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Comparing Transnational Dynamics in the Greater Mekong Subregion and Malacca Straits

Dr Nathalie Fau
Research Institute on Contemporary Southeast Asia (IRASEC) and University Paris Diderot-Paris 7


Panel Abstract

The aim of this panel is to present and discuss the main results of a research program entitled Transiter (“Transnational Dynamics and Territorial Redefinitions in Southeast Asia: The Greater Mekong Subregion and Malacca Straits economic corridors”) that will be published in 2013 by ISEAS (Institute of Southeast Asia) in Singapore. The main goal of the Transiter Program was to better understand the role played by the economic corridors in the ongoing transition towards a broader transnational integration process, questioning the development of cross-border trade and focusing on interactions between transnational dynamics and territorial redefinitions. Research concentrated on concrete examples (cities, corridors, border…) chosen in the different country of the area and studied according to a multi-disciplinary approach during a three-year period. An important concern of the program was to define terms and to use common theoretical tools and analysis grids. It allowed the comparison by giving the possibility of studying the similarities and specificities of transnational integration structures and processes in maritime and mainland contexts.

All the papers are resolutely comparative and are a synthesis of our collective work. The first paper outlines the main transnational dynamics in the GMS and Malacca Straits and justifies the comparison. The second paper compares the arguments and objectives of international bodies with the national strategies. The third paper raises the question of the possible emergence of new urban nodes on corridors and triesto attempt a typology of these new nodes linked to the regionalizing process of globalization. The last paper studies the impact of these transnational projects on local socioeconomic development.


Paper 1: Transnational Dynamics and Urban Development in the Greater Mekong Subregion and Malacca Straits : Twin Cities and Urban Pairs, a New Level in Urban Hierarchies Structuring Transnational Corridors?

Manuelle Franck
National Institute of Oriental Languages and Cultures (INALCO) 

Transnational corridors, whether planned or the result of existing flows, are structured by nodes whose ranks are linked to the ranks of the corridors and whose dynamics are closely tied to international exchanges along its length. These nodes function as logistic and communications hubs or gateways into territories and participate in articulating the space of flows and the space of places. The head nodes of the corridors are usually large first or second rank metropolises. Between these poles of command, the corridors are structured by a hierarchical series of hubs: by inland province capital cities and by smaller border towns along the continental corridors or, in maritime corridors, by smaller ports. Studying also the transformation of the lowest ranked cities (in urban hierarchies) is another approach to analysing the impact of transnational dynamics. However, accounting for their transformations requires studying them not as individual entities, which in many cases would ignore much of the process; but rather as functionally complementary or competing doublets situated across borders or within the same national territory. Multiple parameters need to be examined: their location (central or peripheral) within national space, their place in national urban hierarchies, their relationship with former command centers, and for border cities, the type of borders involved (land, river, or sea). Through various examples taken from the research program, this communication will try to attempt a typology of these new nodes linked to the regionalizing process of globalization and will introduce a distinction in terminology between twin and pair cities.


Paper 2: Transnational Dynamics, Supranational and States Actors: Complementarities, Indifference or Rivalry Between the Strategies of the Different Actors in the Greater Mekong Subregion and Malacca Straits?

Dr Nathalie Fau
Research Institute on Contemporary Southeast Asia (IRASEC) and University Paris Diderot-Paris 7

The subregions of Southeast Asia, Greater Mekong Subregion, and the Malacca Straits, intermediate areas between the world system and Nation States, involve various actors intervening at different levels: translational, national or local.  “Top-down regionalization”, which leaders aim for, mobilizing international or world organizations, comes face to face with “spatial decomposition from the bottom”, i.e., on an infranational scale.  The myriad actors involved raise many questions which deserve to be examined in turn.  The first question concerns the State’s new position: is the State overwhelmed by these flows weaving a network of new territories going beyond the national context, or can it still take the initiative?  The second concerns governance: have the new forms of transnational management accompanied the creation of these subregions? The third, which is dependent on the second, questions the connection between the strategies and skills of the different actors: complementarities, indifference or rivalry? The final question is whether there are different degrees of involvement between actors in the two subregions, mainland and maritime.

To deal with these four questions, we examine successively the role of supranational (unequal role played by the Asian Development Bank, unequal level of transnational management, links between this subregional zone with the ASEAN and with the opening of Southeast Asia towards Eastern and Southern Asia) national (connection between transnational projects promoted by the ADB and national planning) and finally local power (different views of transnational integration between national and local authorities) in the process of transnational integration.


Paper 3: Transnational Dynamics and Local Communities in the Greater Mekong Subregion and Malacca Straits : Participation, Exclusion or Opposition of Local Communities? 

Marie Mellac
University of Bordeaux and French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) 

In theory, most countries in South-east Asia have, since the 1990s, engaged in a decentralization policy aimed at setting up the form of “good governance” recommended by most cooperation and development agencies.  The declared objective is to involve local communities in decision making and transfer responsibilities of drawing up and managing strategies to the centres of power closest to the local population so that they can take part in decision making and play a full role as citizens. Whether in mainland or maritime areas, the regional integration process in Southeast Asia is characterized by the State’s preponderant role. The State’s major weight in the building of these transnational areas is seen, not so much in the absence of private and local dynamics as in the lack of connection of economic and spatial strategies between the different actors. Illegal actors, of course, but also the private sector and migrants, build their own transnational spaces with different boundaries and nodes from those officially recognized, since for their development they rely on family, ethnic or company networks, often much older than the official structures. De jure and de facto regional integration are both at work in Southeast Asia. This paper deals with the impact of economic corridors on local communities (the development of informal flows, type of relationships between private actors and local communities transformation of regional mobility) and the unequal ability of local population faced with the multiplication of transnational project on their own territory to negotiate their future.