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Economic Woes in Asia and Why Malaysia Should be Thankful

Photo Credit: Hadi Zaher, Flickr

Given the economic woes which have adversely affected the lives of many people in developed countries, it is not surprising that many expats are grateful to be living in Asia. However, even in Asia, many countries struggle with significant problems which, in some cases, make life difficult for their citizens and expats. Reading social media or talking to Malaysians soon makes it clear that many are unhappy and have a long list of complaints which they feel are not being adequately addressed. However, a quick review of many other countries suggests they often face bigger problems than Malaysia.

Some smaller economies like Cambodia and Myanmar are still trying to address basic infrastructural needs which many of their neighbouring countries take for granted. This minimal infrastructure creates an entry barrier for foreign investors that might otherwise invest in them and benefit their economies. Other countries have suffered natural disasters which have had a major impact on their citizens and their economies. Earthquakes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis have wrought death and destruction in quite a few Asian countries. The quake and tsunami in Japan in 2011 and last year’s typhoon in the Philippines last year are two well-known examples. They both resulted in major loss of life and catastrophic economic costs.

China is enjoying impressive economic growth, but there is no question many of its citizens, particularly outside the major cities, are finding life very difficult because they are not sharing in the newfound wealth. This has led many men in rural areas to leave their families to look for work in the cities. Those living in the major cities may enjoy higher incomes, but the levels of pollution are frequently hazardous to health and the country struggles to resolve this problem.

Indonesia faces a host of problems as it struggles to get it economy back on its feet. Corruption levels may have dropped, but it is still prevalent and the country has to contend with many other problems, not least of which environmental and religious issues. Sadly, they also seem to face almost nonstop natural disasters of varying severity. Thailand, which has enjoyed considerable economic success and a booming tourism industry, is now enduring civil disruption which threatens to spread across the country. The violence arising in Southern Thailand, because of the perceived poor treatment of the Muslim minority, has already adversely affected tourism to that area. The ongoing protests in Bangkok which aim to overthrow the current government pose a broader threat.

Our online help desk for the Malaysia My Second Home programme has handled thousands of enquiries from people wishing to retire or settle here. The majority of recent enquiries come from India and Pakistan. Certainly the amount of violence taking place in Pakistan would motivate many people to leave. India is enjoying strong economic growth but faces some serious domestic issues such as the vast disparity between rich and poor, and second class treatment of many of the women in the country.

Singaporeans should be the happiest people in Asia, as they live in one of the region’s most successful economies, but various surveys show that their relative wealth has not brought them happiness. One area of discontent is the country’s liberal immigration policies which have resulted in over one-third of the resident population being foreigners. The government has responded by tightening the rules somewhat, but stays firmly committed to immigration as essential to the country’s future economic and competitive health. Malaysia has received some benefit from this as Singaporeans flock to escape the high costs and general overcrowding. They currently make a staggering 13 million visits a year to Malaysia, accounting for around half the total tourist arrivals to this country.

The anger expressed by some Malaysians about various issues including the rising cost of living, reduction of government subsidies, and concerns about rising crimes seem somewhat less problematic when compared with the issues being faced in some neighbouring countries. So, in summary, we should be thankful we live here, and make sure we make the most of it!

Source: The Expat Magazine March 2014

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