Bounding the Mekong

Bounding the Mekong: The Asian Development Bank, China, and Thailand

Jim Glassman
Copyright Date: 2010
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    Bounding the Mekong
    Book Description:

    Transnational economic integration has been described by globalization boosters as a rising tide that will lift all boats, an opportunity for all participants to achieve greater prosperity through a combination of political cooperation and capitalist economic competition. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has championed such rhetoric in promoting the integration of China, Southeast Asia's formerly socialist states, and Thailand into a regional project called the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). But while the GMS project is in fact hastening regional economic integration, Jim Glassman shows that the approach belies the ADB's idealized description of "win-win" outcomes. The process of "actually existing globalization" in the GMS does provide varied opportunities for different actors, but it is less a rising tide that lifts all boats than an uneven flood of transnational capitalist development whose outcomes are determined by intense class struggles, market competition, and regulatory battles.

    Glassman makes the case for adopting a class-based approach to analysis of GMS development, regionalization, and actually existing globalization. First he analyzes the interests and actions of various Thai participants in GMS development, then the roles of different Chinese actors in GMS integration. He next provides two cases illustrating the serious limits of any notion that GMS integration is a relatively egalitarian process-Laos' participation in GMS development and the role of migrant Burmese workers in the production of the GMS. He finds that Burmese migrant workers, dam-displaced Chinese and Laotian villagers, and economically-stressed Thai farmers and small businesses are relative "losers" compared to the powerful business interests that shape GMS integration from locations like Bangkok and Kunming, as well as key sites outside the GMS like Beijing, Singapore, and Tokyo. The final chapter blends geographical-historical analysis with an assessment of uneven development and actually existing globalization in the GMS.

    Cogent and persuasive,Bounding the Mekongwill attract attention from the growing number of scholars analyzing globalization, neoliberalism, regionalization, and multiple scales of governance. It is suitable for graduate courses in geography, political science, and sociology as well as courses with a regional focus.

    17 illus., 7 maps

    eISBN: 978-0-8248-3750-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures, Maps, and Tables
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Abbreviations
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  6. Note on Terminology
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  7. Prologue May 2008
    (pp. 1-2)

    In May 2008, two horrific events called international attention to the corner of the world that is the focus of this book. On May 2, Cyclone Nargis ripped through Burma, causing the immediate death of some 100,000 to 150,000 people and displacement and suffering for as many as 1.5 million more. On May 12, an 8.0 magnitude earthquake centered near the city of Chengdu leveled enormous areas of Sichuan province in western China, just north of Yunnan province and mainland Southeast Asia, causing the immediate deaths of some 70,000 to 90,000 people and displacement and suffering for as many as...

  8. CHAPTER 1 Approaching the Greater Mekong Subregion
    (pp. 3-16)

    This is a book about the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), a unit originally comprising Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, and Yunnan province of China and expanded in 2005 to include Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region of China (Map 1.1). More accurately, it is a book thattravelsabout the GMS—or at least a corner of it—to tell a story. The story is not really the story of the GMS itself, its origins, its development, or its prospects. Much less is it a story of all the different peoples and places within the GMS and the ways their lives are...

  9. CHAPTER 2 Thinking the Spaces and Places of Class
    (pp. 17-36)

    To insist that class provides a useful lens on processes of regionalization and GMS development is perhaps to specify less than what might appear to be the case at first blush. Although mention of class usually connotes Marxism, there are in fact a wide array of approaches to class—associated in sociology, for example, with Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Bourdieu, and others (Wright 2005; Sheppard and Glassman forthcoming).

    In this study I do, in fact, adhere to the largely Marxist notion that appropriation of surplus produced in the labor process (i.e., exploitation) is a crucial—and analytically defining—dimension of class,...

  10. CHAPTER 3 Producing the Greater Mekong Subregion
    (pp. 37-63)

    The Second Summit Meeting of the GMS was held during July 2005 in Kunming, in Yunnan province of China. Billboards posted around Kunming by the Yunnan provincial government announced themes such as “Strengthen GMS Cooperation for Economic Growth and Mutual Benefit” and “The River Links Six Countries.”¹ These themes are conventional booster rhetoric, but they also capture some of the major types of arguments that have been put forward in support of GMS integration by its major backers at the ADB and elsewhere.

    Basing their arguments in neoclassical trade theory, these backers have argued for the propositions that trade based...

  11. CHAPTER 4 Turning Battlefields into Marketplace-Battlefields
    (pp. 64-98)

    As the most powerful capitalist state in mainland Southeast Asia, the Thai state and investors from Thailand have played a central role in development of the GMS. In this chapter I outline the activities of different fractions of Thai capital in GMS projects. These activities include those of the Thai state, and I will begin not only with a brief discussion of this state but of various Thai “state capitalist” projects that have been especially noteworthy. I then look in some detail at the projects of Thai capitalists based in three different locations within the country—Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and...

  12. CHAPTER 5 Going West, by Southwest
    (pp. 99-135)

    Thai capitalists are some of the most powerful and aggressive in promoting the development of the GMS, but they face considerable competition in the marketplace-battlefield. As noted in chapters 3 and 4, much of this competition comes from outside the GMS entirely, and much of it is also carried out on a geographic scale well beyond that of the GMS. Within the GMS and among GMS countries, the stiffest competition for Thai investors comes from Chinese capitalists and the Chinese state. Formally, as per the definition of GMS, this means capital from Yunnan, but it is in fact impossible to...

  13. CHAPTER 6 Harnessing Resources and Labor
    (pp. 136-158)

    In the previous two chapters I have delved beneath the data on GMS development presented in chapter 3 to unpack some of the class dynamics of uneven development and regionalization. I have focused especially on the two most powerful “national” actors in the GMS—capitalists and state agencies from Thailand and Yunnan/China. Even in these cases, as I have argued, developmental prospects are palpably uneven in sociospatial terms.

    In this chapter I examine very briefly two groups of GMS actors whose power is clearly more circumscribed than that of the major actors examined in chapters 4 and 5—albeit each...

  14. CHAPTER 7 Bounding the Mekong
    (pp. 159-168)

    When using the term “capital” throughout my analysis of GMS projects, I have most frequently focused literally on capitalists, sometimes petty capitalists or entrepreneurial petty commodity producers, including their allies within state agencies. But “capital,” in Marx’s sense of the term, is neither a thing (e.g., money) nor a specific social group (e.g., capitalists)—rather, it is asocial relation. That relation is most fundamentally the relationship between capitalists and workers, but also the relationship between various social actors and the “precapitalist” producers whose dispossession makes possible the original (“primitive”) accumulation of surplus by capitalists. In addition to capitalists—acting...

  15. Epilogue July 2008
    (pp. 169-170)

    During July of 2008, a strange and nasty conflict evolved that pitted competing claims by Thai and Cambodian organizations against one another. The boundary line between the two countries—which did not exist as such in the late nineteenth century—had been drawn on a map by the French colonial state in 1904. In 1962, Cambodia approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ) requesting a ruling on the legitimacy of this boundary. The ICJ, reflecting the fact that the Thai state had not protested the boundary since its establishment, confirmed that the French map properly delineated the border between the...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 171-176)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-194)
  18. Index
    (pp. 195-208)
  19. Back Matter
    (pp. 209-215)