Chapter 13: Southeast Asia (Fig. 13. 1) Learning Objectives

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Southeast Asia: Chapter 13

Chapter 13: Southeast Asia (Fig. 13.1)

Learning Objectives

  • Understand the unique biogeography of Southeast Asia
  • Learn about export-based economies, and how they fit into the global economy
  • Become familiar with the physical, demographic, cultural, political, and economic characteristics of Southeast Asia
  • Understand the following concepts and models:
  • -Crony capitalism
  • -Domino theory
  • -Entrepot
  • -Khmer Rouge
  • -Lingua franca
  • -Swidden (milpa)
  • -Typhoons
  • -Transmigration


  • Southeast Asia illustrates both the promises and perils of globalization
  • This region has long been influenced by external sources because of its resources and its strategic location
  • Recent economic turmoil has come with increased ethnic and social tensions in many countries in the region
  • ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, has brought a new level of regional cooperation to the area with a goal of the countries in the region to control – rather than to be controlled by – external global forces




    • BRUNEI


Environmental Geography: A Once-Forested Region

  • The Tragedy of the Karen
      • Nearly 7 million tribal people living in the mountainous border between Burma and Thailand
        • Rebelled against the Burmese government to gain independence
        • Burmese army overran most of Karen territory, and gained control of the teak forests there
  • The Deforestation of Southeast Asia
      • Export-oriented logging companies have reached deep into the region’s forests
        • Damages watersheds, landscapes are denuded, wildlife habitat destroyed
        • Many southeast Asian countries have established bans on the export of raw logs

Environmental Issues in Southeast Asia (Fig. 13.3)

Environmental Geography: A Once-Forested Region (cont.)

  • Smoke and Air Pollution
      • Increasingly poor air quality from urban smog, dry conditions, smoke from clearing forests for other uses
  • Patterns of Physical Geography
    • Mainland Environments
      • Rugged uplands interspersed with broad lowlands associated with large rivers
      • Mountains are found along the Thai-Burma border, and through Laos and southern Vietnam
      • Rivers: Mekong, Irrawaddy, Red, and Chao Phraya
      • Thailand’s Khorat Plateau has thin, poor soils and water shortages

Physical Geography of Southeast Asia (Fig. 13.6)

Environmental Geography: A Once-Forested Region (cont.)

  • Patterns of Physical Geography (cont.)
    • The Influence of the Monsoon
      • Monsoon winds bring hot and rainy season: May to October
      • Dry and generally hot conditions: November to April
      • Tropical monsoon and tropical wet climates in this area
    • Insular Environments
      • Is a region of countless islands
        • Indonesia has more than 13,000 islands
          • Major islands: Sumatra, Borneo (Kalimantan), Java, Sulawesi, and the western half of New Guinea
        • Philippines has 7,000 islands (Luzon and Mindanao)

Environmental Geography: A Once-Forested Region (cont.)

    • Equatorial Island Climates
      • More complex climate than on the mainland
        • Receives rain during the Northern Hemisphere’s winter
      • Typhoons: tropical hurricanes that bring heavy rainfall to the northern reaches of insular Asia
      • Islands experience very little seasonality because of the equatorial influence (temperatures are high year-round)
      • Rainfall is higher and more evenly distributed throughout the year as compared to the mainland

Climate Map of Southeast Asia (Fig. 13.8)

Population and Settlement: Subsistence, Migration, Cities

      • Areas of infertile soil and rugged mountains influence settlement
  • Settlement and Agriculture
      • Island rainforests generally have poor soils
      • Soils connected to volcanic activity tend to be fertile
      • Relatively dense populations are found in the region’s river deltas, coastal areas, and zones of fertile volcanic soil
      • Uplands tend to be sparsely settled
    • Swidden in the Uplands
      • Swidden system – AKA “slash-and-burn” agriculture or shifting cultivation is practiced in the region’s uplands
      • Mountainous area of region is often called the “Golden Triangle”
        • Large opium production

Population Map of Southeast Asia (Fig. 13.11)

Population and Settlement: Subsistence, Migration, Cities (cont.)

  • Settlement and Agriculture (cont.)
    • Plantation Agriculture
      • Colonial period: rice, cane sugar, rubber, and other cash crops
      • Commercial crops today: tea and copra (dried coconut meat)
    • Rice in the Lowlands
      • Lowlands of mainland Southeast Asia are largely devoted to intensive rice cultivation
  • Recent Demographic Change
    • Population Contrasts
      • Philippines: high growth rate reflects influence of Roman Catholic Church on family planning
      • Laos has highest TFR because low level of development

Population and Settlement: Subsistence, Migration, Cities (cont.)

  • Recent Demographic Change (cont.)
    • Population Contrasts (cont.)
      • Cambodia also has high TFR, possibly linked to high mortality rate
      • Thailand’s TFR has dropped dramatically in recent years
      • Indonesia has the largest population of the region (200 million)
    • Growth and Migration
      • Indonesia has an official policy of transmigration
        • Transmigration: relocation of people from one region to another within a national territory
        • From Java to other Indonesian islands

Population and Settlement: Subsistence, Migration, Cities (cont.)

  • Urban Settlement
      • Southeast Asia is less than 30% urbanized
        • Many of region’s countries have primate cities (single, large urban settlements that overshadow all others)
          • Efforts to encourage growth of secondary cities
          • Urban primacy less pronounced in Vietnam and Indonesia
        • Squatter settlements are common in this region
        • Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) is Southeast Asia’s largest city
          • Development from government and private investors produced a modern city with the world’s tallest building, the Petronis Towers
        • Singapore is a city-state, with modern infrastructure and no squatter settlement

Cultural Coherence and Diversity: A Meeting Ground of World Cultures

  • The Introduction and Spread of Major Cultural Traditions
    • South Asian Influences
      • The first major influence arrived from South Asia 2,000 years ago
        • Hindu influence remains only on the Indonesian island of Bali
      • Second wave in 13th century brought Theravada Buddhism
        • Buddhism found today in Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia
    • Chinese Influences
      • Vietnam had stronger influences from East Asia (1000 A.D. established a kingdom of their own)

Religion in Southeast Asia (Fig. 13.17)

Cultural Coherence and Diversity: A Meeting Ground of World Cultures (cont.)

  • The Introduction and Spread … (cont.)
    • Chinese Influences (cont.)
      • More recent Chinese immigration to other parts of the region has had a strong influence
        • Many Chinese retain Chinese citizenship, and are relatively wealthy
        • Strained relations between Chinese minority and indigenous majority
    • The Arrival of Islam
      • Brought to Southeast Asia by Muslim merchants
        • By 1650, Islam dominated in Malaysia and Indonesia
        • Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim country
          • 87% of the 206 million Indonesians are Muslim

Cultural Coherence and Diversity: A Meeting Ground of World Cultures (cont.)

  • The Introduction and Spread … (cont.)
    • Christianity and Tribal Cultures
      • In late 19th and early 20th centuries, Christian missionaries brought Christianity to the region
        • Conversion greatest among Animists in Southeast Asia’s highland region
    • Religion and Communism
      • Religious practices were strongly discouraged in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos after communism took hold

Cultural Coherence and Diversity: A Meeting Ground of World Cultures (cont.)

  • Geography of Language and Ethnicity
      • Southeast Asia has five major linguistic groups, with several hundred distinct languages
    • The Austronesian Languages
      • Extends from Madagascar to Easter Island
        • Today, almost all of the insular Southeast Asian languages are in this family
        • Malay became the lingua franca (a language used for trading purposes) of the region
        • Spanish influence in the Philippines
    • Tibeto-Burman Languages
      • Burmese (spoken in Burma) is closely related to Tibetan and distantly to Chinese

Language Map of Southeast Asia (Fig. 13.21)

Cultural Coherence and Diversity: A Meeting Ground of World Cultures (cont.)

  • Geography of Language and Ethnicity (cont.)
    • Tai-Kadai Languages
      • Originated in southern China and then spread into Southeast Asia around 1200
        • Spoken in Thailand, Laos, uplands of Vietnam, and parts of southern China
    • Mon-Khmer Languages
      • Vietnamese and Khmer (national tongue of Cambodia)

Cultural Coherence and Diversity: A Meeting Ground of World Cultures (cont.)

  • Southeast Asian Culture in Global Context
      • European colonial rule brought a new era of globalization to the region
        • Languages, Christianity, new governmental, educational and economic systems
      • Many countries chose isolation after decolonization
        • Philippines was the most profoundly influenced by its colonization by Spain, and later by the U.S.
          • Quicker to adopt Western culture than other countries
        • Thailand also receptive to Western influences
      • Malaysia and Singapore more resistant to Western Culture

Geopolitical Framework

      • 10 geopolitical states
      • Southeast Asian countries have joined together under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
  • Before European Colonialism
      • Most of the Southeast Asian countries existed as independent kingdoms before Europeans arrived
  • The Colonial Era
      • Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive (around 1500) in eastern Indonesia
      • Dutch arrived in 1600s, followed by the British
        • Dutch became the most powerful in the region
      • U.S. was the final colonial influence, in Philippines (1898)
      • Decolonization was completed in 1963

Colonial Southeast Asia (Fig. 13.24)

Geopolitical Framework (cont.)

  • The Vietnam War and Its Aftermath
      • France determined to maintain control of its Southeast Asian colonies
        • War between communist forces in the north and French in the south
        • Geneva Agreement in 1954 partitioned the country into north and south halves (North Vietnam, South Vietnam)
        • Communist guerrillas in the south, Pathet Lao forces in Laos, and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia all fought to expel western influences
        • Using the domino theory (fear that if Vietnam fell to communism, the rest of S.E. Asia would follow), the U.S. sent troops to the region
        • U.S. defeat and withdrawal 1973–1975
          • Refugees from the region as a result, including many migrating to the U.S.

Geopolitical Framework (cont.)

  • Geopolitical Tensions in Contemporary Southeast Asia
    • Conflicts in Indonesia
      • War in Irian Jaya for independence from Dutch, joined Indonesia
      • East Timor independence (1999)
      • Other independence movements in Indonesia
      • Political tensions between Muslim groups in Java (Indonesia)
    • Regional Tensions in the Philippines
      • Persistent problems in Islamic southwest, and possible links to Al Qaeda network
    • Burma’s Many Problems

Geopolitical Framework (cont.)

  • International Dimensions of Southeast Asia
      • Philippines and Malaysia conflict over their border
      • Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam all make claims to the Spratly and Paracel islands
        • China and Taiwan, too
      • Formation of ASEAN has had a calming influence in the region
        • Cooperation
        • Concerns about outside influences (Chinese and Western)

Economic and Social Development: The Roller-Coaster Ride of Tiger Economics

      • Until the economic downturn of the 1990s, economic development in the region was a paragon for new global capitalism
        • Instability persists
  • Uneven Economic Development
    • The Philippine Decline
      • Philippines was the most highly developed Southeast Asian country 40 years ago
      • In 1980s and 1990s the Philippines’ population outpaced its economic growth, and living standards declined
        • Decline attributed to crony capitalism under Marcos regime
      • Many Filipinos have sought employment in other countries
        • Send money home (“remittances”)
        • Brain drain

Economic and Social Development: The Roller-Coaster Ride of Tiger Economics (cont.)

    • The Regional Hub: Singapore
      • Has transformed itself from an entrepôt (a port city where goods are imported, stored, and transshipped) to one of the world’s most modern states
      • Encourages investment by multinational firms, and has invested in itself
    • The Malaysian Boom
      • Has recently experienced rapid economic growth
      • Began with plantation agriculture and natural resource extraction, then manufacturing in labor-intensive high-tech sector
      • Wealth of Chinese (esp. in Malaysia) led to affirmative action for Bumiputra (“sons of the soil” Malaysians)

Economic and Social Development: The Roller-Coaster Ride of Tiger Economics (cont.)

  • Uneven Economic Development (cont.)
    • Thailand: An Emerging Tiger?
      • Japanese companies were leading players in Thailand’s earlier economic boom
        • Japanese factories built in the region
      • Industrialization greatest in historical core (including Bangkok)
      • “Sex tourism” industry
    • Recent Economic Expansion in Indonesia
      • Indonesian economy began to expand in the 1970s
        • Fueled by oil exports
      • Multinational corporations now attracted to the low-wage labor of the region
      • Indonesia remains poor; political instability a concern

Economic and Social Development: The Roller-Coaster Ride of Tiger Economics (cont.)

  • Uneven Economic Development (cont.)
    • Persistent Poverty in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia
      • Experienced little economic expansion during the 1980s and 1990s
      • Vietnam is the most prosperous of the three, but is poor
        • Mid-1990s economic reform in the country: market economics with political forms of communist state
      • Laos and Cambodia face difficulties from rugged terrain, relative isolation, and ravages of war, government repression
    • Burma’s Troubled Economy
      • Low economic development, but has great potential
        • Abundant natural resources and fertile farmland
        • Warfare a major problem

Economic and Social Development: The Roller-Coaster Ride of Tiger Economics (cont.)

  • Globalization and the Southeast Asian Economy
      • Southeast Asia as a whole has undergone rapid integration into the global economy
        • Significant development in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia
      • But development can bring problems
        • Environmental degradation
        • Growing social inequality
        • Outside of Singapore and Malaysia, workers wages are “miserably low,” and discipline may be harsh
      • Movements beginning in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere to pressure multinational corporations in Southeast Asia to improve working conditions

Geopolitical Issues in Southeast Asia (Fig. 13.23)

Economic and Social Development: The Roller-Coaster Ride of Tiger Economics (cont.)

  • Issues of Social Development
      • Singapore and Brunei are Southeast Asia’s leaders in health and education
      • Laos and Cambodia rank low
        • Life expectancy of 55; literacy rates below 50%
      • Most governments in Southeast Asia place high priority on basic education, and literacy rates are relatively high
        • University and technical education still lagging, forcing many to study abroad
      • Countries of Southeast Asia must invest in their own human resource


  • End of Chapter 13: Southeast Asia
  • Southeast Asia is the region that best fits your textbook’s focus on globalization and diversity
  • The creation of ASEAN reflects a unity in this region designed to counteract the negative aspects of globalization
  • Participation in the global economy has resulted in significant deforestation in Southeast Asia
  • Geopolitical change is needed to bring stability to the region

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