JCI-WP-2018-03: ASEAN at 50: Achievements in Regional Integration and the Agenda for Future Regional Economic-Financial Architecture

by: Chia Siow Yue, and Wing Thye Woo

Despite large differences on almost every dimension, ASEAN can claim to be one of the most successful regional groupings in the world. ASEAN has largely achieved regional peace and security, despite being caught in the US-China power rivalry in recent years. The ASEAN region has also become one of the largest economies in the world, with a combined GDP that ranks behind only the EU, US, China, Japan, India and South Korea and growth rates well above the world average. ASEAN economic integration has proceeded simultaneously via market-driven regional production networks and global value chains as well as via government-driven trade and investment agreements. The objective of creating an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) was adopted in 2015; and the next phase of integration, AEC 2025, is under implementation. ASEAN has also entered into regional integration agreements (known as ASEAN+1) with China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, and New Zealand, and is in the process of negotiating a mega Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement with these six partners.

One often-mentioned vision about the future of the financial architecture of ASEAN –that was popular in the period after the Asian Financial Crisis — was an Asian Economic Union (AEU), where there was comprehensive, deep regional economic integration. The basic question is whether the final realized form of the Asian Economic Union (AEU) would be closer to the European Union (EU) or to the North America Free Trade Area (NAFTA). The return of China as a major global economic power also means that the Renminbi (RMB) could, in the future, attain an international status that is parallel to the USD. The emergence of the RMB as a key international currency, however, does not in any way imply that it would also emerge to be the common currency for East Asia. China in the future would most probably have the same individualistic attitude on China’s monetary policy as the United States has at the present toward other countries that have dollarised their economies, which is that the primary concern of US monetary policy is US welfare. Given (1) the NAFTA-like disparity in economic power in AEU in the future, and (2) the absence of policy-induced integration of national labor markets mean that the only stable configuration is the survival of individual East Asian currencies with limited coordination among them in normal times. It therefore appears to us that the many present efforts to promote closer exchange rate cooperation will not succeed in the long-run.

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JCI-WP-2018-02: Explaining Malaysia’s Past Economic Growth and Future Prospects

by: Dwight Heald Perkins, Rajah Rasiah, and Wing Thye Woo

Malaysia has witnessed growth even before independence in 1957 but per capita income has risen much faster since independence. In 2014, per capita GDP was 7.5 times what it was immediately after independence. But why didn’t Malaysia grow as rapidly as its Northeast Asian neighbors? Had Malaysia been held back by specific government policies? And if government policies inhibited growth, how was it that Malaysia’s economy still performed far better than the economies of most of Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa?

The aim of this paper is to decipher the reasons behind these variations in Malaysia’s comparative economic growth with other countries. This essay then seeks to attempt to answer the question of whether Malaysia will eventually catch up with the high income countries of the world or whether it will be caught in the ‘middle-income trap’.

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Real reforms in education needed if Malaysia is serious about TN50

This article first appeared in Study International News on January 15, 2018.

Malaysia’s sprawling and highly ambitious blueprint for 2020 to 2050, popularly known as the TN50, is touted to envision a future where its students will be in the 10th percentile worldwide in the international assessment tests PISA and TIMSS.

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Economy should focus more on investment driven growth, says ex-deputy BNM governor

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily on January 12, 2018.

KUALA LUMPUR: Increasing investments is also an important driver of economic growth, former Bank Negara Malaysia deputy governor Tan Sri Lin See Yan said, adding that economic performance should not focus solely on private and public consumption.

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JCI-WP-2018-01: Malaysian Trust Schools: A New Educational Approach

by: Kate Mayberry

Malaysia has enjoyed considerable success in expanding access to education. Less than 10 percent of Malaysian adults now have no schooling, compared to more than half the population at the time of independence in 1957. But, despite spending heavily on education (roughly between 5 and 6% of GDP), Malaysian pupils perform poorly in international tests. In the Asian region, Malaysia is ahead only of Indonesia.

The government has embarked on what it promises will be the deep-seated reform of the national education system. The National Education Blueprint, released in 2013, acknowledged the decline in the performance of government schools and laid out an 11-point agenda for change, promising to lift Malaysia into the top third of international testing benchmarks in 15 years. The blueprint includes a variety of reform initiatives, from improvements to English language teaching, to the teaching of “thinking skills.” It also includes the development of what it calls, Trust Schools, one of a series of public-private partnerships about which there has been relatively little public discussion. This paper will seek to narrow that information gap, assess the programme’s strengths and weaknesses and suggest ways in which it can be developed further.

Devised by state investment fund Khazanah Nasional and inspired by US Charter Schools and similar endeavours in Britain and Sweden, the programme allows schools greater autonomy, and has been most effective in raising standards with its more progressive approach to learning and classroom practice. Weaker schools have shown the most immediate improvement. The government has signalled it plans to expand the programme further, with a target of 500 Trust Schools by 2025. It further underlined its commitment in the 2015 Budget, allocating 20 million ringgit to support 20 Trust Schools.

This paper will not aim to address the issue of the Trust School programme’s strength as a Public-Private Partnership. While the business structure may have some bearing on a school’s performance, the teachers, and what goes on in the classroom, have been shown consistently to be the most crucial factor in a child’s success at school.

This paper will, therefore, focus on the approach to learning and training that Trust Schools have adopted; methodologies that enable teachers to rediscover their love of teaching through school-based training and effective mentoring. Better teaching, combined with an expansion on extra-curricula activities such as art, the environment and sport have also had an effect on the children, who are also expected to take more responsibility for their learning and participate actively in class. Schools that have adopted the programme say their students are more excited about coming to school than they were before.

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