,000 characters should be sent before 15th of September 2021. Related Pictures would be highly valued.
Overviews and papers can be submitted via e-mail to Uyen.Tran@rosalux.org. If you have any inquiries, please do not hesitate to contact us via the above e-mail address.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers raised concerns about high levels of household over-indebtedness, questioning the relationship between debt and household vulnerability. In 2017, a sector-sponsored survey (N= 802) was conducted with household borrowers in 12 provinces and Phnom Penh, and it suggests that 28% of micro-finance household borrowers were insolvent, and another 22% were at risk (MFC and Good Return 2017). Concerning over-indebtedness, many researchers have pointed to several problems: land loss (Green 2018; Green & Bylander forthcoming), distressed migration (Bylander 2014; Ovesen and Trankell 2014; Green and Estes 2018; LICADHO 2020), and declining household nutrition through a reduction in food consumption (Seng 2018). COVID-19 pandemic, which induced economic slowdown and unemployment, has dramatically exacerbated vulnerable households’ livelihoods, especially micro-finance borrowers, in the country. Given these challenges, the World Bank (2020: 3) claims that “the global epidemiological and economic crisis unleashed by COVID-19 poses the greatest threat to Cambodia’s development in its 30 years of modern history.” The Bank continues, “poverty could increase between 3 to 11 percentage points from a 50 per cent income loss that lasts for six months for households engaged in tourism, wholesale and retail trade, garment, construction, or manufacturing.” In this essay, we attempt to briefly describe how the loan restructuring policy was enforced by financial institutions (FIs) and examine the extent to which this policy has benefited the debt-distressed or economically vulnerable households, and how they cope with the effects of the pandemic.
In response to COVID-19 induced economic crisis, loan restructuring policy or known in Khmer as Kareapcham Inatean Loeung Vinh or, in short, Inatean Saloueng Vinh policy, emerged. This directly follows a request by the government for leniency on debt-stressed borrowers impacted by the COVID-19. In March 2020, the Prime Minister of Cambodia called on financial institutions to be lenient towards borrowers and not to confiscate collateral assets from the debt-distressed households. Following the Prime Minister’s request, on 27 March 2020, the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC) issued a circular requesting banks and microfinance institutions to carry out a loan restructuring policy to relieve the debt burden of their clients whose incomes were adversely affected by the COVID-19.
To address the debt-distressed issues, NBC recommended nine options for the banks and financial institutions: 1) Reductions in the principal amount or the amount to be paid at maturity; 2) Reductions of the interest rate to a rate lower than in the original loan agreement; 3) Extension of time for the loan principal or interest repayment or interest capitalisation; 4) Extension of maturity; 5) Addition of and/or change of joint borrower or guarantor (if any); 6) Change in loan type from an instalment loan to a bullet loan; 7) Waiver of or reduction of collateral requirement; 8) Reduction of contract condition; and, 9) Provision of a grace period, which could last for six months counting from the effective date of the new contract.
To date, according to Cambodian Microfinance Association (CMA), there were USD 1.3 billion worth of total loans being restructured or around 16 per cent of total outstanding loans in 2020. As of December 2020, 271,117 borrowers (about 12 per cent of the total number of borrowing households) have benefited from some forms of loan restructuring. The CMA and Association of Banks in Cambodia then called on the NBC to extend the loan restructure policy into 2021, as the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis remains in addition to the flood crisis (White 2020). The NBC granted the request so that the loan restructuring policy will continue until mid- 2021 (Sok 2020).
While the nine options and loan restructuring have been officially implemented, it is not clearly defined by NBC what should be involved or who should receive which option. As such, the banks and FIs have opted for their discretion in responses to the COVID-19 crisis. As a result, the implementation of the loan restructure policy varies from an institution to another. However, the financial institutions with which we spoke offered three key aspects of restructuring available for COVID-19 affected borrowers:
Payment Holiday: Borrowers granted a payment holiday is not required to repay loans at all for a specified period. The interest payments associated with that period of time are added to the left-over principal amount, and a new repayment schedule will be issued at the end of the payment holiday.
Period Extension: With a period extension, loan periods are extended so that the monthly payment is reduced to a level within the borrowers’ capacity to repay.
Grace Period: Borrowers granted a grace period have the option to repay only interest payments for a specified period of time. This allows them to minimise monthly payments and not pay down the principal for the duration of the grace period.
Our data from interviewing borrowers (N=119) and FI representatives (N= 34) show that the popular option enforced was the “grace period.” We found that 16 were given a grace period, 6 were granted a payment holiday, and in one case, a FI allowed a borrower to repay flexibly. 11 borrowers approached the FIs but were verbally rejected because of ineligibility of the sector (6 borrowers) and the loan restructuring was generally unavailable in their areas (5 borrowers). Seven borrowers were offered a “grace period” but rejected the offer because they were concerned about the financial loss (khart) it would create. Meanwhile, thirty-one borrowers were not aware of the loan restructuring policy at all, and the rest either had the ability to repay or approached their FI for the fear of impacting their credit history and/or being ashamed. The unawareness of the existence of loan restructuring policy is consistent with a finding of a survey (N = 997) conducted in July 2020 with registered and non-registered medium, small, and micro-enterprises of tourism-related businesses in four zones in Cambodia. The survey found that 60 per cent of the respondents were not aware of the bank/MFI debt restructuring policy (The Asia Foundation 2020).
Not only have FIs limited options for the COVID-19 impacted households, but they also decided not to publicise the loan restructuring policy. Since the loan restructuring policy is informed to clients on a case-by-case basis, many, predominantly, low-income household borrowers in the rural areas are not aware of the policy.
During our field visit, there is a growing sense of fear and confusion among debt-distressed households. These households do not know what kind of supports could be provided to them. A case study below illustrates this sense of fear.
Pu (uncle) Theurn and Ming (aunt) Mao started borrowing in 2014; their first loan was to buy a tractor to plough their 15 hectares of land. After a few years (he could not recall exactly when), his corn and cassava production failed due to drought, at which point the household began to struggle to repay their debts. After sustained losses, the couple decided to sell the tractor. However, they could not repay all the debt, and they decided to sell 10 hectares of their land to repay the loan. At the time of the interview, the middle-aged couple was chopping cassava roots, which were not fully ready to harvest but were harvested a few months early because the couple needed the money to repay the micro-finance debt. Our research team asked him (husband) about the key risks he perceived in agriculture, using the Khmer term phey, literally translated as “to be fearful of.” He responded jokingly, “The main phey (fear)is the due repayment date because I have to repay one after another.” After finishing the sentence, he laughed gently. This story reflects a reality for many borrowers who are struggling to repay—the feeling of phey (fear). To date, the couple is still struggling to make their monthly repayments.
Overall, it is important to make all options of loan restructuring available to all COVID-19‑affected borrowers. As evidenced in this case study, debt-distressed households can resort to coping strategies, such as land sale, migration, food consumption reduction, repayment phobia, or fear of FI’s retaliation: collateral confiscation. All of which has (and will continue to have) exacerbated economic vulnerability. At last, the loan restructuring policy should remain even after COVID-19, and other forms of restructuring such as debt forgiveness or interest cancellation should be considered.
This is an excerpt from a study report to be released in June 2021. The full report can be found here on the website of The Center for Khmer Studies (CKS) or The Asia Foundation (TAF) in English and Khmer.
Phasy RES is a doctoral student in anthropology and sociology at Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne and a research fellow at The Center for Khmer Studies (CKS) under The Asia Foundation’s Ponlok Chomnes Program, funded by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). Her PhD research looks at the relationship between microfinance expansion and land security by examining how access to microcredit shapes land access and control in Cambodia. At CKS, under Ponlok Chomes Program, she specifically examined the social and economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis on microfinance borrowers and loan restructuring processes. Apart from these, she has conducted research on a range of topics, including agricultural mechanisation and intensification, anti-malaria drug resistance, the subjectivities of financial literacy, and labour migration in the Sub-Mekong region. Her work has been published in Espace Politique, Malaria Journal, Development Policy Review, Development and Change, and Mekong Migration Network.
The views expressed in this article are solely mine
Bylander, Maryann. 2014. “Borrowing across Borders: Migration and Microcredit in Rural Cambodia.” Development and Change 45(2):284–307.
“Evolution and Challenges in Local Governance in Asia” Virtual Summer Program – July/August
We are pleased to announce a Call for Applications for early-career scholars who would like to participate in this year’s Asia Pacific Workshop. The virtual summer program will be conducted as series of weekly zoom sessions from mid-July through mid-August. The workshop will bring together up to 12 selected scholars to advance research related to local governance and decentralization across Asia. This program is part of a multi-year effort to support political science research among early-career scholars in East and Southeast Asia, and to strengthen research networks linking Asian scholars with their colleagues overseas.
Leading the workshop will be Maria Ela Atienza (University of the Philippines, Diliman, Philippines), Allen Hicken (University of Michigan, USA), Yuko Kasuya (Keio University, Japan), and Sarah Shair-Rosenfield (University of Essex, UK). The workshop will consist of weekly sessions held over 5 weeks (from July 12 through August 13). Following their participation in the full program, alumni will receive 2 years’ membership to APSA and will be eligible to apply for small research grants.
Eligible Participants The workshop is intended for PhD students and post-doctoral fellows in political science, international relations, and other social science disciplines who are citizens of countries in East and Southeast Asia, especially those who are currently based at universities or research institutes in the region (defined as Brunei, Cambodia, China, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam). We also welcome applications from citizens of countries outside the region or who are currently based at universities or research institutes in the United States.
Scholars should apply with a manuscript or research project in progress that they will present at the workshop. Professional fluency in English is required. Applications from scholars working on topics related to the workshop theme (as described below) are especially encouraged.
Workshop Theme Focusing on East and Southeast Asia, this workshop will examine the heterogeneous experiences and outcomes associated with local governance and decentralization programs designed to devolve authority from central governments to subnational and local levels. As elsewhere around the world, experimentation with decentralization across Asia has produced mixed results; for each modest success story in one policy domain in one country, there is a counter-narrative of failure in another. Participants will explore key theories and puzzles in the study of local governance and decentralization, as well as their connections to and implications for wider inquiries concerning governance, public goods and service provision, identity politics, democratization and autocratization, and urban politics. Participants will utilize a range of methodological tools to analyze public behavior and opinion, mobilizing structures, state responses, and political outcomes before, during, and after the occurrence of popular protests. Thematic emphases include:
The Politics of Local Governance, Identity, and Representation
The interaction between local and national politics and political organizations
The politics, promise, and problems with decentralization
The effects of nation-state building and decentralization on identity politics
The effects of corruption, clientelism and rent-seeking in regional and local governments
Causes and consequences of national-local competition over resources, credit claiming, and agenda setting at the subnational level
Distinctive Challenges in Governing Urban and Semi-Urban Spaces
Overcoming infrastructural challenges in governing and providing services to Asia’s urban mega-cities
Managing the needs and demands of diverse and cosmopolitan urban populations
Crisis management and governance in cities, including re-envisioning urban spaces and usage amidst the COVID-19 pandemic
Urban jurisdictional overlap and complexities of transparent and accountable governance
Democratization and Democratic Backsliding Below National-Level Governments
When do local politics influence democratization?
What explains the persistence of subnational authoritarianism after national-level democratization?
How do national- and local-level democratic backsliding influence each other?
How do national-level authoritarian leaders impact local governments’ policy delivery?
Local Government Authority and Public Service Delivery
The complex relationship between local government capacity and the delivery of public services, including education, health, and sanitation
Emergency response and disaster management at the local or regional level
Non-homogenous distribution of environmental and other problems (e.g. environmental degradation, poverty, natural hazards, conflict) affecting service delivery and localized responses
Coordination and relationship of local governments with national governments and other governance actors (e.g. private sector, civil society, political parties and elites, international community) in public service delivery
Factors affecting public service delivery at the local level
How to Apply Completed applications, including all necessary supporting documents (in PDF or Word format), must be submitted by May 31. Selected fellows will be contacted in June. Applications must be in English and include:
A research statement (2,000 words maximum) describing the work-in-progress you propose to discuss at the workshop. This statement should outline the main focus of the paper, the methods used, the data/fieldwork on which it is based, and how it relates to the workshop theme(s). The research project should not be based on any part of a co-authored project and should not be an excerpt from an already completed work or one that has already been accepted for publication. Submissions may be derived from an ongoing dissertation project if also suitable for a journal article.
One letter of reference on official letterhead and scanned as electronic files. If you are a graduate student, the letter should be from your supervisor. If you are a researcher or faculty member, the letter can come from a former dissertation supervisor, a colleague at your home institution, a university official, or an employer. Your letter can be uploaded with your application material or the letter write can e-mail this directly to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On 14 November 2020, as part of a broader package of economic, development and security measures to support Southeast Asia’s recovery from COVID-19, Prime Minister Morrison announced the Mekong-Australia Partnership (MAP), a four-year $232 million investment, led by DFAT, with whole-of-government input. Pillar Three of the six pillars of MAP is focused specifically on Vietnam.
The AVEG Program 2021 will advance Australia’s international economic interests through bilateral engagement on trade and investment policy priorities of the Australian Government. Intended outcomes:
Increase public awareness of Australia’s economic opportunities in Vietnam
Develop enduring partnerships across sectors in Australia and Vietnam
Increase Australia’s capacity to effectively engage with Vietnam in existing and emerging areas of mutual economic interest
Key eligibility criteria:
Individuals who intend the grant to be administered by a university should apply on behalf of the university, i.e. your university is the applicant.
The ACYLS is an initiative put forward by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and echoed by all ASEAN leaders at the 21st ASEAN-China Summit in 2018. It enables ASEAN nationals to pursue post-graduate studies and training opportunities in China, thus enhancing ASEAN’s capacity building and promoting academic and vocation exchanges between China and ASEAN. The Chinese government, through the China Mission to ASEAN in cooperation with the Joint Committee in Jakarta, offers full scholarships for AUN member and associate member universities for the ACYLS 2021.Click >> Guidebook to the ASEAN China Young Leaders Scholarship
Scholarship categoriesThe 2021 ACYLS intake includes award for:
Master’s degree programme
Doctoral degree programme
One-semester research scholar programme
ACYLS offers full scholarship covering all program-related expenses including tuition waiver and other school fees, accommodation, round-trip international air fare, comprehensive medical insurance and stipends.
Length of Scholarship
Recipients of ACYLS will be sponsored by the scholarship for a certain duration according to their enrolled length of schooling.
Length of Schooling
Length of Scholarship
2-3 academic years
2-3 academic years
3-4 academic years
3-4 academic years
Applicants of ACYLS should meet the following criteria: a. Citizen of 10 ASEAN Member States; b. In sound physical and mental health; c. Proficient in English (i.e., must possess an IELTS score of at least 6.0 or a TOEFL score of at least 80 points); d. Holder of an undergraduate degree and under the age of 45 if applying for a Master’s degree; e. Holder of a graduate/master’s degree and under the age of 45 if applying for a PhD degree; f. Holder of at least an undergraduate degree if applying for the short-term research program; g. Having at least one-year work experience within government agencies, public or private institutions, universities, think-tanks or similar social agencies, and preferably has experience in the following: – Work related to foreign and international affairs, especially ASEAN and China ASEAN affairs; – Work or study in the PRC; – Academic work on China or ASEAN-related affairs; – Not a concurrent awardee of a Chinese government scholarship; – Meets other admission requirements of the Chinese universities to which the applicant has applied.
Step 1- Complete online application by visiting CGSIS (Chinese Government Scholarship Information System) at http://www.csc.edu.cn/studyinchina or http://www.campuschina.org and click “Scholarship Application for Students” to log in. Online submission of the application is compulsory for each applicant by completing the application information and uploading all necessary supporting documents.
Step 2- Prepare the application documents according to the “List of Application Documents” and upload all the required documents into the online application system. Also submit one set of the hard copies of application form and relevant documents to the AUN Secretariat as required by the deadline. AUN Secretariat will then review the qualifications of all applicants and provide the list of recommended recipients to the Joint Committee of the ACYLS, which will decide the final recommendation list.
Step 3- The Chinese Scholarship Council (CSC) will only process the applications recommended by the Joint Committee. Applicants not included in the list will not be considered. CSC reserves the right to make necessary adjustments to the applicants’ host universities. Click >> Guidebook to the ASEAN China Young Leaders Scholarship
Submission deadline: 12 May 2021
One original hard copy of the applications must be submitted to the AUN Secretariat Office at below address by the deadline.
Many governments and state agencies in Southeast Asia are shifting towards the operation of ‘property state’ (Haila, 2015) or ‘cities for profits’ (Shatkin, 2017) or ‘neoliberal policies’ (Chen & Shin, 2019). In Malaysia, retirement and second-home properties have been promoted by the government to lure foreigners to buy relatively cheap, free-hold properties in cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Melaka and Johor Bahru. However, such development tendency has been adding pressure to the provision of affordable housing because developers are keener to develop international property projects than those less-profitable products of local housing. Since 18 March 2020, Malaysia has imposed a series of entry and movement restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These restrictions brought uncertainty and new challenges to the operation of international property market. This blog discusses the property-related policy responses taken by the Malaysian governments, while reflecting on a prevailing concern over housing affordability.
The proliferation of international property development
The proliferation of international residential property development is bound up with the Malaysia My Second Home program (MM2H), a special long-term visit pass (renewable every 10 years) for foreigners to reside in Malaysia. This investment migration program was introduced by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts, and Culture in 2002, with 42,000 participants having been approved to date. To encourage property-buying, for example, MM2H participants are allowed to withdraw partial of the required fixed deposit from the second year onwards (RM50,000 for aged 50 years and above or RM150,000 for aged 50 years and below) for expenses related to house purchase. It is important to note that, since 2020, the federal governments lowered the minimum price threshold from RM1 million to RM600,000 (under condominium/apartment segment) for the purchase of properties by MM2H participants with an attempt to solve property overhang. A total of 31,661 unsold residential units recorded by the end of the first half of 2020 for whole Malaysia, while Johor (6,166 units) and Selangor (4,865 units) faced the most severe situation of property oversupply (Napic, 2020). Here comes the questions. To what extent has MM2H accelerated capital growth in residential property? Would it have actually worsened the problem of property oversupply and housing affordability?
Despite the fact that there is no government or market data enabling us to answer the above questions, however, the whole idea of MM2H is capitalising on off-shore investment, privileged lifestyle and ability to hold long-term visit pass for small-scale investors. To resonate with Aihwa Ong’s concept of ‘flexible citizenship’ (1999), MM2H elucidated such intention by maximising capital accumulation from strategies of migration and border-crossing flexibility. In recent years, both local and foreign developers have taken a great advantage from this opportunistic policy to scale-up their international property development. For example, Iskandar Malaysia regularised the formation of international zone in Iskandar Puteri (formerly known as Nusajaya) to allow more than 25,000 residential units built for the speculative market of ‘seamless border-crossing living’ between Singapore and Southern Johor (see Ng & Lim, 2017; Ng, 2020). A series of exclusive facilities such as international boarding schools, a world-class theme-park, a private yacht marina, healthcare centres and hotels have been developed to create a lifestyle matching the international standard. Forest City by Country Garden Pacificview is another housing mega-project where a well-capitalized Chinese developer has ventured into the emerging market of international property in Johor. This project takes the cue from Beijing’s promulgation of the Belt and Road Initiative to lure homebuyers from China and the neighbouring regions. These high-priced housing projects, however, did not make any direct contribution to the provision of affordable housing for Malaysians. To this end, MM2H can be best understood as a result of contingent overlaps of capitalist interests by state and real estate developers.
COVID-19 and the ‘Malaysia My Second Home Program’
The COVID-19 outbreak in Malaysia has caused an unprecedented disruption to the international property market and the operation of the MM2H program. As a result, new applications for MM2H have been suspended with no clear direction of when the program is to resume. This sudden decision has disrupted international property sales. Furthermore, movement restrictions triggered by the pandemic have reshuffled the MM2H holders’ privileges of border-crossing and visiting their Malaysian homes. For example, the Johor-Singapore border closures have a far-reaching impact on everyday border-crossing practices, not to mention the existing business of international property. Although MM2H pass holders may apply for entry permission to return to Malaysia, the government enforced entry restrictions on foreigners who are travelling from countries that have recorded over 150,000 COVID-19 cases. In addition, all passengers travelling into Malaysia are required to serve a two-week-long mandatory quarantine at dedicated quarantine centres.
Several MM2H pass holders and consultants reported to local news media regarding their dissatisfaction over a lack of clear directions and considerations given by the Malaysian authorities (see Free Malaysia Today, 22 May 2020; The Star, 9 June 2020; Thomas, 2020; Davison, 2020). In brief, they wish for MM2H pass holders to be treated equally as citizens because they have been contributing a large amount of direct investment to the country’s economy. To a certain extent, these situations expose the instability and vulnerability of the MM2H program. For the government, perhaps the time is ripe to think more rigorously about this investment migration program in terms of risk management, investor relations and inclusiveness. For the real estate developers, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed underlying concerns over ‘sustainability’ of the current business model and growth strategies of international property. What still makes these high-priced residential projects attractive when the selling point of cross-border mobility can no longer be taken for granted? Given a realistic view that the coronavirus pandemic might take up to several years until it is under control globally, the market responses towards international property in the post-coronavirus era remain uncertain.
How helpful are the National Budget 2021 for Malaysians to buy home?
Housing affordability is a prevailing issue in Malaysia, especially for urban dwellers. Between 2002 and 2016, the country’s overall housing affordability worsened significantly where Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, and Johor were ranked under ‘seriously unaffordable’ category (Khazanah Research Institute, 2019). Although there are more than 31,000 unsold units available in the market, these units are simply unaffordable for the majority of Malaysians.
How does the government help Malaysians toward home ownership amid the coronavirus pandemic? Reintroduced under the Short-Term Economic Recovery Plan by the federal government in June 2020, the Home Ownership Campaign provides stamp duty exemption on instruments of transfer (for properties below RM1 million) and instruments on securing loans exemption (between RM300,000 to RM2.5 million), as well as a 10 percent price reduction but limited to those developers who have registered for the scheme. On 6 November 2020, the National Budget 2021 announced a series of initiatives targeted at increasing home ownership. An extension of full stamp duty exemption on instruments of transfer and loan agreements has been granted for first-time home buyers to buy new launch or sub-sale properties priced up to RM500,000.
How helpful are these stamp duty exemption schemes? Put simply, they will only benefit home buyers who managed to secure housing loans from banks. However, banks are likely to tighten lending standards because people’s debt-servicing capacity is deemed to have deteriorated due to potential retrenchment and recession, thus making it relatively difficult for people to own their first home.
Under the Budget 2021, the Ministry of Finance will allocate RM500 million to build 14,000 housing units for the B40 group, representing the bottom 40 percent of earners by income in Malaysia, and RM315 million for the construction of 3,000 units of Rumah Mesra Rakyat by Syarikat Perumahan Nasional Bhd. The government will also be offering a rent-to-own scheme for 5,000 PR1MA units limited to first-time home buyers. While Malaysians are recognising these positive attempts to build more affordable housing in the coming years, there is still a lack of immediate action taken by the government to solve pressing housing concerns. For example, there is a possibility to convert those underutilised public buildings and abandoned shopping malls as short-term solutions for the urban poor or homeless people. Moreover, there is a worrying tendency whereby private developers and government-linked developers are likely to focus on the luxury housing market (Lim & Ng, 2020). For the case of Medini Iskandar Malaysia, developers have been exempted from building low-cost housing as part of corporate social responsibility. In other cases, developers have preferred to pay penalties to local governments instead of meeting their responsibilities. In this regard, local governments should tighten the requirements for private developers to build affordable housing. While the country is actively promoting the MM2H program and international property market, the government must also put effort into answering this question – what is the right balance to juggle capital growth and housing affordability at the same time?
COVID-19 and housing affordability remaining as a huge challenge for Malaysia
Housing is increasingly being regularised towards a new geography of profits and politics in Asia (Chen & Shin, 2019). To turn property development into a rent-seeking mechanism, the government began to intervene housing policies and market-oriented practices. The two roles of ‘control’ and ‘exploit’ allow the government to expand their authority over public and private realms of property development. However, not only may these two roles lead to conflicts of interest between the state and non-state players involved, they also increasingly collide with social justice and governance integrity.
In Malaysia, both COVID-19 and housing affordability remain huge challenges. On the one hand, the coronavirus crisis has exposed new operational issues and policy concerns associated with the MM2H program. On the other hand, the vulnerability of international property market has been attributed to negative market sentiments due to movement restrictions. During these challenging times, the government should pay more attention to the local housing demand-supply mismatch and the reordering of state-business relationships in property development. International property development is a contested field of capital accumulation built upon market speculation. To avoid any irresponsible market speculations, the government should take stronger measures to guard against housing which is built for profit, not for living.
Chen, Y., & Shin, H. B. (eds.) (2019). Neoliberal urbanism, contested cities and housing in Asia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan US.
Lim, G. & Ng, K.K (2020). Chapter 16: Johor’s housing policy and development trends. In: The SIJORI Series: Johor – the abode of development? Hutchinson, F. & Serina Rahman (eds.) p.424-446, Singapore: ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.
Ng, K.K & Lim, G. (2017). Beneath the Veneer: The Political Economy of Housing in Iskandar Malaysia, Johor, Trends in Southeast Asia, 12/2017, Singapore: ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.
Ng, K.K (2020). Chapter 15: Johor Bahru’s urban transformation: authority and agency revisited. In: The SIJORI Series: Johor – the Abode of Development? Hutchinson, F. & Serina Rahman (eds.) p.407-423, Singapore: ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute.
Ong, A. (1999). Flexible citizenship: The cultural logics of transnationality. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Shatkin, G. (2017). Cities for profit: The real estate turn in Asia’s urban politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Dr Keng-Khoon Ng is Lecturer at the School of Architecture and Built Environment, UCSI University Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. He completed his PhD at the National University of Singapore in 2019. His research interest is in architecture, urban planning and the politics of urban transformation. He has written several publications about the urban changes in Johor’s Iskandar Malaysia.
This article was previously published by the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre, the London School of Economics and Political Science. It is republished by Insights on Southeast Asia following the Creative Commons rule: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/uk/
Honorary Research Fellow, University College London, UK
In Southeast Asia, Cambodia is the most impoverished nation whose economy relies on garment and manufacturing industries, apart from tourism and agriculture. The country’s garment and manufacturing sector, especially the garment and footwear industry, emerged in the early 1990s after the first general elections organised by the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia. The United States and the European Union (EU) have supported Cambodia’s export-driven economy through their Generalised Systems of Preferences (GSP) and other trade schemes. The EU, for example, has allowed Cambodia to export duty-free and quota-free to its market since 2001 under the Everything but armed (EBA) scheme. These have boosted Cambodia’s garment sector that now employs about 600,000 Cambodians, most of whom are women from rural areas. With the support of the garment and other industries, Cambodia has managed to significantly reduce poverty and transformed its economy to become a lower-middle-income country in 2016. Annually, Cambodia exported about EUR4 billion (2017-2019) (European Commission 2020) and USD 4 billion (2017-2019) (United States Census Bureau, 2021) of apparel products and goods to the EU and the US markets, respectively. As such, the manufacturing industry contributes about 10 per cent (2017-2019) to the Cambodian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (World Bank, 2020).
While these supports are significant to the country and her people, the Royal Government of Cambodia’s human rights, and freedom of association and speech, and democracy in general, have been sabotaged as the country has leaned towards authoritarianism, including the dissolution of the prominent opposition party, Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in 2017, and the on-going intimidation and spurious arrests of human rights and environmental defenders, restricting space of civil society organisations. These restrictions have provoked the EU to withdraw its EBA scheme to Cambodia, harming workers and its related sector. Many factories were forced to shut down without proper indemnities for the employees.
Coincided with the imposing tariff by the EU, Cambodia’s economy, especially its garment and manufacturing, are doubly punished by the emergence of coronavirus (COVID-19), which spread across the world. Not only have pandemic severely disrupted the global supply chain and markets of garment and manufacturing industries, leaving many jobless, but it has also affected the entire country’s socio-economics. The lack of proper remedial measures to the impacts by the government has sparked dissatisfaction, provoking activism. Amid the country’s leaning toward authoritarianism as manifested by the 2018 election, and the restriction imposed by the government to contain the virus, many were forced to stay at home, compelled to subscribe to digital platforms for study, works, communication, and activism. This has reframed those who have been affected by the EU’s sanction and pandemic not to stage offline (on-street) but online activities to advocate for better solutions.
In this blog, I seek to understand online activities and activism during the pandemic and examine the adverse consequences of offline avoidance in the time of the pandemic. This blog argues that the endeavour, either by the state or individuals, to avoid offline activities to contain the virus, has adversely induced a new form of virus, that is digital surveillance, that has infiltrated everyone’s digital devices. More than the panopticon of the virus, which may be observed as symptoms showed, the new form of digital virus embodies and incubates in every device, smartphone, without showing a symptom like COVID-19. While social media is a COVID-19 free platform for ordinary citizens and activists to connect and express their concerns during the pandemic, this platform is an invisible hand of surveillance of the governed body.
This blog is written based on my on-going observation of Cambodia’s socio-political and technological development, employing digital ethnography to collect data from digital sources and from observing relevant social media pages and profiles. Quantitative data presented in this blog is acquired from using Google Search, focusing on “news” media outlets captured by Google search engine.
The remainder of this blog begins with a discussion about conceptualising how digital media become a new form of digital virus, a form of the pandemic that is neither known to us, in the context of surveillance. It then illustrates how COVID-19 induces Cambodians to subscribe to social media and digital devices before providing evidence on how the latter would strengthen an authoritarian surveillance system.
Panopticon of virus and digital technologies
The digital community has been recognised as a modern tool of human development and evolution. Many have been impressed by this evolution as digital machines and devices can process data and circulate images and voices from a community to another. Kittler (2010, p.11) argues that “machines take tasks – drawing, writing, seeing, hearing, word-processing, memory and even knowing – that once were thought unique to humans and often perform them better”. Given this capability, digital devices and machines like smartphones and cloud devices, become a modern type of panoptic tools incubated in our everyday lifestyle. The devices and the internet are now replacing our basic needs. Drawing on Foucault’s (2012) conception of the panoptic prison cell, these devices gradually observe and incubate in our body and mind without warning us; health applications are exemplars in this context. It is like a virus that has affected us by having not given us a symptom of it. As we unintendedly concede or consent to do so, this new type of digital virus has extracted our personal and privacy data for buyers’ commercial and political purposes. Zuboff (2019) rightly illustrates that access to the digital community exposes oneself to a significant risk. It is a risk of losing or co-opting their privacy rights, rendering privacy data (our private space in essence) to the corporate giants. Having submitted to the machine learning system, holding the state and politicians accountable to citizens, primarily through activism, is facing difficulties. More often than not, for profit-making purposes, the media corporate capitalists tend to co-opt with the surveillance and authoritarian states to gain legitimate power as in the US presidential and UK parliamentary elections.
Drawing on how activists and state interact in China, MacKinnon (2010) introduces a concept of “networked authoritarianism”, which is a political tactic that creates selective social openings for transparency but, in fact, monitors and stifles dissents (He & Warren 2011). This networked authoritarianism in the digital era is framed based on the notion of a networked society whose key social structures and activities are organised and linked electronically (Castells 2010). The networked authoritarian Chinese government, for instance, allows people to use the internet to submit grievances or unjust activities, but the government also monitors who reports or submits the grievances. In China, only specific applications or types of social media platform are allowed to use, and this eases the ruling regime to scrutinise and surveil the users to curb outrageous dissents. The use of these digital communication technologies also induces side effects, one of which is the exposure to the surveillance system (Howard & Hussain 2013), a critical concern for digital activism in the non-democracy ruling systems that appear to have adopted the Chinese authoritarian style of panoptic surveillance.
Cambodia’s online community and activism amid the pandemic
The foregoing theorisation of how digital communication and technologies render risks reverberates Cambodia’s and other countries’ situation during the pandemic. Following the instruction of the government not to mobilise or conduct physical contacts, especially in education and office works, the pandemic has forced millions of Cambodians to subscribe to digital devices and communication platforms. By September 2020, about 67% (11.28 million of about 16 million) of Cambodians have subscribed to Facebook (NapoleonCat, 2020), making this social media site a popular means of communication among Cambodian people, particularly youth. This figure climbed from about 9.73 million subscribers in December 2019, before the pandemic, and it gradually increased to 9.78 million users in January 2020 when the pandemic was not widely spread into the country. As the COVID-19 began to import to the country in early February 2020, the number of subscribers surged rapidly to 10.52 million in March and 10.95 million in May the same year (see Figure 1). Young adults and children are among the new subscribers with the age range between 13-17 (7.8%), 18-24 (31.4%) and 25-34 (47.5%) as of March 2020 (NapoleonCat, 2021). Likewise, the number of cellular smartphone subscribers also increased as these devices are required to access social media: Facebook, Telegram and YouTube. International Telecommunication Union (2020) reports that the number of mobile cellular phone subscribers in Cambodia increased from 19.42 million in 2018 to at least 21.42 million in 2019. Compared to the total population of 16 million, 2019 data suggests that a Cambodian could afford at least two phones (Young 2021a). Given the low quality of education, the higher percentage of young subscribers causes critical concern on data and privacy issue, and the users’ rights. These young adults and children subscribe to the internet and social media for online education, watching Livestream lectures or pre-recorded video teaching. Albeit the supervision of their parents or guardian, we have seen many of these users are addicted to online movies on YouTube, Facebook, and TikTok, online game, and exposed to inappropriate contents, instead of access to teaching materials.
Figure 1: Number of Facebook subscribers during the COVID-19 pandemic
Source: Author’s compilation from NapoleonCat, 2020
Not only did the pandemic compel ordinary Cambodians to go online, but it also affected Cambodia economy (coincided with the partial withdrawal of the EBA programme). Coupled with the decline of the purchase order in the apparel and footwear industries, Cambodia’s GDP growth in 2020 was predicted to be between -1 to -2.9 per cent, and that about 1.76 million jobs were also at risk (World Bank, 2020). The World Bank emphasised that the poverty rate in the country is to increase by 20 per cent. Some factories closed down as they were either affected by the impact of COVID-19 on the global supply chain or by the withdrawal of the EU’s EBA scheme. This raised the affected population’s concerns, especially garment and manufacturing workers, to seek the government’s intervention and remedies. Given the government’s restrictions on physical movement, the ability to lobby the government and concerned stakeholders were limited to online activities. They began to use social media platforms such as Facebook to express the grievances such as indemnities (as the factories were shut-down) and dissatisfaction with the government’s intervention in remedying job loss and cut due to COVID-19. Either made by individuals or media outlets, news on job losses and cuts, people’s dissatisfaction with the government measures was widely observed.
Figure 2: Women rights and arrests report on digital media and news
Source: Author, 2021
As I traced the development of news on women workers on Google Search (see Figure 2), we found that “women rights Cambodia” are often reported by local and international media outlets: the number of its citations has increased from 47,000 times in 2019 to 66,100 time in 2020 (September). While digital and social media become platforms for disgruntled women to frame and amplify their concerns to the public, the endeavour has not been the ideal solution. By querying the term “women workers arrest” in Cambodia, I found that the frequency of the term mentioned in digital media exploded from 7,170 times in 2019 to 43,800 times in 2020 (September). This signified that many women workers or activists were arrested, detained or harassed by the authority. For instance, a women worker, who was a member of a union, was arrested because her post on Facebook criticised her employer, who dismissed 88 workers without following the government of Cambodia’s guidelines and instructions not to cut jobs but reduce workers’ wage government instruction (Kelly & Grant 2020). Following her post, the employer decided to re-employ the workers, and she immediately deleted her post from Facebook, but, still, the employer filed a complaint against her accusing that she created fake news to defame the company and the buyers. The ability to notice who is posting thing or creating news from their smartphone onto Facebook has indicated how effective the government’s surveillance system is. In one instance, the prime minister of Cambodia who has been in power for more than three decades claimed that smartphone allows the government to track and trace anyone effectively (Young 2021b; Young 2021c). He claimed that “If I want to take action against you, we will get [you] within seven hours at the most” (Doyle 2016). Anyone dares to speak against the supreme leaders and or the governance system; the consequence thereof is predictable based on the statement.
Figure 3. Number of people arrested between 2010 and 2020
Source: modified from Young & Heng, 2021
While many Cambodians resorted to online to contain and prevent the spread of the virus, human rights, political activists, environmental and human right defenders, workers and protesters also resort to online activities. As they go online, they submit to a new form of authorities or what I call a “surveillance virus”, which surrounds the users every time. As in Figure 3 above, it appears that the pandemic causes a surge of spurious arrests of political activists, environmental and human rights defenders, workers, and protesters. The increase in the arrest in 2019 was induced by two important reasons. First, authorities arrested those activists who were disgruntled with the dissolution of the opposition party (CNRP) in 2017 prior to the 2018 election. The election allowed the ruling party to take control of all national assembly seats and Hun Sen to remain in power for more than three decades (Young 2021c). Secondly, the arrests were made in response to those who supported the attempt of CNRP leader, Sam Rainsy (who has lived in exile abroad since 2016), to return to Cambodia in 2019. As of September 2020, the number of people arrested by authorities increased to 55, alarming the international communities’ concerns over the country’s tendency to practice authoritarianism amid the pandemic. The arrest is enabled by a form of “networked authoritarianism” as put forward by MacKinnon (2010) in China, where the governed body allowed online grievance submissions, but tackling those critical ones as their comments or grievances undermine the ruling regime’s authority and legitimacy. Cambodian activists’ critiques of how the ruling government handled the pandemic and socio-economic issues, and also other social issues during the crisis have been subject to scrutiny and surveillance, of which social media-mediated-devices are invisible tools of the ruling system.
In this blog, I have demonstrated how COVID-19 has affected not only Cambodia’s economy, but also pushed many Cambodians to go online, subscribing to digital platforms. Digital media platforms are believed to help contain the spread of COVID-19, but such endeavour has apparently compelled the users to be infected by a new form of virus, digital surveillance whose symptom may not be diagnosed or known to the users but the governed body. This form of the digital virus has surrounded users, placing the users in a panoptic prison cell of the surveillance system. The users only realise that they are in the cell when the observers/guards (the government in this instance) take actions against them, as illustrated by women workers and activists in the present study and beyond. This new type of virus has tightened the authoritarian surveillance system to effectively monitor the subject’s antagonistic behaviour, citizens and activists, which may undermine the ruling system’s legitimacy.
 I used key terms to search on Google, and classified the results of the search by year. To ensure that all search results are about Cambodia, “Cambodia” are always added to individual terms when searched on Google, “Women workers arrest Cambodia” for example. These search results are limited to “news” rather than “all” results in the Google search engine.
Castells, M 2010 The rise of the network society: Information age: Economy, society, and culture. West Sussex: Willey-Blackwell.
Young, S 2021c Strategies of authoritarian survival and dissensus in Southeast Asia: Weak Men versus Strongmen. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan.
Zuboff, S 2019 The age of surveillance capitalism: the fight for the future at the new frontier of power. New York: Profile Books.
Sokphea Young obtained his PhD from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and is currently an Honorary Research Fellow at the University College London (UK). His research interests are in the areas of civil society, social media, citizenship, Chinese globalism, and political development in Southeast Asia. His research published in Journal of International Relations and Development, the Chinese Journal of Comparative Law, Journal of Civil Society, Asian Politics & Policies, Asian Journal of Social Science, South East Asia Research, Media Asia, and Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs. He is the author of the forthcoming book entitled “Strategies of authoritarian survival and dissensus in Southeast Asia: Weak Men versus Strongmen” with Palgrave Macmillan (June 2021).
The author received financial support for this article’s research from the European Research Council-funded project entitled PHOTODEMOS (Citizens of photography: The camera and the political Imagination), grant number 695283, at the University College London.
This blog was previously published by SLE Southeast Asia Blog