When it comes to economic development, China’s amazing success soaks up much of the attention. But another huge region has quietly begun what looks like a new phase of exponential growth: Southeast Asia. The sustained enrichment of this region will transform the world, and carry important lessons for struggling countries like those in Africa.
Southeast Asia was once almost completely colonized by European powers, and much of it was devastated by a series of wars and internal strife in the mid-20th century. It remains largely poor, with notable exceptions including the wealthy city-state of Singapore, middle-income Thailand and Malaysia, an electronics manufacturing powerhouse that is approaching developed-country status.
The 1970s and 1980s saw very uneven growth throughout the region, and the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis was a brutal, long-lasting setback. In the 2000s, China surged ahead while Southeast Asia seemed like an also-ran.