Episode 123: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Thank you for your patience! This shows that despite all the little things life has thrown at me since the last episode, I was able to get another one done. Today’s episode covers another topic that a listener requested, an in-depth look at ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. Again, listen and enjoy!


This episode is dedicated to Alexei K., who made a donation to the podcast last month. Alexei has also donated in two previous years, and that puts him in the elite of podcast donors. In recognition of this achievement, I have not only put Alexei’s name on the Podcast Hall of Fame page, I have also added the ever-popular Shwe Dagon Pagoda icon next to his name. I am recording this right after a devastating hurricane struck Florida, my former home state. I still have friends in Florida, and my brother lives there as well. So Alexei, may the seasonal winds in your part of the world always blow in your favor. And everyone else, thank you for your patience. Now on with the episode!

Episode 123: The Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Greetings dear listeners, for the 123rd time, from the hills of Bluegrass country in Kentucky! If you have listened to the other episodes, I’m glad to have you here again, and thank you for waiting! It has been two and a half months since the last episode, the longest I have kept you waiting so far. I said a little bit about it on the podcast’s Facebook page. The past spring and summer have been a struggle to make enough money to make ends meet, and if that hasn’t been enough, there have been computer problems, phone problems and car problems. Consequently days went by when I couldn’t get anything done on the podcast. Well, this episode shows I finally prevailed. As the saying goes, good things come to those who wait.

If this is the first episode you listened to, none of what I just said will matter much, but welcome to the show nonetheless. We hope you like what you hear, and that you will go listen to the more than a hundred episodes recorded before this one. I know, asking you to listen to all those episodes is a big demand, but’s it’s not too difficult if you have a place where you can set aside time for listening. Some people listen to podcasts to pass the time, if they have a job where they are doing nothing for long periods. Myself, I do it while driving, especially on out-of-town trips. I remember the time when I was driving home after midnight, going more than 200 miles, and I was drinking coffee and listening to podcasts to stay awake. The longest episode I listened to was from Daniele Bolelli’s “History on Fire,” where he talked about a little-known World War II battle in the Philippines. I had also covered that battle, in either Episode #52 or #53, so of course I was interested to hear Daniele’s version of the story. And the next time I saw Daniele on Facebook, I thanked him for keeping me awake that night. Now if you commit yourself to listen to one episode a day, you’ll go through them all in four months, and be done before you know it!

Before we go on, let me apologize for an error I made four years ago. Back in Episode #53, I mentioned that during the Second Battle of Corregidor in the Philippines, the 503rd Regimental Combat Team made an airborne landing on that famous island. The first time I mentioned this unit, I called it the 503rd Regimental Command Team. One listener served in the unit more recently, and he set me straight on the mistake. Sorry about that, I did put “Combat Team” in my script, but for some reason I said “Command Team” instead. It was definitely a slip of the tongue.

Also, I believe a small correction is needed for the previous episode. I gave you the names of the most important refugee camps, for the refugees who fled Vietnam in the late twentieth century, and I told you which countries they were in. For the Philippines, I said the main refugee camp was the Philippine Refugee Processing Center, on the Bataan peninsula. That was true, but I may have misled you into thinking that was the only refugee camp in the Philippines. Since finishing that episode, I have found out there was also a camp at Puerto Princesa, on Palawan Island. Being the westernmost island in the Philippines, Palawan is also the closest island to Vietnam; I suggested in one of the early episodes that the ancestors of the Chams, the people of an ancient kingdom in present-day Vietnam, came from Palawan. Therefore Puerto Princesa became a convenient place for a refugee camp; 2,700 Vietnamese refugees went there. Some of them were temporarily settled in a town next to Puerto Princesa called Santa Lourdes; today it has become a tourist attraction called Viet Ville. When the refugees found permanent places to live, some chose to stay in the Philippines, because they had married Filipinos in the meantime.

And here is something else I wish I knew when I recorded the previous episode. Last week I was directed to a podcast about obscure news stories, called Under-Understood. The third episode for this podcast, recorded in July 2019, tracks down a story about an attempt in 1975 to build a theme park called “New Vietnam” in — where else — central Florida! Yes, the park would have gone up near Cape Canaveral, about 50 miles east of where I was living at the time, and it would have re-created the Vietnam War experience. The plan was to build a fake village like the ones that were common in Vietnam during the war, and hire some of the Vietnamese refugees coming to America at the time, to act like “peasants” in the village. I’m guessing some of the refugees would have also played the part of Viet Cong guerrillas for the battle re-enactment. This project was the dream of Carl McIntire, a right-wing evangelical pastor, and the more I hear about the project and the pastor, the stranger it gets! Mind you, I never heard about the New Vietnam park when I lived in Florida — it wasn’t big news at the time — and the whole project was scrapped just after the pastor acquired the land for the park. It looks like the hired Vietnamese quit their jobs after they realized they were being exploited; good for them. If you want to check it out, go to Under-understood.com. That’s the real name of the website; I wasn’t stammering.

And now for the tying up of a loose end from other previous episodes. While I was working on this, the big news was that the long reign of Queen Elizabeth II finally came to an end. I am mentioning this because more than once, when I was talking about Thailand’s King Rama IX, I compared him to the British Queen, because she is the only head of state in our time with a reign as long as the Thai King. Now that both are gone, who ruled the longest? Well, Rama IX became king on June 9, 1946, and died on October 13, 2016, so he had a reign of 70 years, four months and four days. As for Elizabeth II, she became queen on February 6, 1952, and died on September 8, 2022, so her reign lasted 70 years, seven months and two days. The question is now settled; Queen Elizabeth won the conteast by almost three months, if you can call it a contest.

All right, what topic have we got for today? Starting with the previous episode, we have been looking at items that were short-shifted, when I was giving you the general historical narrative. Last time I stepped back to give an overview on the Vietnamese refugees in the late twentieth century. This time we have an organization that has been mentioned in several of the recent history episodes, but has never been covered in depth — ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Podcast footnote: Before we jump in, I should clarify how I am pronouncing the organization’s name. The first time I mentioned it in the podcast, I pronounced it “a-SEE-in,” with emphasis on the second syllable. But later on, after watching videos that mentioned the organization, I learned that “A-se-An” seems to be the more popular way to say it, so I went with that. End footnote.


Now where did people get the idea to form a club of Southeast Asian nations? It certainly didn’t happen during the colonial era, when Thailand, previously called Siam, was the only completely independent nation in the region. This was part of a world wide trend by nations to find safety in numbers, and to explain that, we will go back to the beginning of the twentieth century.

The twentieth century began with nine important nations. In no particular order, the Big Nine were the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Japan, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy and the Ottoman Empire, also known as Turkey. World War I knocked four of them out of the game (Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary and Turkey), but a few years later Germany came back under the Nazis, and Russia came back as the Soviet Union. That meant seven major powers were available to participate in World War II.

World War II ruined Germany, Italy and Japan. Britain and France were on the winning side, but not much better off than the defeated powers. By contrast, the USA and USSR came out of the war stronger than before. They faced each other in a world-threatening standoff, the so-called Cold War, for nearly half a century, which ended with the downfall of communism in the Soviet Union and its satellites.

That left the United States as the last superpower. For a few years after the Cold War, at least under the Bush and Clinton administrations, the USA used the United Nations to bring their values, meaning freedom, the rule of law, and capitalism, to the rest of the world, with the ultimate goal being to create a “Pax Americana” of sorts. Then came 9/11 and the War on Terror, and the United States got bogged down in that. The War on Terror came to resemble a game of Whack-A-Mole; for every terrorist or terrorist group the Americans got rid of, another would appear; the biggest example was how after Osama bin Laden was killed, ISIS rose up to replace Al Qaeda. Today the United States has fallen on hard times economically, its leaders are promoting other values, like green energy and LGBT rights, and the US armed forces are mainly used for social experimentation, rather than being organizations designed to kill people and break things.

What I was trying to say with all those words is that since the end of World War II, it has not been fashionable for one nation to attempt world domination; all those that tried in the twentieth century eventually failed. Instead, nations have often promoted world unity on a smaller scale, by forming regional “clubs” or blocs. Some of these clubs are defensive alliances, while others promote cooperation, especially economic cooperation. One of the first, and definitely the largest, of these organizations is the United Nations; almost every country belongs to it. After the UN, the first organization to have much success was the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which contained Soviet expansion in Europe. After the Cold War, NATO remained active; now it serves as the de facto armed forces for another organization, the European Union.

Because NATO did so well, the Western nations founded two more organizations like it in the 1950s: the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, or SEATO, and the Central Treaty Organization, or CENTO, in the Middle East. Neither amounted to much. I mentioned in a previous episode that only two of SEATO’s eight members were really Southeast Asian, and that after it failed to defend South Vietnam in the Second Indochina War, it was dissolved by the mutual consent of the members. As for CENTO, it started with five members: Britain, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Pakistan. Iraq withdrew from the organization after a revolution toppled its conservative monarchy in 1958. The rest of CENTO fell apart in 1979 when the Iranian Revolution took away two more members, Iran and Pakistan, leaving only Britain and Turkey to announce that the organization was going out of business. And these weren’t the only organizations that pro-Western nations tried. Other pro-Western blocs include the OAS, the Organization of American States, in Latin America; ANZUS, the Australia- New Zealand- United States pact in the South Pacific; the British Commonwealth of Nations; the EEC, the European Economic Community, better known as the Common Market; and NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union produced COMECON, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance, to unify the economies of its satellites, and the Warsaw Pact to unify the armed forces of the same countries; both collapsed when the USSR did, in 1991. As for the Third World, it produced its share of blocs, chief of which are the Arab League; OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries; the OAU, the Organization of African Unity; and the one we will concentrate our attention on, ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Many of these organizations have political unity as their ultimate goal; Europeans, in particular, talked about the Common Market being the first step in forming a United States of Europe. For that reason, Common Market members established a European Parliament in 1981, and signed the Maastrict Treaty in 1992. Maastrict changed the name of the Common Market to the European Union, and it called for the unification of its members into a single economy, starting with the issuance of a new currency, the Euro, in 1999. The road to unity has been a rocky one, though; Europeans have far more languages and cultures than America’s thirteen ex-colonies had when they fused to form the United States, leading to disagreement and misunderstanding every step of the way. Likewise, the OAU became the African Union in 2002. Both the African Union and the Arab League promised future unity, but have been less successful than the European union; in fact, they have seemed like contradictions of their very names. In the case of the Arabs, there were proposals to unite Arab nations, like Gamal Abdel Nasser’s United Arab Republic, and they seemed like good ideas at first, only to abruptly disappear when the involved parties argued over something. After an attempt to unite Syria and Iraq failed in 1979, a Damascus editorial lamented that, quote, “Trying to unite the Arabs is like nailing jelly to a wall.” Unquote. Likewise, nearly ten years later a retired Egyptian diplomat expressed his scorn for other Arabs by saying, quote, “Egypt is the only real nation-state in the Middle East. The rest are just tribes with flags.” Unquote.


But I digress. In the 1950s and 1960s, most Southeast Asian nations were mainly concerned about communism. Communists conquered mainland China, and fought a war in Korea where they broke even. In Southeast Asia there were the Indochina Wars, an “emergency” involving communist guerrillas in Malaya, and communist uprisings in Burma and the Philippines. I talked about those conflicts in Episodes 62 through 69 of this podcast, so that’s where to go to refresh your memory on them. The governments in the region considered forming an anti-communist alliance, but SEATO already existed for that purpose, so when their leaders got together, economic cooperation was the main goal. In other words, they wanted to create an Asian version of the European Common Market. Accordingly, three nations — Thailand, the Philippines and the Federation of Malaya — formed an economic alliance on July 31, 1961, called the ASA, the Association of Southeast Asia. It wasn’t a very successful organization; ministers from the participating nations met periodically, but otherwise didn’t get anything done. Even more disturbing, Indonesia did not join the ASA, because the Indonesian president, Sukarno, didn’t think communism was so bad. Indonesia noted that Malaya was an ally of Britain, and the other two members were allies of the United States, while Indonesia wanted to stay neutral, and sit out the Cold War completely. Here is what the Indonesian foreign minister, Sumitro, said about the ASA. Quote: “The spirit behind the proposal is anyway anti-this and anti-that . . . and Indonesia does not want any part in a negative policy in international affairs.” Unquote. Because Indonesia is the largest Southeast Asian nation, in land area, population and resources, a Southeast Asian alliance without Indonesia would not work very well.

The ASA was discredited by the Malaysian crisis that began in 1963. The transformation of Malaya into Malaysia caused a series of problems that the ASA couldn’t handle, showing that a stronger organization was needed. We covered this crisis in Episode #98. As a refresher, the British gave up the two territories they had ruled on Borneo, Sarawak and North Borneo, also called Sabah. Instead of making them independent countries, the territories were handed over to Malaya; hence the new name of Malaysia. However, Indonesia and the Philippines had claims to those territories as well. The Philippines proposed creating a federation called “Maphilindo,” which would unite Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia into one super-state, while Indonesia launched a guerrilla war, the so-called Konfrontasi, in an attempt to take the Borneo territories. In addition, Singapore was part of Malaysia for a while, but then it declared independence; who could be sure that Singapore would be able to stand on its own? And what about Brunei, the last British protectorate in the region?

It was changes in Southeast Asia’s political situation in the mid-1960s, that made ASEAN’s creation possible. First, there was a general cooling of tensions, as the war between Malaysia and Indonesia ended, and the surrounding nations came to accept Malaysia’s right to exist. Second, Sukarno had been overthrown, and General Suharto, who was pro-Western, took his place as president of Indonesia. This made Indonesia more willing to join an organization where all the other members were pro-Western. In fact, it was while Thailand was overseeing the negotiation of the disputes between Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines that they all realized that this was the time to set up a permanent organization promoting regional cooperation. Here is how the Thai foreign minister, Thanat Khoman, later described how a conversation with Adam Malik, the Indonesian foreign minister, led to ASEAN. Quote: “At the banquet marking the reconciliation between the three disputants, I broached the idea of forming another organization for regional cooperation with Adam Malik. Malik agreed without hesitation but asked for time to talk with his government and also to normalize relations with Malaysia now that the confrontation was over. Meanwhile, the Thai Foreign Office prepared a draft charter of the new institution. Within a few months, everything was ready. I therefore invited the two former members of the Association for Southeast Asia (ASA), Malaysia and the Philippines, and Indonesia, a key member, to a meeting in Bangkok. In addition, Singapore sent S. Rajaratnam, then Foreign Minister, to see me about joining the new set-up. Although the new organization was planned to comprise only the ASA members plus Indonesia, Singapore’s request was favorably considered.” End quote.

The next time the foreign ministers got together was in early August of 1967, at a relatively isolated and laid-back spot: Bang Saen, a beach resort 100 kilometers from Bangkok. Those foreign ministers were Adam Malik of Indonesia, Narcisco R. Ramos of the Philippines, Tun Abdal Razak of Malaysia, S. Rajaratnam of Singapore, and Thanat Khoman of Thailand.

Podcast footnote: If the name Ramos sounds familiar, it is because Narcisco Ramos was the father of someone else mentioned in this podcast, Fidel Ramos, the former general and president of the Philippines. Though Narcisco Ramos was in his 40s when World War II arrived, he joined the guerrillas to fight the Japanese. Then when the Philippines became independent, he was given the job of founding the country’s foreign service. Now with the negotiations to create ASEAN, he was 66 years old, making him one of the first elder statesmen of the Philippines.

As for the younger Ramos, I discussed his achievements in Episodes #110 and #116. While researching this episode, I learned that Fidel Ramos died recently, on July 31, 2022. He was 94 years old, and had suffered from heart disease and dementia, but it was COVID-19 that finished him off, though he had received at least two vaccinations. He was buried in the military cemetery of Manila, near the graves of three other former presidents: Elpidio Quirino, Carlos Garcia, and Ferdinand Marcos Sr. Rest in peace, General; we are thankful for what you did to save democracy in the Philippines. End footnote.

Anyway, the five Foreign Ministers spent four days at Bang Saen, negotiating over the document they were writing to create a new organization. They did it in an informal manner which they would later delightfully call “sports-shirt diplomacy.” Still, it wasn’t an easy process; among the countries, only Thailand had been independent for more than twenty years, and the rest were struggling to find their place in the modern world. Each country had a very different historical and political perspective from the others, and the men brought those perspectives to the conference. Every time they met at the conference table, they expressed goodwill and good humor, but as it turned out, they reached more agreements when they played on the golf course, where they also traded jokes on each other’s game. This style of diplomacy would become the ASEAN ministerial tradition.

Next, the ministers went to Bangkok, where on August 8, 1967, they sat down together in the main hall of the Department of Foreign Affairs building, and signed the document they had written at Bang Saen. With that event, ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, was born. Because all three members of the ASA were represented here, the new organization superseded the ASA; we won’t have to talk about the ASA anymore.

The document they signed would be known as the ASEAN Declaration. This was a short, simply-worded document containing just two pages and five articles. It declared the establishment of an Association for Regional Cooperation in Southeast Asia, that would be known as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN for short, and spelled out the organization’s aims and purposes: cooperation in economic, social, cultural, technical, educational and other fields, the promotion of regional peace and stability through abiding respect for justice and the rule of law, and adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter. All Southeast Asian states would be eligible to join once they accepted the organization’s aims, principles and purposes. It was the Malaysian minister, Tun Abdal Razak, who first expressed the wish that someday all Southeast Asian states would belong to the new organization. Finally, the Declaration proclaimed ASEAN as representing, quote, “the collective will of the nations of Southeast Asia to bind themselves together in friendship and cooperation and, through joint efforts and sacrifices, secure for their peoples and for posterity the blessings of peace, freedom and prosperity.” End quote.


The original ASEAN logo was a white flag; in the middle of the flag was a yellow circle with a blue border. In the circle were five golden-brown rice stalks, tied together in a bundle, representing the union of the five original member nations, and the name “ASEAN” appeared under the bundle. For ASEAN’s 30th anniversary in 1997, the flag was revamped, to better reflect the nations and the values ASEAN promotes. The five rice stalks were increased to ten, because the organization now had ten members, and their color was changed to yellow. The yellow circle became a red circle with a white border, and the flag’s white field became a blue field. As for why those colors were chosen, blue represents peace and stability, red represents courage and dynamism, white represents purity, and yellow represents prosperity. In addition, those four colors can be found in the national flags of all ten member nations. The only colors missing are black and green; Brunei’s flag has a diagonal black bar, while the flag of Myanmar has had a horizontal green bar since 2010. Finally, usage of the word “ASEAN” has become optional; it no longer appears in the flag, but it still appears in emblems featuring the ASEAN bundle of rice stalks. The purpose of all these symbols is to make ASEAN and Southeast Asia appear as one and the same, the way its founders intended. These days, at the embassies of Southeast Asian countries, it is common to see both the country’s flag and the ASEAN flag flying outside the building.

For its first years, the organization was quiet. Remember how I mentioned that it took the end of the Malaysian Confrontation to make ASEAN possible? Well it also appears that it could not accomplish much until 1975, when the wars in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos ended. I am saying that because it was in the next year, 1976, when the next event worth mentioning happened. That event was ASEAN’s first summit, held on Bali in Indonesia. Previously, the foreign ministers of the participating countries had dominated the meetings, but from here on, their bosses, each country’s president, prime minister or monarch, would be the most visible people at ASEAN events. At the Bali summit, the members expressed a desire to “develop fruitful relations” and mutually beneficial co-operation with other countries of the region, and they signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia. The organization’s second summit was held a year and a half later, at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1977, and Japan attended the meeting. That showed another future trend for the organization, its willingness to cooperate with countries outside of Southeast Asia. After that, summits were held irregularly for the rest of the twentieth century. It was in 2001 when the summits began to take place every year, and in 2009 when the organization started to hold two summits per year.

Probably the most important summit was the 9th one, held on Bali in October 2003. Here the leaders of the member states signed a declaration known as the Bali Concord II, in which they agreed to pursue closer economic integration by 2020. According to the declaration, “an ASEAN Community” would be set upon three pillars, which are, quote, “political and security cooperation, economic cooperation, and socio-cultural cooperation; For the purpose of ensuring durable peace, stability and shared prosperity in the region.” Unquote. The plan talked about ASEAN becoming a region with a population of 500 million and annual trade of US$720 billion. Also, a free trade area would be established among the members by 2020. Finally, ASEAN’s leaders talked about setting up a security community alongside the economic one, though without any formal military alliance.

During the same meeting, China and ASEAN also agreed to work faster toward a mutual trade agreement to create the world’s most populous market, with 1.7 billion consumers. Japan also signed an agreement pledging to reduce tariff and non-tariff barriers with ASEAN members. Well if I am doing the math right, ASEAN, China and Japan now have a combined population of more than 2 billion consumers, maybe even 2.2 billion.


In 1990, Malaysia proposed that a free trade zone be created between ASEAN and China, Japan and South Korea, and called it the East Asia Economic Caucus. The purpose of this proposal was to counterbalance the growing influence of the United States on Pacific trade. Both the United States and Japan opposed it, Japan because it was suffering from the collapse of its stock market in the early 1990s, so the proposal was shelved. However, after the Asian financial crisis of 1997, everyone agreed that ASEAN should work more closely with China, Japan and South Korea, to prevent this kind of crisis from happening again. When representatives of ASEAN and these three northeast Asian nations meet, the forum is appropriately called ASEAN+3. Because this arrangement has worked well at promoting economic stability, there have also been summits where three more regional powers, India, Australia and New Zealand, take part, changing the name of the forum to ASEAN+6. Sometimes ASEAN+6 is also called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. This is a fine example of how interdependent today’s nations have become.

China is ASEAN’s largest external trading partner. In 2017, 14.1% of ASEAN’s exports went to that country. The European Union came in second place at 12.0%, followed by the United States at 10.8%.

From its original five members, ASEAN started to grow when Brunei joined in 1984, immediately after the British protectorate over that sultanate ended. Like the original members, Brunei is pro-Western, but by now there was a general consensus that communist Indochina and socialist Burma should be allowed to join as well, if, like I said, they accepted the organization’s aims, principles and purposes. Accordingly, Vietnam was admitted as a member in July 1995, Laos was admitted in July 1997, and Burma, now renamed Myanmar, was also admitted in July 1997. That left Cambodia, which had to wait until its civil war and political instability ended; it finally joined in April 1999. With these additions, ASEAN went from being a group promoting an ideology (namely capitalism), to a group promoting the interests of all Southeast Asians.

I can hear some of you now saying, “What about East Timor?” Don’t worry, I didn’t forget them. That half of an island only became independent in 2002, and in Episode #117 I talked at length about why East Timor, also called Timor Leste, hasn’t been accepted as a full member yet.

Speaking of that, two potential members, Papua New Guinea and East Timor, have been granted the right to attend ASEAN meetings with observer status. This means they can take part in discussions at the meetings, but they are not allowed to vote. In the question and answer session we had a few episodes back, I got a question about Papua New Guinea’s status in ASEAN, and here is why they are only observers. Papua New Guinea’s leaders have said more than once that they are interested in becoming a full member, and Indonesia and the Philippines have announced they would support that country’s bid to join. However, the Papuans have never applied for membership. Why? Because history and geography makes Papua New Guinea different from the countries of Southeast Asia. It’s pretty much the same factors that make the people of Western New Guinea desire independence from Indonesia. The people of Papua New Guinea are Melanesian, not Asian, and their location on the Pacific means they pay more attention to Australia and the island nations of the Pacific. Furthermore, unlike Southeast Asians, the Papuans have no heritage of a grand kingdom with an advanced culture, from the years before the Europeans colonized them; you won’t find the ruins of ancient cities like Angkor if you visit New Guinea. So like their South Pacific neighbors, New Guinea’s history begins when European explorers discovered their island.

Several key nations from beyond Southeast Asia, like China and the United States, have also been invited to send their leaders to the summits, as observers. I think I told you in previous episodes that US President Barack Obama attended the 2016 summit in Laos, and that his successor, Donald Trump, went to the second 2017 summit in the Philippines. Incidentally, this was a turbulent time for Philippine-US relations, thanks to the mercurial personality of the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte. Though Duterte’s term in office spanned the administrations of three US presidents, it was only at the 2017 summit that he got to meet with one of them.


Each year a different country acts as host to the summits. Most of the countries have hosted the summits multiple times by now, except for Myanmar, which has shown it still has an isolationist tendency by only hosting the summits once, in 2014. The most recent summit where the leaders met in person was held in Bangkok in 2019, and Thailand acted as the host. Here the main issues discussed were the trade war between the US and China, and the dispute over who owns the South China Sea. The members warned US President Trump that US protectionism is not good for them or international trade in general. Regarding the South China Sea, that issue is important because China has claimed that whole body of water and is building islands with a military base in the middle of it. In addition, half of the world’s merchant fleet tonnage goes through the South China Sea, and the area is a rich source of oil, natural gas, and fish.

Since 2019 the summits have continued, but because of the COVID pandemic, the meetings have been held online, turned into a big videoconference. The Vietnamese prime minister was chairman of the 2020 meetings, while the sultan of Brunei filled the same role in 2021. For this year, 2022, Cambodia will host the summits, but I have not heard a date for when they will take place, or if these will be online meetings as well.

Since 1976, ASEAN has been led by 14 secretary-generals. Each secretary-general is appointed to serve for a five-year term. The current secretary-general is Lim Jock Hoi; he comes from Brunei, and has held office since January 1, 2018. Since the countries go in alphabetical order regarding which one the secretary general comes from, I believe Lim Jock Hoi’s successor will come from Cambodia, and he or she will take charge at the beginning of 2023.


No member of ASEAN has ever quit or been expelled, but Myanmar chose not to take part in the 38th and 39th ASEAN Summits, after its military leaders were barred from attending, because of the February 2021 coup in Myanmar, and the military leaders’ response to the protests that followed. This is the most recent event concerning ASEAN that I talked about in the podcast; it’s in Episode #118. It is also the most severe punishment given to an ASEAN member, because ASEAN has an official policy of, quote, “non-interference in the internal affairs of member nations.” Unquote. For example, in 2018, when Myanmar’s state counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, asked ASEAN for help with her country’s Rohingya crisis, ASEAN’s chair refused, saying it was an “internal matter.” In fact, for this issue, the organization’s members split along religious lines, with Moslem nations taking the side of the Rohingya, while Buddhist nations initially sided more with Myanmar’s government, until the outside world started condemning the persecution of the Rohingya minority.

An invitation was extended for Myanmar to send a “non-political representative” to the 2021 summits, but none was sent. On the podcast’s Facebook page, I shared a screen shot from the second 2021 summit. It shows a TV screen split into several panels, one for the representative of each nation, and a big panel in the center for whoever has the floor at any given time. In the panel for the Myanmar representative, all you see is an empty desk. At the time of this recording, I have not heard if Myanmar will take part in the next summit.

ASEAN’s main goal regarding the economy is to establish a single market based on the “Four Freedoms” declared by the European Union. Those four freedoms are: the free movement of goods, free movement of capital, freedom to establish and provide services, and free movement of persons. For this purpose, a committee called the ASEAN Economic Community, or AEC, was set up in 2015. The original deadline for the single market was also in 2015, but there was not enough trade between the nations at that date to declare the goal had been met, so a new deadline has been set for 2025. There is also a plan to unite the currencies of the ASEAN countries, China, Japan and South Korea, replacing them with a single Asian monetary unit, much like the Euro, should the single market be successfully established.

I said earlier that ASEAN would not just be about economic cooperation; it would also promote cooperation on social, cultural, technical, and educational issues. Accordingly, an Ad-hoc Committee on Science and Technology met in Jakarta in April 1970, and this led to the establishment of an ASEAN Permanent Committee on Science and Technology in 1971. In 1978, the committee was renamed the ASEAN Committee on Science and Technology, or ASEAN COST. Once every three years, this committee gives away the ASEAN Outstanding Science and Technologist Award, to a Southeast Asian scientist or technologist whose achievements have been nationally and internationally recognized.

To promote cooperation in education, the ASEAN University Network, or AUN, was founded in 1995; currently it has thirty participating universities. In addition, the governments of Singapore and Australia offer scholarships, which cover accommodation, food, medical benefits, accident insurance, school fees, and examination fees for promising students in secondary schools, junior colleges, and universities.

ASEAN’s efforts to promote Southeast Asian culture include media promotions, and contests in sports, educational activities and writing. The main sporting event is the Southeast Asian Games, which are held every two years and feature the meeting of athletes from the ten member-states. One non-member state, East Timor, also participates in the games. On top of all the other activities mentioned, a group called the ASEAN Center for Biodiversity, or ACB, has declared 51 national parks in the region ASEAN Heritage Parks; these parks are known for their unique biodiversity and ecosystems, and are outstanding in their scenic, cultural, educational, research, recreational and tourist values.

And finally, as the twenty-first century began, ASEAN began talking about environmental agreements on air pollution, trash dumping, deforestation, threatened or endangered species, and changes in energy production to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


And that’s where ASEAN stands, as we bring this episode to a close. Over the next few months, I plan to record two, maybe more episodes, on overlooked topics that you requested, so join me next time to hear something else that’s special concerning Southeast Asia.

I will finish by asking for donations, because we have really gone through the summer doldrums, when it comes to financial support. I want to thank all of you who made pledges on Patreon, and are still with me there, but with the one-time donations, only one, that of Alexei K., has come in over the past four months. As always, this podcast is free for you the listeners, but not for me the podcaster; whereas it shouldn’t cost you anything to download and listen to the episodes, it costs me some money, and more than a little time, to produce them. To make a one-time donation, follow the Paypal links I posted, on the Blubrry.com page where this episode is hosted, or on the podcast’s Facebook page. After you click on the link, follow the instructions. You can also support the podcast by going to the Patreon page and becoming a Patron, where you pledge to give a small amount at the beginning of each month, $1 or more. If you want to do that, there is also a Patreon link on the Blubrry page.

Those who make a one-time donation will get their first names added to the Podcast’s Hall of Fame Page. And if you donated in previous years, there’s more. Those who donate in two different years will get special recognition with the coveted water buffalo icon added, next to their name. Those who donate in three years will get the ever-popular Shwedagon Pagoda icon added next to their name, as we saw with Alexei K. And early this year I made the OUTRAGEOUS Merlion icon. If you donate in four years you will get the OUTRAGEOUS Merlion icon next to your name! So far two of you have won that honor; who will be the third?

Now it’s time to get started working on the next episode. To everyone who is still here, thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!


I am Alive and Well

Once I received a fortune cookie that said, “Youth is a blunder, middle age is a struggle, and old age is a regret.” I guess I am still middle-aged, because this summer has definitely been a struggle for me, when it comes to making enough money to pay the bills! With two of the most recent examples, I had to replace my cell phone, when it overheated and melted down (literally), and my wife’s computer was in the repair shop for a week.

Because of these challenges, I have been unable to work on the podcast for days at a time. This is a note to reassure all my listeners that I still plan to record a few more episodes, and I am working on Episode #123 whenever I can. Expect it to become available sometime in early September. See you again soon!

Episode 122: The Boat People

This is the first episode I promised on special topics that were overlooked when we were going through the historical narrative, in previous episodes. Today we have an in-depth look at the Boat People, the refugees who fled Vietnam in the last quarter of the twentieth century. Listen and enjoy!



Episode 122: The Boat People

Greetings dear listeners, for the 122nd time, from the hills of Bluegrass Country in Kentucky! Here we are having a hot and dry summer. If we don’t get some more rain, the bluegrass is going to turn brown. But then it’s July, and July is supposed to be hot. July is also a month for birthdays in this house. My wife had her birthday while I was recording this. The other birthday is for the podcast. The sixth anniversary of the podcast came up on July 1. Yes, for those of you who were with me when I got started on this project, we have now been going at it for six years, so Happy Birthday to the History of Southeast Asia Podcast!


And now on to business.

This is the first of the special episodes I promised to cover loose ends. Veteran listeners will remember that with Episode #119, we finished the historical narrative for Southeast Asia, at least up to 2021. Not enough has happened in Southeast Asia since then, to justify doing an episode about what is happening there now. And then I spent two episodes answering the questions that you the listeners sent in. Now it’s time to cover the topics I left out, that you wanted to hear more about. Today’s topic is about the “Boat People,” those who left Indochina in the last quarter of the twentieth century, and settled in whatever part of the world would have them.

Before we dive into today’s content, a definition is in order. Because Southeast Asia is a place with many islands surrounded by shallow seas, it is common for people here to travel and earn a living with boats. When I say “Boat People,” I do not mean the fishermen found off almost every shore, or the pirates that prowl in Southeast Asian waters even today. Nor do I mean the Badjao, also called Sea Gypsies, a Philippine tribe whose members spend nearly all of their lives in boats on the sea. Both the pirates and the Sea Gypsies can be the topics of future episodes, as I have barely mentioned the pirates in this podcast, and I don’t think I mentioned the Sea Gypsies until now. Here the term “Boat People” will mean a group of refugees who fled from Vietnam for political or economic reasons, between 1975 and 1995. The three countries that Vietnam shared land borders with — China, Cambodia and Laos — were all communist, and mostly covered by jungle, so a hike through them was never an attractive option. Some refugees did make it through those countries to Thailand, where the Thais put them in refugee camps until another country took them in, but most Vietnamese took their chances by boarding any boats available and sailing them across the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand; hence the term “Boat People.”

Now I knew from the start why Mark Vinet requested this topic. Do you remember when I covered wars the United States was involved in — the Philippine-American War, World War II, and the Indochina Wars — and I said they counted as both Asian and American history? Well, Mark hosts the History of North America Podcast, and the Boat People are a part of recent American history, too. I remember in 1975, shortly after the first refugees arrived, NewsWeek Magazine printed an issue that showed a crying Vietnamese family on the cover, with a title that read, quote, “The New Americans.” Unquote. Maybe someday Mark will record his own episode on this. Mark, if you’re listening, more power to you!

Also, while I was working on this, the Fourth Annual Intelligent Speech conference took place. This is an online meeting of educational podcasters and their listeners. I gave a presentation at the second conference, in 2020; some of you may remember that. This year I attended, but did not give a presentation. If I had been one of the speakers, this episode would have been part of my presentation. The theme of this year’s conference was “Crossing,” so I could have talked about the Boat People crossing the ocean, in the hope of finding a new home.

When I started researching this topic, I thought this should be easy, since I knew some of the subject matter already. Everything I will be covering today happened during my lifetime, after all. Instead I found that all by itself, the story of Vietnamese refugees is a huge subject to study! In fact, I discovered another podcast that is just about the Boat People. It’s called the Vietnamese Boat People Podcast, and at the time of this recording, it has forty-one episodes, each telling a story about the refugees. So if you’d like to know more about this topic, after you’re done listening to me, look for the website Vietnameseboatpeople.org . I have already added it to the list of podcasts I listen to.

And finally, I would like to give a shout-out to the China History Podcast, by Laszlo Montgomery. At least twice in the past, Laszlo mentioned this show, when talking about relations between China and Vietnam. Laszlo, if you’re listening to this, more power to you as well! In a recent episode, Episode #293 on the China History Podcast feed, the story was told of David Tran, the creator of Sriracha sauce. It turns out Mr. Tran is one of the Boat People, who came to California and made good there, by successfully duplicating the hot sauce he made in Vietnam, and setting up the factory that makes this popular condiment for us. Unfortunately, a few days ago, I heard that the factory shut down, because the ongoing drought in California has created a shortage of the hot peppers needed for the sauce. Since you can grow hot peppers in most of the country, I hope that other states can grow enough of them to allow the factory to reopen soon. And for what it’s worth, my favorite hot peppers are the datil peppers grown in St. Augustine, Florida. I also found out from that episode that the first “R” in “Sriracha” is silent; for the past thirty years I had been pronouncing it “Sriracha,” like it was a Sanskrit name. Oh well, you learn something new every day!

Okay, enough about other podcasts that talk about subjects related to this one. Our story begins in 1975, when the Americans evacuated Indochina following the collapse of the governments in Cambodia, South Vietnam and Laos, and the first wave of refugees fled with them. We covered this in Episode #96, so if you haven’t listened to that episode already, what are you doing here? Go listen to Episode #96 first, so you’ll know what the situation was when the refugees started leaving their homelands. Or go ahead and listen again, if you want to refresh your memory. Either way, I’ll be here when you return.


Are you back? Good. I told you I’d wait. Anyway, the main group of refugees who left in 1975 were 130,000 Vietnamese. Only a few Cambodians left with the Americans evacuating Phnom Penh, because they did not expect the holocaust the Khmer Rouge were about to inflict on that country. In the case of Laos, the communist takeover was mostly peaceful, so except for the Hmong tribe, there wasn’t a crowd of Laotians wanting to leave when the Americans did. The main group of Laotians the Americans took out were 1,000 to 3,000 Hmong tribesmen. In all three countries, the refugees were people who faced torture, time in “re-education camps,” and famine, if the communists captured them. These people included soldiers of the defeated armies, members of the fallen governments, others who worked alongside the Americans in one way or another, and of course, the families of all these people. And compared with the refugees who left Indochina later on, these were the lucky ones; by riding on ships and aircraft with the Americans, they made it safely to the United States, and their stay in the refugee camps was relatively short.

US President Gerald Ford signed the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, which allocated $415 million to provide transportation, healthcare, and accomodations to the refugees. Most of the refugees were first landed on the island of Guam, the nearest US territory to Indochina, where they were settled in a tent city until the paperwork was done on them, and then they could continue to the US mainland. The rest made their first stop on other Pacific Islands, like Wake Island. The program of transporting the refugees was called Operation New Arrivals, while the program to take care of them on Guam was called Operation New Life.

Alas, because the Americans only had a few days to plan and carry out the evacuations, mistakes were made. I will read what Wikipedia said about this, from its article on Operation New Life. Quote:

“The objective of the evacuation of South Vietnamese had been to remove U.S. government employees and their families, and Vietnamese with close associations with the United States, who were in danger of persecution by the victorious North Vietnamese. Many of the refugees were former officers in the South Vietnamese military and officials of the South Vietnamese government. However, a Congressional report summed up characteristics of the refugees who arrived in Guam as follows: “Half the Vietnamese we intended to get out did not get out – and half who did get out should not have.” The refugees included “farmers … an entire fishing village … Many gave the impression of not knowing where they were or why they were there. Some had simply fled in panic.” However, once in Guam, “their destination was the United States … how many never intended to travel to continental United States will never be known.” Nevertheless, the majority of the Vietnamese on Guam were from the educated elite of the country. Twenty percent had attended a University; 40 percent were Catholic, and 35 percent spoke some English — all much higher percentages than those of the Vietnamese population as a whole.” End quote.

Four refugee camps were set up on the US mainland, all in military bases. The bulk of the refugees went to Camp Pendleton, in San Diego, California. The rest went to Fort Chaffee in Arkansas, Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania, or Eglin Air Force Base in Pensacola, Florida. Because I was living 457 miles, or 735 kilometers, from Pensacola at that time, most of the news I heard about the Vietnamese refugees had to do with those in Eglin.


The United States has been called a nation of immigrants, because most US citizens can trace their ancestry to people who came from elsewhere, but traditionally, they have not been receptive to immigrants who come over in large numbers. Americans didn’t like it when Irish refugees arrived in the 1840s, fleeing the Potato Famine, and more recently, they weren’t too happy about the refugees who came in the 2010s, fleeing the Syrian civil war. As for the Vietnamese in 1975, never before — and never again — did the United States absorb as many new people at one time, from one place, as it did here. As a result, many Americans did not want Vietnamese refugees coming to America. For them the war in Vietnam had been a very long and unpopular war, and the refugees were a reminder of a conflict they now wanted to forget. Only gradually would they accept these newcomers. In May 1975, when the first wave of refugees arrived after the fall of South Vietnam, a Harris poll showed support for welcoming them into the US at 37% for and 49% against, with 14% uncertain. President Ford reminded Americans that they had a responsibility to look after those Vietnamese who had been their friends during the war. As he put it, quote, “[T]o ignore the refugees in their hour of need would be to repudiate the values we cherish as a nation of immigrants, and I was not about to let Congress do that.” Unquote.

Podcast footnote: One of the news stories I remember from 1975 reported that teenagers living near Eglin Air Force Base were planning to drive the Vietnamese out of the neighborhood by forming a “Gook Klux Klan.” Nothing came of that, and apologies for the racial slur.

Another story I heard was that for their first meals, the refugees were only given rice to eat. Fortunately, it was soon discovered that they were willing to eat American food, and the menu got better after that — even hamburgers were offered to them. Also, many of them had never used Western silverware in Vietnam, so they learned to use forks and spoons here.

Nowadays the shoe is on the other foot. The former refugees and their descendants have opened Vietnamese restaurants all over America, so if you are American, they want to feed YOU! Go ahead and try their cooking; it’s delicious. Myself, I had my first banh mi at a local sandwich shop, and I recommend pho, Vietnamese noodle soup, if you need to warm up on a cold day. End footnote.

The refugees were allowed to leave the camps as individuals or in family-sized groups, when sponsors were found who agreed to take care of them, until they could get established with new homes and jobs. The sponsors also found schools for the children, and arranged English language classes for those who needed them. By November 1975 all refugees from the first wave had been matched with sponsors, and the camps were closed. To minimize their impact on the rest of the American population, care was taken not to send too many refugees to one community; they were spread out to every state, and to almost every city.

However, after the refugees found that their lives were getting better, many would move again, this time to the places where they really wanted to live. Often the place was California. That’s why nowadays, California has by far the largest Indochinese community of any state. Texas comes in a distant second place, and Washington State comes in third.

Podcast footnote: I think I mentioned in a previous episode that California also has the largest Filipino-American community in the US. In 2003 I read a news story about a Califonia university — I forget which one — which had so many Vietnamese and Filipino students that they demanded separate graduation ceremonies, to be conducted in Vietnamese and Tagalog rather than in English. I don’t know what became of that. End footnote.


For three years after the Second Indochina War ended, from mid-1975 to mid-1978, the number of refugees leaving Vietnam was relatively small; only a few thousand left. These were the first of the “Boat People” you have heard of. If the authorities caught them trying to leave, they would let them go after confiscating whatever possessions they had, so they would leave with only the clothes on their backs. Some of the boats could only carry a single family, others had room for hundreds of refugees; all of them were unseaworthy. Sometimes the crew of the boats had no knowledge of sailing. Most of them aimed their boats for countries in Southeast Asia that were not communist: Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines or Singapore. These countries set up holding camps, but none of them wanted the newcomers.

The second big wave of refugees began to leave Vietnam in May 1978. This time the main reason for the exit was racial discrimination; most of the refugees were ethnic Chinese. We have seen that at other times, the Chinese communities in Southeast Asia became scapegoats, and were periodically driven out or massacred in places like Manila and Jakarta. Now the Vietnamese government was picking on the Chinese in Vietnam, because relations with China were deteriorating, and the Chinese, which are called Hoa in Vietnam, were seen as a security risk. Typically the Chinese made a living as merchants and bankers; in South Vietnam they had controlled much of the retail trade. Therefore the communist government imposed new taxes on them, placed restrictions on trade, and confiscated businesses. At first, many of the Hoa fled by land, crossing the border into China. Then in 1979 came the brief war between China and Vietnam, which we covered in Episode #107. Since the Sino-Vietnamese border was now a war zone, the Hoa joined the other boat people, and escaped Vietnam by taking boats across the South China Sea. One of those who successfully made the exodus at this date was David Tran, the Sriracha king I mentioned earlier. Though Tran is a Vietnamese name, his ancestry is Chinese; his family comes from the Teochew minority, in China’s Guangdong Province.

By the end of the 1970s, all the elements of the Boat People Exodus were in play. The refugees moved secretly, usually traveling at night, and bribing government officials who got in the way. There was a network set up where middle class refugees traveled with forged identity documents, going from Ho Chi Minh City to Danang, and there they typically waited up to two days in safe houses before boarding a ship. Some bought passage on large boats that could carry hundreds of passengers; others got on whatever fishing boats were handy. Many had to try escaping more than once (call those false starts if you wish), before they finally succeeded.

In a best-case scenario, the refugees were picked up by a more seaworthy ship from a foreign nation, or after a week or two at sea, they reached another Southeast Asian country or Hong Kong. However, if the crew of the boat didn’t know what they were doing, they could be lost at sea for months, and that multiplied all the dangers. Besides the danger of sinking, they ran the risks of stormy weather, running out of food and water, disease, sharks and pirates. Because of the nature of the exodus, we don’t have exact figures on how many refugees died at sea. What we do know is that almost 800,000 Boat People made it to another country between 1975 and 1995. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, estimates that between 200,000 and 400,000 did not make it, meaning that anywhere from one fifth to one third of the refugees did not survive the trip. Other organizations estimating the number of casualties have made guesses ranging from 10 to 70 percent.


Regarding the pirates, some clarification is in order, because modern pop culture has glamorized pirates, especially the ones that were active in the Caribbean Sea, three hundred years ago. Well if you lived during the so-called “Golden Age of Piracy,” you would have viewed pirates the same way that most of us view present-day terrorists; you probably would not want to meet them, if at all possible. Likewise, there is nothing glamorous about the pirates active in today’s world, in the Indian Ocean near Somalia as well as in the waters around Southeast Asia. In all cases they were, and still are, bloodthirsty robbers and killers. To give you an idea of how dangerous pirate encounters were for the Boat People, I will read you what Wikipedia says about that. Quote:

“A typical story of the hazards faced by the boat people was told in 1982 by a man named Le Phuoc. He left Vietnam with 17 other people in a boat only 23 feet (7 meters) long to attempt the 300 mile (500 km) passage across the Gulf of Thailand to southern Thailand or Malaysia. Their two outboard motors soon failed and they drifted without power and ran out of food and water. Thai pirates boarded their boat three times during their 17-day voyage, raped the four women on board and killed one, stole all the possessions of the refugees, and abducted one man who was never found. When their boat sank they were rescued by a Thai fishing boat and ended up in a refugee camp on the coast of Thailand.”

“UNHCR began compiling statistics on piracy in 1981. In that year, 452 boats carrying Vietnamese boat people arrived in Thailand carrying 15,479 refugees. 349 of the boats had been attacked by pirates an average of three times each. ‘578 women had been raped; 228 women had been abducted; and 881 people were dead or missing.’ An international anti-piracy campaign began in June 1982 and reduced the number of pirate attacks although they continued to be frequent and often deadly until 1990.”

End quote.

I mentioned earlier that the countries reached by the Boat People did not want to take them in. Some boats were “pushed back,” meaning they were forced to go back to the sea; other refugees were returned to Indochina, or simply denied permission to land. Even so, the number of refugees making the crossing soon exceeded the ability of local governments, the UN, and charity organizations to provide the food, water, housing and health care needed. In just one month, June 1979, 54,000 Boat People successfully made the crossing, and the refugee camps in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong would hold as many as 350,000 refugees at one time.

The two largest refugee camps were on Bidong Island in Malaysia, and Galang Island in Indonesia. Both of these were small offshore islands, which kept the refugees isolated from the main population of those countries. The Philippines opened a camp for their refugees on the Bataan peninsula, north of the infamous Bataan Nuclear Power Plant that I told you about in Episode #100; this was called the Philippine Refugee Processing Center. Singapore’s refugee camp was a former British military barracks, at 25 Hawkins Road. Finally, Thailand had several refugee camps, because the refugees who went there traveled overland as well as by sea. All of these camps ended up handling many more refugees than they were intended to hold, when they were set up. The refugees had to wait months — sometimes years — in the camps, before they could move on to a permanent home.

Podcast footnote: I went to a business convention in 2009, and probably my favorite speaker at that event was a Laotian named Kao Khamphilavong. As a kid in the 1980s, he fled from Laos to Thailand, and stayed in one of their refugee camps until they allowed him to go to the US. He had such a strong desire to succeed that he went into business for himself after he grew up, and he has succeeded at more than one venture that he tried. The last time I heard from Mr. Khamphilavong, he was opening up a tea parlor in his current home city, Portland, Oregon. End footnote.


By the middle of 1979, the Indochinese refugee crisis had gotten so serious that the UN held an international conference to address it in Geneva, Switzerland. The United States showed how important it viewed the conference by sending Vice President Walter Mondale to lead the US delegation. Three agreements were reached to improve the situation. First, the Southeast Asian countries reluctantly agreed to take care of the refugees temporarily, as long as another country promised to resettle them; this came to be called “First Asylum.” Second, developed countries like the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and France were persuaded to let in more refugees than they had taken already. For example, the United States Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1980, which allowed Vietnamese refugees to come directly to America if they already had members of their family there. This increased the number of refugees coming in from 9,000 per month to 25,000 per month. Third, Vietnam introduced the Orderly Departure Program, which allowed Vietnamese, if approved, to legally emigrate from Vietnam, without having to become a boat person. Because of all this, the number of refugees leaving Vietnam gradually declined afterwards. Also, life for the refugees in the camps got better. For example, now that the refugees knew which country they were going to, they could take classes to learn the language of that country.

The refugees who left Vietnam in the 1980s and early 1990s, did it more for economic reasons than political ones. Back in Episodes #107 and #113, I told you that Vietnam’s economy was in terrible shape after the Indochina Wars, and it did not start to get better until the Doi Moi reforms were passed in 1986. Even so, the number of people trying to escape from Vietnam began to increase again in the late 1980s. This time most of them headed for Hong Kong and Thailand, because the other countries said they would not accept any more refugees. In Hong Kong, the Bost People were held in detention centers, as if they were prisoners, and the education programs were eliminated. The UN called for another conference on the refugee crisis, which was also held in Geneva, in 1989. This produced the Comprehensive Plan of Action, or CPA, which introduced the requirement that all new arrivals from Vietnam have to be screened, to determine if they really were refugees, and if they weren’t they would eventually be repatriated, whether they liked it or not. Those who counted as refugees were mainly former re-education camp inmates, children of American servicemen, and close relatives of others who were already accepted in developed countries. The screening, combined with improving conditions in Vietnam, did the trick. The number of Boat People arriving in Southeast Asia and Hong Kong declined, from 70,000 in 1989 to just 41 in 1992.

For the United States, the era of the boat people ended in 1995, when diplomatic relations with Vietnam were normalized. Now the Vietnamese wanting to go to America could do it through legal immigration channels. Elsewhere the refugee camps were closed as their occupants were cleared out. The last camp to be closed was on Galang Island, in 1996; the British made sure the Hong Kong Refugee camps were closed before they gave that territory to China, in 1997.

Altogether, 1.3 million Indochinese refugees found new homes between 1975 and 1995. As you might expect, the United States took the largest share of them, at 823,000. By 2000, as they raised families, their number grew to more than one million; today eleven percent of Asian-Americans are of Vietnamese ancestry. I knew the Vietnamese had arrived on the road to acceptance as US citizens, when one of them was elected to Congress. This was Anh Quang “Joseph” Cao, who was eight years old when he fled Vietnam in 1975, and in 2008 he was elected as a Republican, to represent Louisiana’s 2nd district.

Among the other nations, Australia and Canada each accepted 137,000, France took 96,000, the United Kingdom and West Germany each took 19,000, and New Zealand took nearly 11,000. In recent years many of them have been able to go back and visit Vietnam, bringing their children who have never seen where their parents came from.


I will finish this episode by telling you my impressions and memories of the Vietnamese who settled in the city where I grew up, Orlando, Florida. I first saw a Vietnamese family in the summer of 1975, when they came to the church my family was attending at the time. These folks, who had three small children, were among the Vietnamese who escaped their homeland with the departing Americans, when the war ended a few months earlier. Keep in mind that before the war ended, less than 15,000 Vietnamese lived in the United States, a nation which had a population of 213 million at that time. Because the subtropical climate makes Florida look a little bit like Vietnam, more would come in the next few years. They concentrated their attention on a neighborhood on the city’s north side, at the intersection of Mills Avenue and East Colonial Drive. Over the course of the 1980s, they opened shops, until every business within a quarter mile of the intersection was Vietnamese-owned; the first one I remember was a grocery store called Dong A, which is still open today. I called the neighborhood Little Saigon, without knowing that there was a larger neighborhood with the same name in Los Angeles. Today the neighborhood is often called the Mills 50 District, after the two main roads; State Road 50 is another name for Colonial Drive. Besides grocery stores, there are also restaurants, martial arts schools, jewelers, practitioners of traditional Eastern medicine, and even a place of worship for the Baha’i religion. About three miles to the east, a house was converted into a Buddhist temple, which was mostly attended by the Vietnamese.

By the year 2000, there were 17,000 Vietnamese-Americans in Central Florida. Like in the rest of America, they made up just over ten percent of the Asian-American population. After I married a lady from the Philippines, I became aware that Orlando was also home to at least 5,000 Filipinos. However, the local Filipinos and Vietnamese did not interact as much as you might think. This was because they chose to follow different professions. I noticed that when Filipinos come to America, most of them either become doctors and nurses, or join the Navy. By contrast, the Vietnamese appeared to me like a nation of born shopkeepers. They definitely have the entrepreneurial spirit, and it shows in how hard they work for their stores. Usually, the only day of the year when they are closed is Tet, the Lunar New Year; I remember going to the stores in the Mills 50 District even on Thanksgiving or Christmas Day, and finding them open. And it seems that in the middle of the day, a good part of the Vietnamese community gathers in those shops, to buy lunch and to socialize.

During the twenty years that both my wife and I lived in Orlando, a few Filipino stores and restaurants existed, but most of them did not stay in business for more than a year. My wife patronized them, out of a desire to support people from her home country, but I only remember one Filipino-owned store that was consistently open for the whole time we lived there. Often it was more convenient to go to the Vietnamese stores to get the special ingredients she needed for her cooking.

Another characteristic of the Vietnamese stores was that the walls were covered with advertisements for Vietnamese music, featuring pictures of the artists. Surprisingly, one of the most popular artists was a blond white woman, who went by the stage name of Dalena. The story I heard was that Dalena lived in Winter Garden, a small town ten miles west of Orlando, but she learned to sing perfectly in all three dialects of the Vietnamese language.

I moved from Florida to my present-day home, in Kentucky, in 2006, but I heard that Orlando’s Vietnamese community continued to enjoy success after I left. They took over a shopping center on the west side of the city, turning it into another neighborhood like the Mills 50 District. The largest store used to be a Publix, one of Florida’s major supermarkets, and it became an Asian supermarket; now that’s impressive. Finally, I should mention that Stephanie Murphy became the first Vietnamese woman elected to Congress in 2016. She has represented Florida’s 7th congressional district since then, as a Democrat. If I still lived in the Orlando area, Ms. Murphy would be my representative.


All right! I think I will end this episode on a positive note. Almost fifty years after the Vietnamese refugees fled abroad, they have found new homes in places that have accepted them, and now they have children and grandchildren in those places as well. I for one am glad to have them here. And here in the United States, they have taken over the nail industry; if you have had your nails done in a salon, chances are it was a Vietnamese-owned business, and you’re probably glad to have them here, too.

What’s next for the podcast? I have another special episode on a topic that one of you suggested. Join me next time to find out what it is!

Normally I begin each episode by thanking those who made donations since the previous episode was recorded. Why didn’t I do it this time? Because there haven’t been any donations to the show lately. A financial dry spell is like a dry spell in the weather — it can never end soon enough. So if you enjoyed this episode and can afford to help out, consider ending the dry spell by giving a donation, using Paypal. Or if you would rather contribute a small amount every month, consider becoming a Patron, by going to my Patreon page! The Paypal button and a link to Patreon can be found on the Blubrry.com page where you got this episode; I have also posted those links once or twice on the podcast’s Facebook page. On Patreon we are hanging in there, with 23 terrific Patrons supporting the show! Would you like to be the 24th one?

Like I always say when an episode is done, thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!


Episode 121: Question & Answer Session 5

As promised, here is the newest episode! Today I answer the eleven questions I didn’t have time for in the previous episode.


This episode is dedicated to Russell I., William S., and Torsten J., for the donations they have made to the podcast. All three of them are long-time listeners, who have donated in two previous years, so they will now get the ever-popular Shwe Dagon Pagoda icon next to their names, on the Podcast Hall of Fame Page. One of the blessings I have given to donors in the past was, “may you keep your head while everyone else is losing theirs,” and since we are going through a turbulent year, that seems appropriate again. May all three of you go against the winds and currents of our time, because real success comes to those who can resist the urge to follow the masses. And now let’s get to the episode!

Episode 121: Question & Answer Session 5

Greetings, dear listeners, for the 121st time, from the hills of Bluegrass country in Kentucky! If this is the first time you have listened to this podcast, I’m glad you’re here, but you have a lot of catching up to do. And if you have heard from me before, I’m glad you’re back! Of all the podcasts you have listened to, this is certainly one of them!

Once again, I have kept you waiting longer than I should. Did I say this was going to be a busy year? Yes, that is definitely turning out to be the norm!

Because work on this episode dragged out, the election I told you about in the Philippines took place on May 9, and I can tell you how it turned out. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., also known by the nickname of “Bongbong” Marcos, was the easy winner in the presidential race. In fact, he is the first presidential candidate I can remember who won with a majority of the votes cast. Veteran listeners will remember that I devoted two episodes to the long-lasting presidency of his father, Episodes #100 and #110. Bongbong’s victory is seen not only as a sign that he succeeded in making the voters forget about how the country was plundered when his family was last in charge — it is also seen as a sign that the voters don’t want politics as usual. Which is why they elected his predecessor, outgoing president Rodrigo Duterte. And speaking of Duterte, his daughter, Sara Duterte, won the race for vice president by a landslide. In that sense, the Philippines is really an oligarchy, with two families, the Marcoses and the Dutertes, holding much, if not most of the power.

My in-laws have never been fans of the Marcos family; they voted for Manny Pacquiao, the famous boxer who was also a candidate. Now my wife is watching to see when Imelda will return to Malacanang Palace; she has been out of public view for the past few years because she is retired. One thing’s for sure; the next six years will be interesting ones. If you were hoping for a quiet time after the bully-boy Duterte leaves office, too bad. It looks like when this podcast is finished, I will have to come back and record at least one more episode after all.

If you listened to the previous episode, you know that we are finished with the historical narrative for Southeast Asia, at least until Bongbong Marcos does something special, and I started taking care of the loose ends remaining by giving you a question-and-answer episode. All of you were good at sending in questions; so good, in fact, that I didn’t have time to answer them all. So today I am here to drop the other foot, by tackling the eleven questions left.


Q0: Now let’s get on with the unanswered questions. The first one comes from Brian F. He and I go back a while; he followed my writings before I started this podcast:

How do you see religion changing in southeast Asia over the next 200 years? Going into this I’m referring to the diversity in the region, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, all having major followings when all countries are being considered. I can imagine Christian missionaries will want to replicate success in Sub-Saharan Africa with gaining adherents in SE Asia. Are atheism/agnosticism/”other” gaining notable transaction? Folk religion or New Age (beliefs)? Are any of the communist regimes persecuting religious followers, or are Buddhist/Muslim/Hindu regimes actively persecuting religious minorities?

Okay, you put several questions together, so let’s see how I do at answering them. First, if any religions have the initiative here, they are two monotheistic ones, Christianity and Islam. Hinduism and Buddhism enjoyed success when most Southeast Asians followed animism, the idea that there were spirits all around them, in everything they could see. However, today Hinduism has largely disappeared, except where Indian communities exist. Still, a number of ideas from Hindu mythology have persisted; they are most visible on Bali in Indonesia. I also mentioned some examples of Hindu culture in the latest episode on Thailand, like the replica of Mt. Meru at the royal funeral in 2017. And I think I mentioned in one of the early episodes that Bangkok’s international airport is called Suvarnabhumi Airport; Suvarnabhumi is Sanskrit for “land of gold,” an old Indian name for the Southeast Asian mainland. As for Buddhism, it has managed to hold its ground on the mainland, but it can only make a few converts in areas that are predominantly Christian or Moslem. What gives the advantage to Christianity and Islam is that both of them have the zeal to make converts, and both have relatively high birthrates, though like much of the world, they aren’t having as many kids as they used to. And once a community is converted to one or the other, it tends to stay that way, especially in Moslem areas, where the penalty for renouncing Islam is often death. So if there are any changes over the 21st and 22nd centuries, I would expect Islam, and to a lesser extent Christianity, will continue to gain ground.

One thing you might want to keep an eye on is how Christian and Moslem practices in Southeast Asia are consistent with those in the rest of the world. In the past, the answer would have been “not much.” Like Latin America, the Philippines is known for celebrating a variety of fiestas around the country, which combine Catholic symbols with pre-Christian ones. And I mentioned in the podcast that Indonesians combined Islamic practices with the Hindu, Buddhist and animist practices they followed before Islam came to the islands. As Fareed Zakaria explained in his book The Future of Freedom, most Moslems around the world in the past, quote, “practiced a kind of village Islam that adapted itself to local cultures and to normal human desires. Pluralistic and tolerant, these villages often worshipped saints, went to shrines, sang religious hymns and cherished art–all technically disallowed in Islam.” End quote. Like Southeast Asians, African, Turkish, Persian, and Indian Moslems chose to keep some elements of the old culture, rather than abandon their pre-Islamic heritage completely, but in our own time, the Arab, more “fundamentalist” interpretation of the Koran has taken over, so anything not approved by the Koran may get plowed under. Zakaria called this, quote, “Islam of the high church as opposed to Islam of the street fair.” End quote.

As for Christian missionaries, I agree they would appreciate any converts they can make in this part of the world. I did mention that on New Guinea they succeeded in converting most of the indigenous population, and in Burma they converted members of the minority groups, but not the Burmese majority, which stuck to Buddhism. And I know from personal experience that Protestant missionaries are active in the Philippines; my wife comes from a family of Assembly of God pastors!

Regarding persecutions, the communists were brutal on religious groups in Indochina right after they took over in 1975, but as far as I know, today they leave all faiths alone. For more on that, see my latest episodes about Laos and Vietnam, #108 and #113. The only case I can recall at the moment where one religious group is actively persecuting another is in Myanmar. That is the case of the Buddhist Burmese and Arakanese going after the Moslem Rohingya, of course, and I covered that at length in Episode #118.

Okay, we have ten more questions, and they all come from one listener, Setya P. Setya gave me some difficult questions, so let’s see how I fare.

Hi! I am Setya. I just listened to your episode asking for some questions, and I hope I am not too late.

Q1. My first question is, would you make a more in depth episode on the eastern Indonesian history? I remember listening to your Indonesian episode and I don’t think you explore much about Eastern Indonesia (except for modern separatist movements), so I think one or two episodes dedicated to this region could be great. I especially interested to learn about Ternate and Tidore (their rivalries and alliance with European powers, and how they survived colonialism and how they integrated with the Indonesian government), about Pattimura fight against the Dutch (and the transition from British rule to Dutch rule), and how the Japanese occupation happened in this region.

Yes, I admit that compared with Java, Sumatra and Borneo, I skipped over Indonesia’s eastern islands. You may remember from Episode 60 that this is the area the Dutch wanted to become a separate state, called Negara Indonesia Timur. And after recording the episode about the Dutch East India Company, I thought I could have said more about how the Dutch gained control over the Moluccas.

The reason why I haven’t talked much about this area is because I have never had as much information about the eastern islands as I do about the big islands to the west. And over the course of history, it seems that the eastern islands have always been on the periphery of Southeast Asian civilization. All of the major Indonesian states — from Srivijaya and Majapahit to the present-day nation — have been based on Sumatra or Java. Recently I shared the announcement that Indonesia’s capital will be moved from Jakarta to a location on the east side of Borneo; I will be watching to see how that changes the government’s perspective on everything.

In a nutshell, I can do a future episode on the eastern islands, just like I did an episode on western New Guinea, but it’s going to take quite a bit of research, and I already know I won’t find much in the books I have at home. Maybe a trip to the library is called for here. I’m not going to look up what Wikipedia says on the subject, and consider my work done! So if I do such an episode, expect it to take a month, at least.

Question 2: Second, speaking about surviving sultanates, do you think you can have an episode on Yogyakarta? It is the last sultanate in Southeast Asia as far as I know that still exercises executive power. The Sultan of Yogyakarta is also the Governor of Yogyakarta and there has been political struggle about that (from the central government trying to revoke that privilege and the looming succession crisis). I wish to know how they got this special status, why they don’t go independent like Brunei, why the neighbouring sultanate (Surakarta) doesn’t get the same treatment, and what do you think will happen in the future?

I did mention the Sultanate of Yogyakarta in Episode 60, and I believe that’s the only place where I talked about it. The Indonesian sultanates are like the Maharajas of India, in that those who cooperated with the colonial overlords were allowed to exist as autonomous states while the Europeans were in charge. Unfortunately, most modern nationalists do not believe in government by monarchy, so there isn’t really a place for the sultans in modern Indonesia, which is a unitary republic. When independence came in 1949, most of the old-time monarchs, like the Maharajas, had to give up their power and most of their property.

The royal families are still around today, but they are not considered very important, and for those who get to be called sultan, it’s a ceremonial job. Usually this means presiding over local religious festivals and events, and acting as caretaker of the important mosques in their domains. And remember what I said about Indonesia mixing Islam with older religious practices? The duties of the sultans may involve the old-time religion, too. For example, the sultan of Yogyakarta is expected to woo the Queen of the South Sea, an Indian Ocean goddess, and keep her happy so she will grant fishermen a bountiful catch and a safe passage in that treacherous sea. The sultan also has to use magic to control an ogre named Sapu Jagat, who lives in the belly of Mt. Merapi, a volcano in the middle of Java. So if Mt. Merapi erupts, the sultan usually gets blamed for it.

Even now, the sultans occasionally make news. In 2017, 600 representatives from 243 royal families got together in Jakarta for two days, in a meeting called the 5th Gathering of Kings and Sultans in the Indonesian Archipelago. And the current sultan of Yogyakarta has five daughters but no sons, so in 2015 he decreed the oldest daughter would be his heir. This caused a big fuss on Java, because the sultanate has never had a female ruler before, and many don’t think the sultanate will survive with a woman performing the expected rituals and magic. And as if the gods were showing their displeasure, Mt. Merapi erupted around the time the sultan made that decision!

Last year, The Economist magazine did a story on the sultans, because some Indonesians would like to see them get their power back. Here is how the article described the life of a typical 21st-century sultan. Quote:

“Suaib Syamsudin Sjah recalls how uneasy he felt as his extended family began to chant on the fateful day. They had gathered by a sacred spring on a beach on the island of Halmahera to discover who among them would become kolano (king) of the Lolodans, a local ethnic group. Mr. Suaib was worried that he would be chosen. As they recited a holy mantra, the spirit of Mr. Suaib’s great-grandfather, the last king of Loloda, possessed an elderly relative, who put on the dead king’s robes and picked up his sceptre. He approached each eligible descendant in turn, passing over them until he arrived at Mr. Suaib, to whom he did indeed give his ancestor’s blessing.

Mr. Suaib has been kolano of Loloda for four years now. The crown ‘is a burden for me’, he says. The job comes with many responsibilities but few perks. The stipend from the provincial government is not so generous that he can quit his day job, as a policeman. He works in a city six hours by boat from his kingdom. But his subjects would rather a ‘weekend sultan’ than none at all. When the kolano visits, ‘there’s a euphoria that you can feel among the people,’ says Ronal Tuandali, chief of the local council of a village in the kingdom.”

End quote.

Two sultans in present-day Indonesia enjoy a special status, and they are the ones you mentioned, the ones of Yogyakarta and Surakarta. I could do an episode on Yogyakarta, but everything important you need to know about that sultan has already been covered, either here or in Episode 60. Here’s a quick recap from Episode 60. When the Dutch came back after World War II, as you would expect, they occupied Jakarta, then called Batavia, and held it for the whole Indonesian War of Independence. Consequently Sukarno chose Yogyakarta, on the east side of Java, as the headquarters for the Nationalist Party. The sultan of Yogyakarta did what he could to protect Sukarno from the Dutch, and gave aid to the Nationalists; in return Sukarno let this sultan keep most of his land after the war ended and independence came. However, the sultan could not have any political power in the new nation. Instead he has become the caretaker of traditional Javanese culture, maintaining batik-cloth production, gamelan music, dances and shadow puppet plays for the benefit of the local residents and visiting tourists.

The Surakarta Sultanate is next to Yogyakarta, and it also supported the Nationalists through the whole war for independence, so at first Sukarno wanted to give it a similar status. Unfortunately for the sultanate, it was also a hotbed for communist activity, which was directed against both the Dutch and the Nationalists. In June 1946 the Nationalists changed their minds and canceled Surakarta’s special status; today the sultanate is just another part of Central Java Province.

Q3. Third question, what is your favorite Southeast Asian food and drink? What do you recommend for an outsider to eat and drink if they’ve never eaten one before?

Over the years I have tried several kinds of Southeast Asian cuisine; wherever I have lived, there were Thai and Vietnamese resaurants available. Of course I am most familiar with Philippine cuisine, since I am married to someone from those islands. There were two or three Philippine restaurants that we patronized when we were in Florida, but we haven’t found any near our present-day home. Two popular dishes from the Philipines are pancit, a noodle dish, and lumpia, or spring rolls; everyone likes it when my wife makes either one. But my favorite is probably halang-halang, the one spicy dish she knows how to make well (“halang” means spicy in Cebuano). Because the ingredients are chopped up, it’s a lot like chili, except that it uses rice instead of beans.

When it comes to halang-halang, people liked her cooking even when she tried to make it bad! Here is a story to back that up.

It was November 1996, and we were having a Thanksgiving potluck where I worked. Everyone was expected to bring a dish, so I asked my wife if she could make something. She said no, because she was tired of cooking for people she had never met. Then I got a great idea; maybe if she cooked a really evil batch of halang-halang, my co-workers wouldn’t want me to bring in any more food. She agreed to try it, and used an extra helping of onions, garlic, and jalapeno peppers, to make it really powerful, and threw in some corn and pimentos for color. When she was done I tried some, and then said a prayer. Quote: “Dear Lord, forgive us, for what we are about to do!” Unquote.


Well, I took it in to work, and would you believe they liked it? I couldn’t believe it when I brought home an empty dish at the end of the day! But a day or so later I figured out what had happened, and realized that I should have known better. A Jamaican lady was in charge of the potluck, and when it comes to food, they like it hot, too!

As for drinks, I developed a taste for kalamansi juice in the Philippines, but in my mind it’s not just a Southeast Asian drink, because the fruit also grows in Florida and south Georgia, where they are called calamondins. My wife really appreciated the calamondin tree we had in our backyard in Florida; you can use the juice in any recipe that calls for lemon or lime. And on the trip we took in 2018, we flew Cebu Pacific Airlines, which served Nescafe, some of the best coffee we have ever had. Last fall I managed to find some Nescafe from the Philippines in a Korean store near me, but due to the supply chain issues you have heard about in the news, it’s not available now. Until we can get it again, we are drinking coffee from Vietnam and Indonesia.

Q4. Fourth question, I recently learned about the “Rebellion of Manufahi” from new mandala article. It is an uprising that happened in Timor Leste during 1911-1912. Reading this, I feel like your episode on Timor Leste kinda glossed over the Pre-World War period, and makes me wonder if you perhaps can revisit earlier periods of Timor Leste? Or maybe some opinion about how the Dutch and the Portuguese governed their side of Timor (maybe similarities and differences)?

Guilty! Yes, I admit I glossed over the history of Timor, for the three-hundred-year period from when the Dutch arrived on the island, until World War II. The main issue here was that I didn’t think it was exciting enough to go into detail. What I saw was that there were many petty wars between the Portuguese and the Dutch, the border between them shifted slightly after each war, but neither side succeeded in dislodging the other completely. Therefore I just said that, and moved on.

Timor’s pre-World War II history reminds me of the ancient history of Sicily, between 500 and 200 B.C. With that Mediterranean island, the Phoenicians colonized the west side of it, and that eventually became part of the empire of Carthage. Meanwhile the Greeks founded several cities on the east side, of which the most important was Syracuse. Between them the Greeks and Carthaginians absorbed the indigenous population, the Sicels, into their colonies. For more than two hundred years they also fought over the island, but nobody conquered all of it until the Romans arrived, in the third century B.C., and turned the island into a Roman province.

If you and other listeners think I was wrong, and would like to see a detailed history of Portuguese and Dutch Timor before the mid-twentieth century, I can record an episode on it. In that case, my answer is the same as for your first question; allow me some time to do the research first.

Q5. Fifth question, with the recent rise of junta militarism in Mainland Southeast Asia, do you think it will spread to neighbouring countries? Why do you think Maritime Southeast Asia has been relatively able to maintain their democracy, while the Mainland has recently fallen into authoritarianism?

Personally I don’t expect this trend to spread. Myanmar has been strongly criticized for the February 2021 coup, and the human rights abuses it has committed since then. You may also remember me mentioning that the Burmese junta leader was not allowed to take part in the latest ASEAN summit. With Thailand, their latest coup, the one in 2014, is more of the same behavior that has characterized Thai politics for the past ninety years. They just can’t seem to set up a Western-style government that has any amount of stability. So far I haven’t heard of any abuses from the Thai prime minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, except for rigging the elections to keep himself in power. And I’ll admit I have paid more attention to King Rama X; he doesn’t seem to have learned much from his father about how to be the kind of monarch that everyone likes.

Regarding Indochina, Cambodia has a communist prime minister, Hun Sen, while the communist parties of Vietnam and Laos have held a solid grip on those countries since 1975. Again, this is nothing new; elsewhere we have seen that the most consistent belief of communist governments is their desire to perpetuate their rule, even if they have to abandon parts of Marxist ideology to do it.

And yes, I haven’t forgotten Brunei. It seems their sultan wants that little state to become a constitutional monarchy, but he’s not ready to make it happen; he still has most of the power and the oil money. I’m guessing real change won’t come there until another sultan takes over. Because the local economy is oil-based, it has done all right in both fat and lean times.

The real political successes have been among the island nations, especially Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia. With the way information travels so easily these days, those in charge can’t get away with criminal activities as easily as they could in the past. All three of the nations I just mentioned had leaders in the past that were virtual dictators, but their present-day rulers act much more responsibly. With the Philippines, for example, you may have been worried about President Duterte, because of what he has said and done over the past six years, but rather than holding onto power for life, he is getting ready to retire as I record this. This seems to be an overall trend in most of the present-day world. To give another example, Latin America used to have military juntas across the region, with a coup somewhere almost every year. We used to joke about how the typical El Senor Presidente was a general or colonel with sunglasses and a thin mustache. But now the civilians are back in charge; the last coup I can remember at this point was in 1989, when US troops intervened to remove Manuel Noriega from Panama. These days, if a leader wants to abuse his power, he will try to amend or replace the constitution first, to make his actions legal.

Q6. Sixth question, with the recent event of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, people are worrying about a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan. But, as a Southeast Asian, I kinda worried more about increasing Chinese activities in the South China Sea. What do you think about the possibility of China becoming emboldened by Russian action in Ukraine and becoming more assertive in their claim over the South China Sea? And as Southeast Asians themselves are fighting each other over the South China Sea, what do you think would be the best (or plausible) solution?

I used to agree with that sentiment, but I don’t now. If anything, it looks like the Ukrainian War will discourage China. Recently I read an article by the news site Nikkei Asia, entitled “Xi’s confidence in aircraft carriers shaken after Moskva sinking.” So far the war has shown us that tanks and ships are vulnerable to small missiles, and that the newest “drones” or unmanned aircraft are very effective weapons. These are lessons the Chinese will have to learn, if they want to think their activities against Taiwan will have any chance of success.

With Hong Kong and Macau, the Chinese showed us they were willing to wait indefinitely to get those territories back, if that meant they could do it without a war. Now Xi Jinping seems to be losing patience over this process, maybe because time is running out for him; I have heard he isn’t too well these days.

As for Southeast Asians fighting over the South China Sea, I haven’t seen much of that yet. Vietnam and the Philippines, for example, agree that China is the main enemy, so they aren’t squabbling over the waters at this time. Probably the solution would be a treaty defining who can have each part of the sea, the way Europeans divided the North Sea between themselves, when oil was discovered there.

Q7. Seventh question, do you think Papua New Guinea should be considered to be part of ASEAN? While it is closer to Melanesia (and ultimately Pacific), it is bordering Indonesia by land, so technically just like East Timor they have a chance to join ASEAN. I personally just like a cleaner map, so when looking at an ASEAN map, it won’t just have half an island in it. I know, I know it is silly. But what do you think?

My first response to that question is no, because I consider New Guinea a South Pacific island that just happens to be partially occupied by a Southeast Asian nation. Back in the very first episodes of the podcast, I mentioned that geographers and biologists put the border between Southeast Asia and Melanesia at the so-called “Wallace Line,” just east of Borneo (or Kalimantan, if you prefer the huge island’s Indonesian name). In practice, however, a lot of islands east of the line were settled by Malays, like Sulawesi, Timor and the Moluccas. Because of that, they were ruled by Majapahit for a few years, then they came under Dutch rule, and finally joined the present-day Indonesian state. As for New Guinea, the Dutch got the western half of that island because they made a deal with the British; Britain let the Netherlands have that territory so the Dutch would forget their claim to the land they called New Holland, today’s Australia. After Indonesia became independent, it claimed, and eventually got, Western New Guinea as well; see Episodes #97 and #102 for the details.

To give you an idea of how vague Melanesia’s borders are, consider the international organization for Melanesians, the Melanesian Spearhead Group, or MSG. Founded in 1986, its four primary members are Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji and Vanuatu. Indonesia is also a member, because five of its thirty-four provinces contain Melanesians, and so is the nationalist movement on New Caledonia, the Kanak and Socialist Liberation Front. Finally, observer status, but not full membership, has been granted to East Timor and the United Liberation Movement for West Papua.

With all that being said, I would not object if Papua New Guinea someday joins ASEAN, or if Western New Guinea becomes independent and joins. ASEAN is free to choose who they will let in, after all. I just hope they won’t drag out the process forever, the way they have done with East Timor.

Q8. Eighth, of all native Southeast Asian sports (like Sepak Takraw, Pencak Silat, Muay Thai, etc.) which one is your favorite? I am personally always fascinated by Sepak Takraw because I struggle with Volleyball, and these guys are doing it with their feet!

Alas, I am not a sports fan. I don’t follow any kind of sport closely, and am not familiar with the ones you mentioned. That being said, I do live in a community that is preoccupied with college sports, especially basketball, and I only pay attention to those because they affect my Uber driving business in the real world; I make more money when the home team wins. Sorry.

Q9. Ninth, when looking at a wikipedia page about Pre-Colombus contact, apparently Alfonso de Albuquerque recovered a Javanese map that contains the land Brazil in it. Do you think it is possible for a Southeast Asian sailor to know about the New World? And what do you make of this map that Albuquerque recovered?

Officially Brazil was discovered in 1500, by the second Portuguese expedition to sail to India. The expedition’s commander, Pedro Alvares Cabral, learned from Vasco da Gama’s expedition, to stay away from the African coast until they reached the latitude of the Cape of Good Hope, because near Africa they are sailing against the winds and current, while the winds and currents of the southwest Atlantic will push the ships in the direction they want to go. Cabral overdid it; he sailed so far west in this manuver that he reached the coast of South America, where he claimed Brazil for Portugal, before moving on to India.

Regarding Albuquerque, he saw the map you mentioned in 1512. Here is what he said about it. Quote:

“…a large map of a Javanese pilot, containing the Cape of Good Hope, Portugal and the land of Brazil, the Red Sea and the Sea of Persia, the Clove Islands, the navigation of the Chinese and the Gom, with their rhumbs and direct routes followed by the ships, and the hinterland, and how the kingdoms border on each other. It seems to me. Sir, that this was the best thing I have ever seen, and Your Highness will be very pleased to see it; it had the names in Javanese writing, but I had with me a Javanese who could read and write. I send this piece to Your Highness, which Francisco Rodrigues traced from the other, in which Your Highness can truly see where the Chinese and Gores come from, and the course your ships must take to the Clove Islands, and where the gold mines lie, and the islands of Java and Banda, of actions of the period,..(the text seems to be disjointed here)…”

End quote. “Gores” is another name for the inhabitants of the Ryukyu Islands, who were part Japanese. Japan itself wasn’t found until 1543. Unfortunately we don’t have the map today; only Albuquerque’s description of it has survived over the past 500 years. Furthermore, the map appeared in a book written by Francisco Rodrigues, the cartographer on the first Portuguese expedition to the Spice Islands, and he could have made some mistakes when copying it. Therefore the information Albuquerque gave us is third-hand, at best.

As for how Brazil got on such a map, one of the webpages I found suggests that the Arabs heard about Portugal discovering that land, and passed the information on to Malacca, which was a trading partner of theirs. That sounds far-fetched, but it is possible. Another pointed out that it is a faulty translation to call “Brazil” by that name so early. The name Cabral gave to the land was Terras de Santa Cruz, the Land of the Holy Cross. That was later changed to Brazil, some time between 1530 and 1540. Brazil’s name comes from brazil-wood, a tree that produced red dye, which the Europeans harvested extensively in the sixteenth century. So it is not clear that the land Albqueurque calls “Brazil” is the place we know in the Americas. Finally, we don’t understand from Albuquerque’s letter if this Brazil was on the west side of the map or the east side. Darn, we have so little to go on!

I will finish by telling you about a related discovery. We know that Malayo-Polynesians sailed across the Pacific, as far as Easter Island. However, Easter Island is one of the most remote islands on Earth; the nearest lands with people living on them are more than two thousand miles away. Did these relatives of the Javanese cross the last part of the Pacific, from Easter Island to the South American mainland? It now looks like they did, at least once! In 2014, a DNA study was done on two ancient skulls from the Botocudo, an indigenous tribe living in the interior of Brazil. The scientists doing the study declared that genetically, the skulls are 100 percent Polynesian. This suggests not only that someone from Polynesia made it to South America, but that they traveled more than halfway across the continent to the Atlantic coast. Wow!

Q10. Tenth, and final question, recently in Indonesian subreddits, there is a bit of trend to blame a lot of ill of modern Indonesia (or at least Javanese) on the Amangkurat line of leadership for all ill that happened to the Javanese, as Amangkurat I destroyed Javanese naval tradition by prohibiting ocean going (and massacared a lot of Ulamas), Amangkurat II is a weak ruler who was dependant on the VoC, and Amangkurat III was apparently an asshole (torturing the person who helped him!). All of which ultimately led to the VoC having a strong foothold in Java and thus Indonesia. So I kinda wonder what do you think about them? Javanese history honestly is very colorful the more I learn about it.

And those are my questions. Hopefully not too many and you can still answer them all.

Thank you very much!

I admit I was not familiar with this story, and had to look it up. I did mention the campaign of Amangkurat I’s predecessor, Sultan Agung, in Episode 17. And I’m glad there is more than one source available; the Wikipedia articles on these kings are badly written, with multiple grammar errors.

Even so, I agree; all three of the kings named Amangkurat sound like reprobates. For example, there was the bit where Amangkurat II took his father’s concubine for himself, and when Amangkurat I found out, he ordered his son to kill the poor woman. in question. These rulers remind me of notorious Roman emperors like Caligula, and I think that if I had known about them earlier, I would have expanded Episode 17 into at least two episodes.

Sure, their bad behavior made it easier for the Dutch East India Company to gain control over Java. In those days, Europeans wouldn’t have cared much about whether their native clients were good to the people under them, so long as they (the Europeans) got what they wanted. At the same time, once the Europeans went from trading to invading, they would have shown a determination to take over, no matter what the circumstances. So if the Amangkurat kings had been more competent and less murderous, I think the Dutch would have eventually found another way to gain control. Perhaps they would have concentrated on the Outer Islands first, and saved Java for last, the way the Japanese did when they invaded Indonesia in early 1942. Finally, it seems like a bit of a stretch, to blame some of modern Indonesia’s problems on these kings; I would like to see how that could be possible.


On that note, we are done with the questions. Thanks again for your participation. Next time I will begin a short series of episodes on topics that were overlooked in the general narrative. Currently I am planning two special episodes, and considering doing two more as well. Join me to hear about the “loose ends.”

If you are enjoying the podcast and have the means to support it, consider making a donation while you are waiting for the next episode. All you have to do is go to the Blubrry.com page that hosts this episode, click on the Paypal link, and follow the instructions. Or if you would like to join the Patreon team, and give a little bit at the beginning of each month, click on the Patreon link. Sometimes I post those links on the podcast’s Facebook page as well. Whichever link you click on, thanks in advance for your support.

In addition, I hope you keep on spreading the word about this show, both in cyberspace and the real world. Again, sorry for the delays, thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!


Episode 120: Question and Answer Session 4

Okay, I am back at last! The previous episode of the podcast completed our historical narrative of Southeast Asia. Now for today’s episode, I will start answering the questions you have sent me over the past two months. In fact, you sent me so many questions that I will answer some of them in the next episode as well. But I don’t mind; thank you for your enthusiastic response!

Oh, and one other thing. I got an email from one listener who said the volume on the podcast was too loud. I thought the sound was all right, because no one mentioned it in the past, and when I listen to my own recordings, I don’t have to turn the volume almost all the way up, as is the case with some other podcasts. Therefore, with the software I use for the recording, I turned down the microphone volume, from 86 to 70 percent. Drop me a line if you feel strongly about the change, whether you like it or not. And like always, listen and enjoy!



This episode is dedicated to Columba M., Jouke C., Louis E., and Ben G. All of them have made donations to the podcast in recent weeks. And that’s not all; most of them have donated before. Therefore, on the Podcast Hall of Fame Page, they get special recognition. Louis and Ben gave in 2020 and 2021, so if you’re a long-time listener, you know what they get — the ever-popular Shwe Dagon Pagoda icon has been placed next to their names, on the Podcast Hall of Fame Page. As for Jouke (I hope I’m pronouncing that name right), this is the fourth year in which he made a contribution, so he gets the newest icon, the — OUTRAGEOUS — Merlion. I told you the story behind the — OUTRAGEOUS — Merlion icon in the previous episode. Now this is spring, which is seen as a time for planting. To all four of you, may the seeds you plant, both literally and figureatively, give you an abundant harvest. Okay, where were we?

Episode 120: Question & Answer Session 4

Greetings, dear listeners, for the 120th time, from the hills of Bluegrass country in Kentucky! First, I ask you to accept my apologies for the long wait. It has been nearly two months since I gave you the previous episode, and that’s longer than it ever took in the past to create a new episode. More than any other time in the past, real world responsibilities have gotten in the way of my podcast work. There have been several days when I was too busy to get anything done here. The main factor is the need to make money, because the local economy is unstable right now, especially with the high price of food and energy. I don’t like to brag about going to expensive places, but I go to a gas station almost every day. As Snow White’s friends would say, “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go . . .”

Meanwhile, Ferbruary threw what it had against me. We had another winter storm, which kept me at home for two more days. Altogether I lost four days in January, and two in February, when I couldn’t leave home due to the snow; no snowplow or salt truck visited my street. Fortunately it’s now spring, and as long as no tornadoes show up, spring is a calmer season.

And what a time we have had with the news since I was last with you! That time began with the truck driver’s convoy in Canada, protesting mandated vaccinations against COVID. Although I have been vaccinated, personally I don’t think it’s good for the government to fire the same workers it called “essential” two years ago. But now I don’t even know if the convoy is still going on, because in the fourth week of February, all other news was submerged by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Because I studied Russian history in college, of course I have been following the Ukrainian War with interest. Here I will give a shout-out to Kristaps Andrejsons, the host of The Eastern Border podcast; I have mentioned his show here in the past; now he is recording an episode every day about the war as he sees it, from Latvia, Poland, and wherever else he can go to report on it.

If you are listening to this podcast after the spring of 2022, kindly disregard everything I said after “Greetings, dear listeners!” For you there won’t be a significant gap in time between Epiusodes #119 and #120; you can binge-listen to both right now, if you choose to do so.

Okay, I know you didn’t tune in to hear about current events. Heck, I told you last time that with Southeast Asia, I am up to the point where I could start talking about their current events. With Episode #119, I completed the historical narrative; for all eleven countries between India, China and Australia, we are done, at least until some other newsworthy event happens there, like next May’s election in the Philippines. So is this podcast finished? Almost, but not quite. It turns out I have some loose ends to tie up, and that will take a few more episodes. Thank you for sticking with me as we do that.

To start with, some of you requested additional episodes, on topics that didn’t get enough attention in the main narrative. Therefore you can stay tuned for those over the next few months. As for today, I announced previously that this would be a question and answer episode. For those not familiar with the concept, this is like a talk show that declares an open line day; you the listeners send me questions about Southeast Asia, and I do the best I can to answer them. We have had three episodes like this before, Episodes 51, 77, and 85. Since the latest of those episodes came out two years ago, when the main topic of this podcast was the twentieth-century wars in Indochina, we are definitely due for another one.

I want to thank all of you for delivering the questions. Most of them came after my last call for them, which was made with the previous episode. Nevertheless, I got so many that I will need two episodes, rather than one, to answer them all.


Okay, without any more ado, let’s get into the questions! The first three were provided by Glitch E.. Here is the first:

Question 1: How have the Zheng He voyages influenced South East Asia?

I listen to two Chinese history podcasts, and both of them talked extensively about Zheng He and his expeditions. For those not familiar with these voyages, Zheng He was a Chinese admiral who commanded seven vast expeditions between 1405 and 1433. The first expedition had 317 ships and between 20,000 and 30,000 people, and the others were of similar size. They traveled first to Southeast Asia, then entered the Indian Ocean, where they got as far as Arabia and East Africa. These weren’t voyages of exploration, because the Chinese had heard of every place they visited; the purposes of the expeditions were to show off China’s military might and to promote trade. Everywhere the Chinese went they demanded tribute — and got it! And then when they returned to China, they brought local rulers or ambassadors with them, so they could deliver the gifts to the emperor in person. However, Zheng He died on the seventh voyage, and no fleets went forth after that, because members of the emperor’s court thought they were too expensive. In fact, the Chinese navy was hardly ever seen again, and when Japanese pirates became a problem, all the Chinese did was extend their Grand Canal to Beijing, so that Chinese ships could reach the capital without going to sea. This has led to speculation by many about how different Asian history would have been, if European explorers had met a strong Chinese fleet, when they found the way to China in the sixteenth century.

I’ll admit that for this podcast I only mentioned the voyages in passing, because in most of the region there wasn’t a permanent effect. Vietnam would have been considered a Chinese province at that time, and we don’t hear of an effect on Cambodia or Champa, though the expeditions made landfall there. They could have made a difference had they gone to Burma, but the maps I saw don’t show them visiting that area. Finally, they didn’t visit the Philippines, though Chinese merchant ships were regularly going to Manila by that time; those islands were off the beaten path, unless they were your destination.

The biggest effect of the expeditions was on the Malay peninsula. At that time, the kingdom of Siam was making moves to annex the whole peninsula, but the new city-state of Malacca asked the Chinese for protection, and the Chinese agreed to give it. Though Malacca only survived as an independent state for little over a century, that decision by China affected the future history of what is now Malaysia. Remember the bit in the previous episode, where I mentioned that the southernmost provinces of present-day Thailand have an ethnic Malay population, which is currently in a state of unrest. We may see in that what the situation in all of the peninsula could have been, if Siam had been allowed to expand to the south.

The other area affected was Indonesia, because this was the period when all the Indonesian islands were claimed by the Java-based Kingdom of Majapahit. Majapahit was covered way back in Episode 6, and as a refresher, that kingdom did best in the 14th century, under the king Hayam Wuruk and his very capable minister, Gajah Mada. Therefore, when the Chinese expeditions showed up here, Majapahit was just past its peak. Like Siam, Majapahit wanted to annex Malacca, and Zheng He made sure that wouldn’t happen. Here I will venture to say that Zheng He also made sure that Majapahit did not recover, but would instead disintegrate over the course of the 15th century.

Oh, I almost forgot one item. Nowadays, any discussion of the Zheng He expeditions is likely to include the books written a few years ago by Gavin Menzies, who asserts that the expeditions went on to explore the entire world. I won’t even begin to get into that controversy. If you want to hear more about that, I recommend episodes #26 and #27 of the podcast Our Fake History, narrated by Sebastian Major.

Question 2: How disruptive was the Chola invasion of the Srivijaya kingdom for the region and influence sphere?

For those who haven’t heard of the Chola Empire, this was a Tamil state, that dominated southern India and Sri Lanka around the year 1000 A.D. Conquering Sri Lanka gave them influence over the Mon state in the Irrawaddy delta, because Sri Lanka is the headquarters of Therevada Buddhism. In 1030, the Cholas launched a devastating raid across the Bay of Bengal against Srivijaya, the first important Indonesian state. This was no small feat, when one considers the logistics of transporting an Indian army across the sea, especially one with elephants. To carry the men and horses, the only ships available were small merchant vessels. Two or three of these boats had to be lashed together to carry a single war elephant, and I don’t know how they kept the elephants quiet for such a trip! We don’t know for sure why the raid was conducted; the goals could have been loot, the defeat of a possible trading rival, and simply to flaunt the king’s strength in the style that Indian epic literature calls digvijaya. In other words, the Chola king did it simply to show it could be done.

As for the raid’s effect on Southeast Asia, that was limited to Indonesia and the Malay peninsula. Srivijaya was never the same again; it lasted for two centuries after the raid, but it did not recover. Also, of Indonesia’s many kingdoms in ancient and medieval times, Srivijaya was the most important one based on Sumatra, the big island in the west. As early as the eighth century, Indonesia’s center of population and power started moving to Java, where it would stay until our own time, when Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced the capital would be moved to the east coast of Borneo.

Question 3: What can you tell about the Rajahnate of Cebu (founded by an offshoot from the Chola dynasty) and how Indianized/ Hindunized was Cebu before the arrival of the Spanish?

I’ll admit that I knew almost nothing about the pre-1500 political organization of the Philippines, when I recorded the episode which mentioned the Rajahnate of Cebu. Well, I did an online search, and the Chola dynasty disappeared from India in 1279. Supposedly a Chola prince named Sri Lumay, or Rajamuda Lumaya, whose ancestry was half-Tamil and half-Malay, fled all the way east to the Philippines, and founded the Rajahnate in the middle of that archipelago.

Personally I think this is an exaggeration because as I said before, the Philippines is off the beaten path. The distance from Chennai, formerly Madras, to Cebu is 4,753 kilometers, or 2,971 miles. On that journey one would pass several large islands that would make suitable new homes, before coming to the Philippines. Those islands include Sumatra, Java, Bali, and Borneo. To me it seems more likely that the fugitive prince came from one of those Indonesian islands, since they would also have a big dose of Indian culture at this date. For instance, the prince could have come from the kingdom of Srivijaya, like the thirteenth-century founder of Singapore. Indeed, the original name for Cebu was Singhapala, which has the same meaning as Singapore’s name, “Lion City.” Or the prince could have come from Champa, the Indianized kingdom on the mainland. In the podcast I speculated on the founders of Champa coming from Palawan, the westernmost island in the Philippines; in this case you would simply have Malay people going the other way.

Anyway, Sri Lumay died fighting pirates from Mindanao, and was succeeded by two sons, Sri Ukob and Sri Bantug, who inherited the northern and southern halves of Cebu Island respectively. A third son, Sri Parang, could not govern his inheritance effectively because he was crippled, so his inheritance, which included present-day Cebu City, went to the son of Sri Bantug, Humabon. You probably remember Humabon from Episode 13, because he was the ruler of Cebu when Magellan’s expedition arrived in 1521. Here we have a bigger problem with the Chola connection, chronology. If Humabon is truly a grandson of the Rajahnate’s founder, then 1279 is too far in the past for Cebu to get started. It makes more sense to have the founding date around 1470, if only two generations passed before we get to the rulers in charge at the time of first contact with the Europeans.

To finish up the story, Humabon was succeeded by a son of Sri Parang, and this was Tupas, the final ruler of Cebu before another expedition from Spain conquered the island in 1565. We covered the Spanish conquest of the Philippines in Episode 14. Cebu lost its importance after the Spanish capital of the new colony was moved to Manila in 1571.

I will finish by reposting what Wikipedia shared about Indian artifacts found in the Philippines. This comes from a 1977 publication, Indian Penetration of Pre-Spanish Philippines: A New Look at the Evidence, by Malcolm H. Churchill. Quote:

“A crude Buddhist medallion and a copper statue of a Hindu Deity, Ganesha, has been found by Henry Otley Beyer in 1921 in ancient sites in Puerto Princesa, Palawan and in Mactan, Cebu. The crudeness of the artifacts indicates they are of local reproduction. Unfortunately, these icons were destroyed during World War II. However, black and white photographs of these icons survive.”

End quote.

And now, here’s a question from Phillip N.:

Q for the show: as you have covered the past of SE Asia, what do you predict for the future? Will China continue to exert pressure and influence on the region, or will ASEAN prove stable and strong enough to retain the region’s independence?

I’m an optimist on this issue, and I’m expecting that in the long run, ASEAN will come out ahead. The reason has to do with Chinese demographics. The rate of China’s population growth is falling, and the Beijing dictatorship can’t stop it. For decades China controlled its population with a harsh one-child-per-family policy. Because most families wanted boy babies, this led to sex-selection abortions and even female infanticide. The result was a shortage of females by the early 21st century; there are now five girls for every six boys in China. In 2015, Beijing loosened the restrictions, so that it became legal for families to have two kids, and then recently they declared that three-child families were all right.

Nevertheless, China’s birthrate continues to decline; like the population in much of today’s world, the Chinese people are having fewer kids. Now it appears that the birthrate has already gone below the point where enough children are being born to replace those who die. This means the population will not grow, but shrink instead. Shrinking populations are already an issue for Japan, most of Europe, and Russia. In the United States we may cross the replacement point soon; I suspect that our current population is growing more from immigration than from natural births. Now it appears that China will be the next to shrink. A few months ago, I heard a news story which asserted that China conducted a census, and the total population was less than the one and a half billion expected; there may be as many as 120 million missing people.

If all this true, China is at its peak in military and economic strength right now. What’s more, I don’t know of any government with social programs designed to work when the local population is shrinking. Here in the United States, programs like Social Security and Medicare are designed on the assumption that more people will put money into the programs, through taxes, than take money out, and that only happens while the population is growing. I believe the same is true for China.

In 2011, David Goldman wrote a book on demographics, entitled How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam Is Dying Too), and he began by explaining how depopulation can be worse for mankind than overpopulation. Quote:

“The world faces a danger more terrible than the worst Green imaginings. The European environmentalist who wants to shrink the world’s population to reduce carbon emissions will spend her declining years in misery, for there will not be enough Europeans alive a generation from now to pay for her pension and medical care.”

End quote. Currently, with their Belt and Road Initiative and their Silk Road program, I see China involved in places all over the world, from Africa to South America; not just in the South China Sea. If world domination is really their ultimate goal, they will have to act on it soon, because in a few decades they won’t have enough people to carry out everything they are planning. You may heard that the 16th century was the Spanish century, the 19th century was the British century, and the 20th century was the American century. Well, the 21st century may be “the Chinese century,” but only the first half of it. The next twenty years are likely to be an “interesting time,” for that reason alone.

Next, we have two questions from Mark Vinet. I’m using his full last name, rather than an initial, because I have given him air time before in this podcast. He records the History of North America podcast, and I recommend you check it out if you haven’t already.

Question 1: First, please tell us about the Vietnamese boat people, many of which eventually settled in North America.

That is one big subject that I definitely overlooked, the more so since I saw how the boat people adapted to living in Florida, when I was there! This counts as a lesson in American history, as well as Asian history. To do the subject justice, I should do a special episode on it; expect that to be one of the episodes coming soon, to cover the “loose ends” I have left.

Question 2: My second question is more personal. Which city in Southeast Asia would you chose to live in today… and why?

Thanks my friend and keep on fascinating us with the wonderful History of this special region of the World.

It is interesting timing, that you would ask where I would move to in Southeast Asia, since I am at the age where retirement is approaching. Currently I am planning to stay where I’m at, but a lot of US citizens retire outside the country, to places where their dollars go a long way. This week I read an article that recommended Latin American countries like Panama and Uruguay for that reason. I think that will also be true for most of Southeast Asia, except maybe Singapore, because I hear the cost of living in that city is high.

Anyway, when it comes to a Southeast Asian city to move to, one place comes to mind, and that’s Baguio City. Baguio is on a mountaintop in the northern Philippines, 244 kilometers, or 153 miles, north of Manila. It was founded as a hill station by the Americans in 1900, and while the Americans ruled the islands, it acted as the unofficial summertime capital of the Philippines, with much of the government moving there from Manila in the summer months. I believe I mentioned that in Episode 31 of the podcast. The reason why I picked Baguio is the weather; it’s the only place in the Philippines that isn’t hot all the time. Of course this is due to its location a kilometer above sea level. According to Wikipedia, for any month of the year, the local temperature is usually in the 70s by day, and the 60s by night. Those are Fahrenheit figures; for those listeners who prefer Celsius, temperatures are in the low 20s by day, and the teens by night. To give you one idea of the difference those temperatures can make, you can grow strawberries in most of the states of the United States, but in the Philippines, strawberries only grow around Baguio. I also believe that garlic only grows in the highlands as well, though it is a critical ingredient of Philippine cuisine.

The only drawback I see to living in Baguio is a personal one — my wife doesn’t have any relatives there. Her extended family is concentrated in the central and southern parts of the country. Of course that could change; less than a year after we moved to Kentucky, a niece of hers followed us here.

And this question is from Ben G.:

Is it possible to form any view of how the countries covered would look now if colonialism had never happened? Would perhaps those countries have remained shut off from the outside world and therefore technologically held back, like China, or until the beginning of the 20th century, Japan? Do you think that colonialism on balance made a positive or negative contribution to these countries? I know that is a huge question but you are very good at summarizing complicated things in a short space!

For an answer to your question, we have an example from the one country that was never colonized — Thailand, or Siam as it was called in those days. Go back to Episode 18, where I talked about the strange affair of Constantine Phaulkon in Siam. Like Japan, China and Korea, Siam tried to shut out foreigners in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; in this case it was prompted to do so by Phaulkon’s wheeling and dealing. Fortunately for the Siamese, they realized by 1850 that they couldn’t keep the West out forever, and that modernization was the way to beat the West at its own game. And whereas Japan also modernized wholeheartedly in the late nineteenth century, the Japanese first went through a civil war between the government and the samurai, who saw they would lose their exalted status in the new order. Siam did not have a struggle like that. Instead, after a reign of conservative reforms, King Rama III abruptly declared in his final speech that what Siam needed to do next was modernize. Therefore, when Rama IV succeeded him, and made modernization his top priority, the people went along with the idea.

As for the question of whether colonialism’s impact on Southeast Asia was positive or negative, that really opens a can of worms! I know that in the case of the Philippines, there are people taking both sides of the issue; they will point out that while Spanish rule over the islands was unpleasant, the Spaniards did save the souls of the natives by introducing Christianity. Of course the biggest factor is whether the colonial overlords were kind or brutal. I would have more trouble answering this question if the British colonies were the only example we had, because with them we have both good and bad examples of colonial rule. On the one hand, the British ruled Malaysia and Singapore wisely, successfully getting their diverse ethnic groups to work together, and granting independence when they were ready for it. On the other hand, with Burma, exploitation was the name of the game; they probably should not have abolished the Burmese monarchy, for a start. And I did mention that Burma was treated so badly, that it refused to join the British Commonwealth of Nations after it became independent.

I’m inclined to say that overall, the colonial contribution was negative, because most of Southeast Asia was already fully civilized by the time Westerners took over. Vietnam, for example, did not need lessons in how to administer their country, because they had a Chinese-style bureaucracy, rather than the loosely organized “mandala” system that characterized their neighbors in ancient and medieval times. And French missionaries invented a Western-style alphabet for the Vietnamese language, two hundred years before the French took over by force.

And now here is a question from Dat N.:

My question is: Were there links between the assasinations of Ngo Dinh Diem and JFK? They were about 3 weeks apart from one another and I can’t help but feeling that there must be links between the 2 killings. Please give me your historical perspective on these 2 historical killings. Thank you for doing a great service by having this podcast.


Yes, when I covered the assassination of Diem in Episode 73, I also noted that the Kennedy assassination came exactly three weeks later. I was a small child when the Kennedy assassination took place, and in the nearly sixty years since then, there has been all kinds of speculation concerning it. Wikipedia has more than twenty conspiracy theories listed on its page about the subject. Beside agents of Diem, candidates for the mastermind behind the assassination include the CIA, the KGB, the Mafia, J. Edgar Hoover, Vice President Johnson, former Vice President Nixon, Fidel Castro, anti-Castro Cuban exiles, a faction of the military-industrial complex, the Federal Reserve, and so on. Oliver Stone suggested in his movie “JFK” that Kennedy was killed by right-wing extremists because he had second thoughts about Vietnam, and was planning to pull out American troops in 1964 or 1965. However, to accept Stone’s theory, or those like it, you have to believe that Kennedy was about to become a leftist, and you have to forget three facts: (1) Kennedy fought communism; (2) Joe McCarthy got along well with the Kennedy family, when both he and JFK were senators; and (3) the man who pulled the trigger, Lee Harvey Oswald, was a Communist wannabe.

Myself, I have also wondered if there is a connection between the Diem and Kennedy assassinations, because of the timing. However, I have not found one yet. I looked on what I believe is the foremost archive of official papers from that event, The President John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection, and while there were some documents covering interactions between the United States and South Vietnam during the Kennedy presidency, it doesn’t appear to have anything about the downfall of Diem. If you want to take a look for yourself, the website URL is https://www.archives.gov/research/jfk . Personally, I’m inclined to not believe there is a connection, because the Diem government was an example of the Peter Principle in action; Diem successfully fought all opponents of his government in the mid-1950s, but after that it seems he and his followers couldn’t do anything right. In other words, Diem had risen to his level of incompetence.



On that note, I will break off the question and answer session here. I’m not done with the questions you sent me, but I don’t want to keep you waiting for this episode any longer. Therefore the next episode will be another question and answer session; join me as I answer the rest of the questions. I promise that episode won’t take as long to produce as this one, inasmuch as I have a head start on it already.

If you are enjoying the podcast and have the means to support it, consider making a donation while you are waiting for the next episode. All you have to do is go to the Blubrry.com page that hosts this episode, click on the Paypal link, and follow the instructions. Or if you would like to join the Patreon team, and give a little bit at the beginning of each month, click on the Patreon link. Sometimes I post those links on the podcast’s Facebook page as well. Whichever link you click on, thanks in advance for your support.

In addition, I hope you keep on spreading the word about this show, both in cyberspace and the real world. Now I have to get back to work, so let’s get together again soon. Thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!


We’re Almost There with Episode 120

Yes, I’ve been silent here since the previous episode came out, and the episode I’m working on now is taking longer than all the others so far. Please accept my apologies for all that. More than any other time in the past, real world responsibilities have gotten in the way of my podcast work. In fact, I only got started recording the episode a week ago. So hang tight a little longer, it looks like I’ll finish and upload the episode next week!

Episode 119: The Unconquered Kingdom, One More Time

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To all the listeners of this podcast, I want to thank you for your patience. I actually started to record this in the third week of January (there is a reference to January early in the episode), but the work was interrupted more than once, for more than a day each time. Now at last, it is finished and good to go. This time we finish the series of episodes on recent Southeast Asian history, by looking at events in Thailand, from 2001 to the present. At the end I tell you about a new icon to give special recognition to the show’s donors, and remind you that the next episode will feature your questions. February is a short month, so if you have any questions, send them to me today!



This episode is dedicated to Gabriel S., Alexei K., Donn C., Walter H., and Brian T. All of them have made donations to the podcast since the last episode came out. Alexei also donated in 2020, so he now qualifies to receive the coveted water buffalo icon, on the Podcast Hall of Fame Page. Last time, I invited the listeners to make donations in December and January; that would quickly lead to a double promotion on the Podcast Hall of Fame Page. Well, Gabriel S. took me up on the challenge, donating in both of those months. Since he already had the coveted water buffalo icon, Gabriel not only gets the ever-popular Shwe Dagon Pagoda icon, but also the brand-new icon I have just created for those who donate in four different years. I’ll tell you about the new icon at the end of this episode, but let’s get to business first. To all five donors, may everything you plan this year work out in your favor, whether or not those plans succeed. And now take it away with the opening music!

Episode 119: The Unconquered Kingdom, One More Time

Greetings, dear listeners, for the 119th time, from the hills of Bluegrass country in Kentucky! Are you ready for another trip to the tropical lands on the Pacific Rim? I am, because it’s January, and I got snowed in! One day eight inches of snow fell; that’s the most we have gotten in six years, at least. Because of that, I couldn’t leave home for two and a half days. I lived in Florida for forty years before coming to Kentucky, and my wife is from the Philippines; neither of those places taught us anything about what to do at a time like this!

But enough about winter; what tropical hotspot are we talking about today? The last time we got together, I told you to guess which country would be in the spotlight for this episode. Since Episode #97, we have been looking at the recent history of the countries in Southeast Asia. For most of those countries, the recent history has been completed; the narrative on them has gone all the way to the present. Any more episodes on them will not be about history, but about current events, and I have recently discovered another podcast that does a better job on current events. So if you look at a map of Southeast Asia, and eliminate the countries we have finished, who is left? The last one to cover is in the middle of the mainland; say hello again to Thailand.

Thailand, formerly known as Siam, has a unique history. Unlike the rest of Southeast Asia, it was never ruled as a colony by an outside power, unless you count the way Japan bullied it during World War II. That is how it got its nickname “the Unconquered Kingdom,” which I have used here. Therefore it didn’t have to overcome the problems suffered by its neighbors, but while there is a desire to run the country as a constitutional monarchy, with a figurehead monarch as the official head of state and an elected government handling the day-to-day affairs, for some reason the Thais have never managed to get this arrangement to work right. This means the military usually stepped in to reset everything when the political situation became unbalanced. Since 1932, there have been no less than 19 military coups, of which 12 have been successful. I believe this is the largest number of coups, for any country over the past century.

There have been three other episodes on Thailand in the podcast since we finished covering World War II. Episode #61 covered the brief reign of King Rama VIII, the mystery surrounding his death, and how Phibun Songgram, the military strongman for most of the war, staged a comeback and managed to rule for another decade. Then for Episode #99, we saw events leading up to the 1973 revolution, how it looked like true democracy was going to come to the country, and how the movement failed in 1976, resulting in the military seizing power again. And with Episode #109, we saw how the country fared for the last quarter of the twentieth century (hint: they’re still trying to get a government that works to everyone’s satisfaction). Go back to those episodes if you need to refresh your memory. Now that we got the preliminaries out of the way, let’s resume the story.



When the 2001 election came, the most recent prime minister, Chuan Leekpai, went down in a landslide defeat. The winner was the billionaire owner of the Shin Corporation (a telecommunications company) and a former police officer, Thaksin Shinawatra. In the 1990s, Thaksin had founded a political party called Thai Rak Thai (meaning “Thai Loving Thai,” or you can just call it TRT), which promised to help business and promote rural development. One month before the election, in December 2000, the tremendously popular Thaksin was indicted on corruption charges, but was acquitted in August 2001. Because of his telecommunications background, the new prime minister communicated directly with the voters and dominated the media.

In Episode #109, we saw that Thailand enjoyed rapid economic growth in the late twentieth century. For a while it looked like it would repeat the success of Japan and the so-called “Four Dragons”: South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Then it stumbled in the Asian currency crisis of 1997, but a huge loan from the International Monetary Fund put it back on track. Fortunately Thaksin paid off the IMF debt before it was due, and by 2002 Thailand’s economy was booming again. From 2001 to 2019, GDP growth averaged 3.92% a year. The economy took another hit in 2020, declining 6% because of the COVID pandemic, but that’s to be expected, after seeing what happened to all the surrounding countries at the same time.

In February 2003, Thaksin announced plans to eliminate the drug trade from Thailand within three months. By the end of April, when the operation was concluded, nearly 2,300 people had been killed. Government officials claimed responsibility for just 35 of the casualties, blaming drug dealers and gang members for the rest. Human rights activists, however, suspected police forces were overly aggressive in their campaign.

In previous episodes, I told you that Thailand was one of the three countries, along with Myanmar and Laos, that shared land in the “Golden Triangle,” Southeast Asia’s infamous opium-growing zone. Well, Thaksin’s operation made Thailand opium-free, but then a decade later, in 2013, a new drug started passing through the country — methamphetamine.

Because we are now talking about synthetic drugs, including synthetic opiates, the process of making and transporting them was more complicated than for drugs grown naturally. Usually the base chemicals are made in a distant location like China; since these chemicals have other uses, like industrial and household cleaners, it is legal to transport some of them. One way or another, they are sent to Myanmar, where various groups, usually the ethnic minorities waging rebellions on Myanmar’s periphery, assemble the base chemicals into methamphetamine and related drugs. Incidentally, the chemicals made in China can also end up in the hands of drug manufacturers elsewhere, like the drug cartels in Mexico. In the case of Myanmar, it’s too risky to send the finished drugs directly to customers in the rest of the world, because most members of the Myanmar military do not support drug trafficking, and that country’s total amount of trade is small enough for the authorities to monitor it. Therefore, to get the drugs out of Southeast Asia, those made in Myanmar are smuggled into Thailand first, and then from Thailand to the outside world. Here the size of the huge Thai economy works to the drug smuggler’s advantage. Because Thailand imports and exports so many more goods than the neighboring countries, and because the Thai border patrols are understaffed, it is easier to get containers across the borders without somebody inspecting them and finding contraband inside.

Thaksin is also worth remembering because the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami took place while he was in charge. We covered this disaster in previous episodes of the podcast, especially Episode #103. Most of Thailand’s coast faces the South China Sea and the Gulf of Thailand; only a small area faces the nearest part of the Indian Ocean, the Andaman Sea. Nevertheless, at least 5,300 people in Thailand were killed by the tsunami, because the Andaman Sea coast includes the beach resort of Phuket, and Phuket was crowded with tourists who had come there for Christmas vacation.


Meanwhile in the far south, a new problem appeared as the twenty-first century began. Three provinces on the Malaysian border (Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala) have a population that is predominantly Malay. The province next to them, Songkla, contains a large Malay minority. All four provinces had been a Malay sultanate called Pattani until the Thais conquered it in 1902. We also saw in previous episodes that this area was infested with communist guerillas for a generation after they had been defeated in Malaysia. As early as 1947, there was a Malay separatist movement in the area, but for most of the twentieth century it was dormant. Bangkok’s treatment of the area varied; during World War II the pro-Axis Phibun government tried to convert the Malays into Thai-speaking Buddhists; in the 1980s the Prem government abolished this policy, and introduced a program to develop the provinces, because this was the poorest part of the country. Then in 2001, Thaksin’s administration decided to increase central control over the provinces, because they voted for an opposing party, and the separatists began attacking people and government property in the area; they also made trouble in Phuket and Bangkok. The official response was harsh; insurgents were attacked in the historic Krue Se Mosque, and in Tak Bai, hundreds of demonstrators were arrested when they demanded the release of suspected insurgents; 78 of them suffocated in the overcrowded trucks, while being transported to an army camp for interrogation. Both of those incidents happened in 2004. In 2005, martial law was declared in the troubled provinces. In return, the separatists announced they want to establish an Islamic caliphate, accused Malays following traditional practices of not being Islamic enough, and expanded their targets to include civilians. The largest attack by the insurgents was staged in February 2007, when they exploded thirty bombs at bars, hotels, and power stations. By 2020, the rebellion had killed more than 7,000 on both sides, and wounded more than 13,000.

Podcast footnote: Way back in the early days of this podcast, I told you that in southern Thailand, a narrow land bridge, the Isthmus of Kra, separates the Andaman Sea from the Gulf of Thailand. At one point, the land is only 27 miles wide. Over the years, some have suggested that a canal on this spot would be a good idea; that would take 750 miles off a trip between the Indian and Pacific Oceans, because ships would not have to go around the Malay peninsula. As early as 1677, Siam’s King Narai asked a French engineer to see if building a canal was feasible. The engineer did a survey of the area, and said it wasn’t feasible, but of course, he didn’t have the technology for digging canals that we have now. Currently a road, not a canal, is being built to carry cargo across the isthmus. The latest estimate on a Kra Canal project, made in 2015, predicted that the canal would take at least ten years to build, and cost US $28 billion. Therefore, the canal is probably not worth the effort it would take to dig it. In February 2018, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha declared that the canal was not a government priority, but then in January 2020, the Thai House of Representatives agreed to set up a committee within 120 days to study the Thai Canal project. Some have suggested that the canal is being considered now, because it would put a physical barrier between the provinces containing Moslem separatists, and the rest of the country. Maybe so! End footnote.


Anyway, because Thaksin kept his promises and responded quickly to the tsunami, he and the TRT were re-elected in 2005. This was the first time that a Thai prime minister managed to complete a four-year term, and win the election that followed. However, pollwatchers warned that the 2005 election wasn’t as clean; there were reports of vote buying and electoral violence, and the government was accused of starting new projects to gain more votes.

Elected presidents and prime ministers tend not to do as well in their second terms as they do the first time around, and Thaksin showed in his second term that he had worn out his welcome. He was accused of various conflicts of interest, starting with selling his family’s Shin Corporation stock to the Singaporean government, while taking advantage of a new law that exempted him from paying a capital gains tax. In addition, he was accused of being “at war” with journalists, getting along too well with the military junta in Myanmar, killing too many people in his “war on drugs,” and his authoritarian “CEO-style” approach to governing. As his opponents began holding mass rallies, Thaksin called for a snap election in April 2006, to show he was still popular. It didn’t work because Thaksin’s opponents boycotted the election, and though the TRT Party won again, the results were nullified by the Constitutional Court. A new election was scheduled for October, and then everybody took the month of June off to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the king’s accession to the throne. You will hear more about the king later in this episode.

The next election did not take place, because the military acted first; this was the first time they had gotten involved in politics in fourteen years. On September 19, 2006, General Sonthi Boonyaratglin staged a bloodless coup. Thaksin was attending a United Nations session in New York at the time, so the new rulers exiled him by voiding his passport. The junta removed everyone in the Thaksin government, declared martial law, replaced the constitution with an abbreviated, temporary one, and appointed Surayud Chulanont, a respected retired general, as the interim prime minister. Over the course of 2007, the TRT Party was dissolved, a new constitution was written and ratified, and new elections were held, allowing for civilian rule to return in January 2008. The People’s Power Party, or PPP, allies of Thaksin, won the election, taking 233 of the 480 seats in the parliament, and their candidate, Samak Sundaravej, became the next prime minister. Samak called himself a “proxy” for Thaksin, and said his top priority would be tackling rural poverty.

Podcast footnote: Sonthi Boonyaratglin is worth remembering, because he is the first Moslem commander-in-chief in Thai history. Thailand’s religious makeup is 94.5% Buddhist, 4.3% Moslem, 0.8 % Christian, and 0.4% others. End footnote.

As for Thaksin, he returned to Thailand in February 2008, after 17 months in exile. He said he was prepared to face corruption charges related to the property he acquired from a state agency during his tenure as prime minister. In July, his wife, Pojaman Shinawatra, was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to three years in jail. Thaksin failed to appear for a court appearance in August; instead, he and his wife fled to London. He left behind about $2 billion in assets that was frozen by the military when it took over in 2006. He has not come back since then, saying that he would not receive a fair trial in Thailand. He applied for refugee status in the Philippines and the United Kingdom, but neither country would have him. It looks like he is now in Dubai, but my sources aren’t sure. Dubai is the last place he was reported in, and he travels using six passports, none of them Thai.


This isn’t the last word on Thaksin, though, because the opponents of Thaksin and the PPP, the People’s Alliance for Democracy, or PAD, began a series of well-organized demonstrations. The demonstrators wore yellow shirts, yellow representing the king’s birthday color. By seizing public spaces and government complexes, and camping out there for months with food, drinks, music and speeches, they interfered with government work and Bangkok’s traffic, while becoming a kind of tourist attraction at the same time. In response, supporters of the TRT and PPP organized their own movement, with red shirts; they called for getting rid of the latest constitution, giving amnesty to Thaksin, and because the Yellow Shirts identified themselves as royalists, they wanted to put new restrictions on the king’s power. It was also at this time that the UN accidentally resurrected Thailand’s claim to the Phra Viharn (Preah Vihear) temple, on the Cambodian border, as we mentioned in Episode #114.

Podcast footnote: If you are familiar with politics in the United States, you know that since at least the year 2000, the color red has come to represent the Republicans, and blue has come to represent the Democrats. Now we have colors taking a political meaning in Thailand, too. If you support a strong monarchy, your color is yellow, while if you want the monarchy’s power reduced, or — Buddha forbid — you want to eliminate the monarchy altogether, red is your color. You may remember from Episode #110 that yellow represents a political party in the Philippines as well. End footnote.

Prime Minister Samak chose not to use force to remove the demonstrators. However, in September 2008 the Constitutional Court ruled that Samak had a conflict of interest, because he was also the host of “Tasting and Complaining,” a cooking program on TV, and ordered both him and his ministers deposed. Hmmm, so Thailand had a male Julia Child for prime minister; I’m not making this up! He was replaced by another PPP member, Somchai Wongsawat, who was unable to use his offices because they were occupied by PAD protesters. Then the PAD occupied the country’s two main airports for a week, which stranded tourists and did real harm to the economy. The army called for new elections and a PAD withdrawal, without staging another coup. Instead, the coup came from the Constitutional Court, which ruled in December that the PPP must be dissolved because of vote buying. A parliamentary election chose the PAD candidate, British-born Mark Abhisit Vejjajiva, as Thailand’s 27th prime minister.

Abhisit presided over a six-party coalition government, and during his administration, Thailand’s economy felt the effects of the world financial crisis of 2007–2008 and the Great Recession that followed. Abhisit responded to the crisis with various stimulus programmes, while also expanding on some of the populist policies initiated by Thaksin.

Meanwhile, a “Red Shirt” group called the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, or UDD, began staging anti-government protests. In April 2009, the UDD staged protests in Pattaya, where they disrupted the fourth East Asia Summit, a meeting of Asian leaders, and also protested in Bangkok, leading to clashes with government forces. They were quiet for the rest of the year, but the UDD regathered in March 2010 to call for new elections. The protesters later occupied a large area of Bangkok’s central shopping district. This led to violent attacks, both against protesters and the government units called in, and negotiations between the government and the protest leaders failed to defuse tensions. Therefore, in May 2010, the military launched a crackdown to remove the protesters, leading to 68 deaths and arson attacks, before the government took control of the situation, and the UDD leaders surrendered. One of the dead was Khattiya Sawatdiphol, a general who sided with the red shirts.

In the effort to recover after the violence, new elections were held, which took place on July 3, 2011. This time the new party for the Red Shirt faction, the Pheu Thai Party, won 265 of the 500 parliamentary seats, allowing it to rule without the need to form a coalition. The party’s leader was Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin Shinawatra’s younger sister, so she became Thailand’s first female prime minister.

For 2011, 2012 and most of 2013, Thailand was relatively quiet, allowing Yingluck to keep her campaign promises from the latest election. There was severe flooding during the rainy season of 2011, causing damages for which the cost was estimated at 1.43 trillion baht, or $46 billion in US dollars.

The next time trouble started, it was because in November 2013, the lower house of the parliament passed a bill granting amnesty to those accused of crimes after the coup in 2006. This included former prime minister Thaksin, and more than 10,000 demonstrators took to the streets to protest the bill’s passage. Although the bill failed to pass the Senate, anti-government protests continued, with thousands of people taking to the streets to demand the resignation of Yingluck, who they said was a puppet of her brother Thaksin. On December 9, Yingluck dissolved parliament and called for early elections, scheduled for February 2014. The opposition boycotted the vote, and disrupted the election by preventing the delivery of ballot boxes to about 11% of the precincts, and by preventing some people from registering as candidates. The Constitutional Court ruled the election was invalid, because all the voting was supposed to take place on one day. Then in May the Constitutional Court ordered Yingluck to resign, after ruling that she abused power in 2011 when she removed a civil servant from his post and replaced him with a relative. This was considered a blatantly political ruling, and as you might expect, both anti- and pro-government protests continued, with the anti-government demonstrators shutting down several government buildings and taking over the prime minister’s office.

If you have been paying attention, you can guess what happened next. Did you say that the military got involved again? Yes, you get an A! On May 20, 2014, General Prayut Chan-o-cha declared martial law, to restore peace and order. He closed the country’s radio and television stations, requested that everyone stop protesting, and stated that the military was not launching another coup. Quote: “We urge people not to panic. Please carry on your daily activities as usual. The imposition of martial law is not a coup d’etat.” Unquote.

Nevertheless, two days later General Prayut felt it was necessary to stage a coup, so he seized power, installed a ruling junta called the National Council for Peace and Order, and threw out the latest constitution. The king endorsed the coup, formally appointing Prayut to “take charge of public administration,” and to most of the Thai people, that made Prayut the new rightful head of the government. An interim constitution was introduced in July. The parliament was replaced by a unicameral body called the National Legislative Assembly, whose members were picked by Prayut, and in August (Surprise!) they elected him prime minister. Prayut retired from the army in October, meaning that henceforth he would be a civilian leader.


On August 17, 2015, a bomb exploded inside Erawan Shrine, in Bangkok. The blast killed 20 and injured 125; most of the victims were tourists visiting the shrine. This is the worst terrorist attack to have occured since the 2014 coup. A second bomb exploded on a passenger pier in Bangkok the following day, but no one was injured. No one claimed responsibility for the bombs, but the authorities later said the perpetrators belonged to a Turkic ultra-nationalist organization called the Grey Wolves, and they were retaliating because Thailand deported almost 100 Uighur terrorist suspects back to China, instead of allowing them to seek asylum in Turkey. Investigators found bomb-making materials that could have been used in the attacks, and the police arrested two suspects, Adem Karadag and Yusufu Mieraili; both of them are ethnic Uighur men. Karadag confessed to planting the first bomb, but he later retracted his confession, and his lawyer said that torture was used to extract the confession.

The trial of the suspects has been delayed and prolonged; my most recent source on it, dated January 2020, stated that the trial was still going on at that time, and another source predicted the trial would not end until 2024, at least. Part of the reason for the slow progress is the amount of information; there is security camera footage of the first explosion, and it showed a pipe bomb under a bench before it went off. Moreover, 447 people have been declared witnesses, and all of them are expected to testify. There is also a language barrier. Neither of the suspects speaks Chinese, but Mieraili knows English, so all court testimony has to be translated into English and Uighur. Finally, military court procedure runs slowly, with long periods of time between court dates, and because the first bombing was at a popular tourist attraction, the authorities don’t want to say anything about the case that could jeopardize Thailand’s tourism industry.

Podcast footnote: I don’t know if this is the longest-lasting trial on record. It has gone on for at least as long as the trial of Slobodan Milosevic, the former dictator of Yugoslavia. I am thinking of doing a podcast on Central Asia when I am done with this one, and since that would include the Uighur territory in northwest China, there’s a good chance I will be coming back to this case at a future date. End footnote.

Two years after the coup, on August 7, 2016, another constitution was passed in a referendum. This one, like the Burmese constitution that I told you about in the previous episode, contained many provisions that guaranteed the military would continue to have a role in politics. In place of the National Legislative Assembly, it promised a new legislative body called the National Assembly, which would convene after elections were held. The 500 members of the lower house, called the House of Representatives, would be chosen by election, while the 250-member Senate would be appointed by the military.


Throughout all the events I have described, the king, Bhumibol Adulyadej Rama IX, has only gotten involved to curb the worst excesses of both the right and the left. In Episode #99, I told you how the king supported the 1973 revolution at first, but turned against it when it got out of hand three years later. In 1981 and 1985 coups were attempted against Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda, but the king and Queen Sirikit nipped them in the bud by openly endorsing Prem. In 1992, and once more in 2006, the king again acted as a moderator to defuse political violence. And as we saw a few minutes ago, one of the reasons why Thailand is stable now, is because the king endorsed the latest coup, in 2014.

For their enlightened actions, the king and queen are honored by everybody in the land. Even now, just about every Thai-owned house and business has a picture of the king on the wall; I have seen that picture when I walked into a Thai restaurant. In 2005, Duncan McCargo published an article in The Pacific Review, entitled Network monarchy and legitimacy crises in Thailand, where he coined the term “network monarchy” to describe how the king acted, when he intervened in Thailand’s political process. Rather than get directly involved, the king usually relied on friendly officials to express what he wanted. His favorite institution for acting indirectly was the privy council, where he kept proxies like former prime minister Prem. Thanks to those proxies, the king managed to recover much of the power that the monarchy had lost, in the coup of 1932.

This all ended on October 13, 2016, with the death of the 88-year-old king. In 2008, when he was eighty, the king stopped making his regular trips around the countryside, to meet with the people and discuss how he could improve their lives. From then on, illness caused him to go in and out of the hospital frequently. Often he only appeared in public when he received important visitors, like US President Barack Obama, in November 2012. Thailand has the world’s toughest laws against lése majesté, disrespectful treatment of the royal family. Under these laws, criticism of the king, queen, and crown prince can be punished with heavy fines and prison sentences. After the 2014 coup, the military silenced its critics by expanding the lése majesté laws to protect former kings, other members of the royal family, and even their pets. An example of the latter was reported by the Guardian; in 2015 Thanakorn Siripaiboon, a 27-year-old factory worker, was arrested for writing a “sarcastic” Facebook post about Tongdaeng, Rama IX’s dog. He was supposed to go to prison for 37 years, but Thanakorn’s lawyers were able to get him released on 500,000 baht ($14,000) after serving 86 days in prison. Also, when the International New York Times reported on the story, their local printer refused to print it, so the Thai edition of the newspaper had a blank space where the story should have been. Because of all this, during Rama IX’s final years, most Thais understandably did not want to talk about his condition.

Podcast footnote: In the mid-1980s, there was a popular song on the radio called “One Night in Bangkok.” The original was performed by Murray Head, but I heard another version of the song first, by a female artist named Robey. The Thai government thought “One Night in Bangkok” gave false impressions about Thailand, and banned the song from the country. Normally I’d play a sound clip, for those of you who are too young to remember the song, but I want to keep this podcast accessible to my Thai listeners; sorry. End footnote.

Rama IX enjoyed the longest reign in Thai history, 70 years and four months. In fact, he was alive when I launched this podcast. Many of his subjects went through their whole lives without knowing any other head of state. This is also the longest reign anywhere in the early twenty-first century. The only longer reign in my lifetime was that of Sobhuza II, the former king of Swaziland, a small African country. Sobhuza became king in 1899, when he was just four and a half months old, and ruled until his death in 1982, meaning his reign lasted for 82 years and eight months. And you have probably heard that England’s Queen Elizabeth II has the record for longest-ruling British monarch; if she is going to match the Thai record, she will have to stay on the throne until June of 2022.


Rama IX had three daughters and one son. In the twentieth century, Rama VI was the last king to take more than one wife, and Rama the VI through the VIII did not have children, so the royal family isn’t as large as it used to be. I think I told you in a previous episode that to make sure there would be an heir to the throne, the Succession Law was changed in 1977, making women eligible to rule. Two of the royal daughters of Rama IX disqualified themselves by marrying men of commoner status; one of them married an American and lived in the United States for a while. The third daughter, Princess Sirindhorn, remained a candidate, and though she was popular, she was 61 years old at the time of her father’s death, unmarried and had no children; if she was crowned, the Chakri dynasty would end with her. That left the son, 64-year-old Prince Vajiralongkorn. Vajiralongkorn had seven children, but they came from three failed marriages. Moreover, the people didn’t know him very well, and didn’t like him much; he had spent at least half of his adult life abroad, mostly at a second home in Germany, and even the lése majesté laws couldn’t do much to make him look good. In fact, he was hurriedly called back to Thailand just before his father’s death. Still, Vajiralongkorn’s kids made him the best candidate, so after he requested time off to mourn his father, he accepted the throne on December 1, 2016, becoming King Rama X. One of his first acts was to give his father a posthumous title, King Bhumibol the Great. A year of mourning was held across the whole country, ending with the king’s cremation on October 26, 2017. For this ceremony, a lavish procession took the king’s body in a coffin to the cremation ground, which was decorated to look like Mt. Meru, the five-peaked mountain that is the home of the gods in Hindu mythology.

The actual coronation of Rama X did not take place until May 4, 2019. Three days earlier, he married his current love interest, a former flight attendant and army officer named Suthida Tidjai. This was his fourth marriage so far, and the marriage made Suthida the new queen. But he didn’t stop there; it looks like Vajiralongkorn wants to revive the old custom of royal polygamy. At the end of July he named a 34-year-old general, Niramon Ounprom, as the royal consort, meaning an official concubine, and gave her a more noble name, Sineenat Wongvajirapakdi. When Thailand’s Royal Household Bureau posted a biography and more than 60 photos of the new consort, they literally broke the Internet; so many people accessed the Bureau’s website that it crashed. Then in October 2019, the king and consort had a falling out. A palace order stripped Sineenat of her title, ranks, and decorations, stating that she had been disrespectful to Queen Suthida and disloyal to the king. Sineenat disappeared, and for the next ten months, the public did not know if she was alive or dead.

When COVID-19 struck, Vajiralongkorn returned to his old habits. He chose in early 2020 to spend the COVID quarantine in Germany, rather than in Thailand. He rented a four-star hotel in the Bavarian Alps, and spent most of the year there. His presence in the hotel sparked controversy in both Germany and Thailand; the Germans don’t want the king governing on German soil. In August he sent one of the planes in his fleet, a Boeing 737, to fetch Sineenat; it turned out she had been held in a Bangkok prison. Once she was with the royal entourage, her titles were restored with two declarations. The first said that Sineenat, quote, “is not tarnished,” unquote, and the second said, quote, “Henceforth, it will be as if she had never been stripped of her military ranks or royal decorations.” Unquote.

Even now, after the quarantine, Rama X prefers to stay in Germany, because it keeps him away from protests in Thailand. Still, he has declared that he does not want to enforce the harsh lése majesté laws, and that has improved his popularity a bit. To quote Mel Brooks, it’s good to be king!

Meanwhile, after many postponements, the first election since the 2014 coup took place on March 24, 2019; 77 parties participated. Critics accused the election of being skewed so that Prayut Chan-o-cha had an unfair advantage. The Pheu Thai Party, which we saw favored Thaksin and the Red Shirts, did the best, winning 136 seats, compared with 116 seats for Palang Pracharath, the new pro-military party. Even so, when the time came to elect a prime minister, the Senate and Palang Pracharath Party worked together to choose Prayut; the vote was 500 to 244. Thus, Prayut is still prime minister at the time of this recording, having been in that office for nearly seven and a half years. There have been protests against Prayut’s continued rule and his poor record on human rights, but since 2020 these protests have been dampened, because more people are concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic.


Thailand is usually classified as a developing country, since the per capita income, when modified to reflect purchasing power, is US $18,570, well below Western standards. That is fourth place for Southeast Asia, though, after Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia. From a social standpoint, Thailand is Southeast Asia’s most successful nation. Because they have never been dominated by foreigners, the Thais have been able to develop at their own pace. Culture shock has been avoided, and traditional institutions like the monarchy and Buddhism have entered the modern world relatively intact, a remarkable accomplishment when the rest of Southeast Asia has either slipped into seedy socialist decay or lost its identity in a maze of skyscrapers, fast-food restaurants, and the pop culture of the West. And the population, which has grown from 17 million to almost 69 million since World War II, is now increasing at a much safer annual rate of 0.3%, about the same as the developed West.

As the same time, the influence of the outside world has put strong pressure on Thailand, especially the influence of the United States. A few decades ago, a Thai official summarized his country’s relations with the US by saying, quote, “The Americans are good for business but bad for our culture.” Unquote. Along that line, I read a news story about tourism in Thailand while researching this episode. In 2019, 40 million tourists came to Thailand, and spent 1.91 trillion baht, or $57.3 billion US dollars, so it’s an understatement to say that tourism is a major component of the economy. Because of the COVID lockdowns, the number of foreign tourists dropped to 6.7 million in 2020, and for 2021, only about 200,000 tourists arrived. Now that the country is opening up again, officials are rethinking what kind of tourists they will let in. Instead of just allowing in anyone who can afford a plane ticket to Bangkok, they are talking about focussing on “high-end travellers.” This means not only tourists with lots of money, but also those with valuable skills, and those planning an extended stay, such as foreigners coming to work at jobs in the country, and retirees. Now the buzzword for the tourism industry will be quality, rather than quantity.

An example of the changes can be seen with Maya Bay, a beautiful cove that was made famous because The Beach, a Leonardo DiCaprio movie, was filmed there. In the past, as many as 6,000 visitors came each day, sunbathing on its shores, swimming in the aquamarine waters, and dropping anchors on top of the coral reefs. They left trash on the beach, scared away much of the local wildlife, and caused around 60 percent of the coral to disappear. In response to this “overtourism,” the authorities closed Maya Bay to visitors in 2018. Since then they have replanted the coral, sea turtles have returned to Maya Bay, and endangered whale sharks have been seen off the coast. While the recovery of the local ecology is good news, it is estimated that it will take another twenty years without visitors to make the recovery complete. Currently the plan is to allow no more than 300 visitors a day, in a maximum of eight boats that will dock at a nearby pier, not in the cove itself, and the tourists will only be allowed to stay for an hour. Will this strike an acceptable balance between the desires of people and the needs of nature? If it works, you can expect similar restrictions at other attractions, and your stay in Thailand will be more regulated than it was before, all for the good of everyone and the environment.

Of course, any changes to the way Thailand handles tourism will affect its notorious sex trade. I briefly mentioned this business in Episode #109. It is bad enough when children are involved, but since the 1980s, the problem has been compounded by the spread of AIDS. This not only threatens the sex business, which is a large source of foreign tourism, but it also threatens the future of the country, as large numbers of people not directly involved in the sex trade become infected. How the Thais cope with this is another challenge the rest of the world will be watching in the twenty-first century.

Since the 1980s, the Thais have cultivated better relations with countries that aren’t pro-Western, using Thailand’s healthy economy to make deals with less fortunate neighbors. Some of these ventures involved Libya, Myanmar and the Khmer Rouge, sparking protests from Washington. The strain in Thai-US relations caused Thailand to apply for membership in the Nonaligned Movement in 1993. What all this means is that Thailand’s future, for better or for worse, will be tied more closely to that of her neighbors; the Thai approach to problem-solving will also set an example for other Southeast Asians to follow.



We. Are. Done.

In 119 episodes, which took five years and eight months to record in real time, we have completed the historical narrative on every country in Southeast Asia; their histories have been brought all the way to the beginning of 2022. Are we done with the podcast? Not quite! I expect to do at least two more episodes, and maybe at a future date I will do another one covering new events in the region, like if one of the countries gets a leader as controversial as Mr. Duterte in the Philippines, or the generals running Myanmar.

What’s next? For Episode #120, I am planning a question-and answer session. You ask the questions, and I try to answer them as best as I can. So far I have only gotten from you three questions, plus a request for an episode on a special topic. Unless you send me more, the next episode will be a short one. You can ask the questions on the podcast’s Facebook Page (look for History of Southeast Asia Podcast on Facebook), or by emailing me at Berosus@gmail.com. That’s B-E-R-O-S-U-S, at gmail.com. I will be taking those questions for the rest of February 2022, so send them to me today!

If you enjoyed this episode, consider making a donation to support the show. Like I have said before, this podcast is free for you the listeners, but not for me the podcaster; whereas it shouldn’t cost you anything to download and listen to the episodes, it costs me some money, and more than a little time, to produce them. To make a one-time donation, follow the Paypal links I posted, on the Blubrry.com page where this episode is hosted, or on the podcast’s Facebook page. After you click on the link, follow the instructions. You can also support the podcast by becoming a Patron, where you pledge to give a small amount at the beginning of each month, $1 or more. If you want to do that, there is also a Patreon link on the previously mentioned Blubrry page.

Those who make a one-time donation will get their first names added to the Podcast’s Hall of Fame Page. And if you donate in more than one year, there’s more. Those who donate in two different years will get the coveted water buffalo icon added, next to their name. Those who donate in three years will get the ever-popular Shwedagon Pagoda icon added next to their name as well. And here’s the newest feature; those who donate for four years will get the brand-new OUTRAGEOUS Merlion icon!

Why do we have the Merlion, Singapore’s national symbol? When I added the first icon to the Podcast Hall of Fame Page, I chose Walter the Water Buffalo, because water buffaloes, or carabao, to use the Philippine name, can be found in almost every Southeast Asian country; they are extremely useful for farmers growing rice. In fact, I think the only country where water buffaloes are not a common sight is Singapore, due to geography; Singapore is one small island with a very large city on it. As for the ever-popular Shwedagon Pagoda icon, you all should know by now that this icon represents the most famous monument in Myanmar. So when the time came to add a new icon after that, I decided that since Singapore was not represented by either the water buffalo or the pagoda, we should now have something that represents Singapore, so I made an icon representing one of the most familiar sights in Singapore, the Merlion fountain. The story behind the Merlion is told in Episode #76, and if you download the episodes before listening to them, you may have noticed that for the past year and a half, the cover art for each episode has been a picture of the Merlion. So Gabriel S. is now the first donor to win the OUTRAGEOUS Merlion icon!

In previous episodes, I told you how many donors had made pledges to support the show on Patreon, but I never gave them name recognition. So here is a shout-out to the 23 Patrons currently active. My hat is off to Brian T., Tom (no last name listed), Lou C., Smiley, Mikael, Markus G., Caroline L., Morten P., Deren T., Andrew K., Peg F., Delanie C., Joel P., AJ F., Grahamkell, David P., Prince T., Robert R., Wally D., Gabriel S., Michael L., Christian M., and Ed D!


Finally, I want to give a big thank you to all of you who have promoted the podcast, either by writing reviews or by telling your family and friends in the real world. Okay, I have talked enough for this episode. Thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!


A Delay for Episode #119

Here is a quick note to let you know the next episode will be late. I know, it has already been a month since the last episode was uploaded. But real-life concerns keep getting in the way, and with all the cold weather we’re having here, I’d rather not record while the furnace is running in the background. At this point I have gotten about 2/3 of the recording done, so at the rate I’m going, the new episode will probably be ready in the first week of February. Don’t worry, I promise it will have plenty of content. “All killer, no filler,” as you might say when listening to a great album.

Episode 118: Which Way is Myanmar Going?

Here is a Christmas present from me!  This episode covers the turbulent recent years of Myanmar’s history, from 2008 to 2121.  The next episode will come out in 2022, so Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!



This episode is dedicated to James G., Torsten J., and Jouke C., (I hope I’m pronouncing that name right). All of them made donations to the podcast in the past couple of weeks. James, welcome to our happy family. Torsten and Jouke have given before, so it’s good to see them again. And Jouke donated in 2019 and 2020, so if you’re a long-time listener, you know what that means. On the Podcast Hall of Fame Page, Jouke has now become the third donor to receive the Ever-Popular Shwe Dagon Pagoda Icon! Jouke, you have now joined the donor elite; tell your family and friends how easy it was to do it. Since this is the last episode I plan to record in 2021, may the new year bring all of you unprecedented opportunities for success. And now on with the show!

Episode 118: Which Way is Myanmar Going?

Greetings, dear listeners, for the 118th time, from the hills of Bluegrass country in Kentucky! Here it has gotten quite a bit colder since the last time I recorded an episode, so hopefully you won’t hear the furnace in the background too much, as we get together today.

<Play “Colder Are My Nights”>

It’s time for another visit to Myanmar, or Burma if you prefer the old name. I have told you before that of all the countries in Southeast Asia, Myanmar is the most difficult one for me to research, and much of its story is simply weird. To start with, it has been 32 years since the Western media switched names, and started calling the country Myanmar, but I still meet people who don’t know where the place is, so I have to remind them that it used to be called Burma. Compare that with two other countries along the Bay of Bengal that changed their names in my lifetime; I don’t have to tell anyone that when I was a kid, Bangladesh was called East Pakistan, and Sri Lanka was called Ceylon. And I think I told you that Aung San Suu Kyi, one of the most important people in today’s episode, still calls the country Burma, because she speaks fluent English and understands the outside world better than the military men who oppose her.

And then there are the strange activities of those who are in charge; I gave plenty of examples of their behavior in previous episodes, and will give another example later, when I get to the grandson of Than Shwe. Well, I’m ready to get into the Burmese narrative again, if you are.

This is the fourth episode in the podcast covering events in Myanmar / Burma since World War II. In case you want to go back and listen to the other three episodes, here they are. Episode #63 covered how the British re-established their colonial rule over Burma at the end of World War II, and how the Burmese nationalists won independence for the country during the next few years. Then with Episode #101, we looked at Burma over the next forty years, when it had just two heads of state, U Nu and Ne Win. And with Episode #112, we looked at what happened in the country, now renamed Myanmar, during the twenty years after the unsuccessful revolution of 1988. For this period, two generals were the leading figures, first Saw Maung, and then Than Shwe. Now you know where to go for the episodes leading up to this one!


I must confess that in Episode #112, I mentioned that after promising a new constitution for many years, the ruling junta finished writing the draft for it in 2008, but I did not give any details. The main feature was that this constitution guaranteed the military would remain a key player in the future, by specifiying that one fourth of the members in each house of the parliament would be appointed, not elected, by the Tatmadaw, as the armed forces are called in Burmese. In addition, the ministries of home, border affairs and defense had to be headed by a serving military officer, and the military would appoint one of the country’s two vice presidents. On top of all that, it declared that a person could not serve as president if he or she was married to a foreigner, or had committed a crime. This was a direct slap at the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi; I mentioned in Episode #112 that she had a British husband, who died of cancer in 1999. Because of that law, when civilians got their chance to rule, they created a special position in the government just for her.

This is a good place to refresh your memory concerning Aung San Suu Kyi, since she will be important all through this episode. A daughter of Aung San, the leading nationalist in the 1930s and 1940s, Aung San Suu Kyi first got involved in politics during the 1988 revolution. A remarkable political lighning rod of a woman, Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her activities. The military leaders in charge responded by putting her under house arrest more than once. While her husband was alive, the government wished she would just leave the country, join her family and stay away, but for some reason it never expelled her. Because of her relationship with the much-loved Aung San, and because her Nobel Peace Prize made her an international figure, the government was careful not to go too far with her. When not under house arrest, she was able to move around the country and speak to crowds, though the government usually harrassed and threatened these gatherings. This showed that even with all its sins, the dictatorship in Myanmar is not the worst in today’s world. Aung San Suu Kyi would get no such tolerance if she was in North Korea or Iran.

In May 2008 a public referendum was held on the new constitution, but it was interrupted by Cyclone Nargis, the terrible hurricane-like storm that swept across the country. We covered this natural disaster, and the government’s lousy response to it, in Episode #112. Later in the same month, the government declared the constitution was ratified, but outside observers were highly skeptical of the referendum process, especially regarding the results reported from regions devastated by the cyclone. The document would take effect after the election of a new legislature, named the Assembly of the Union, and that election took place in November 2010. Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League of Democracy, or NLD, boycotted the election, because all pre-existing parties were ordered to dissolve themselves before their members could run for the legislative seats. As a result, the two parties set up to represent the government won the election easily.

2011 was a year of real political changes. The new legislature convened on January 31, and on February 4, Thein Sein, a former general who had served as prime minister since 2007, was elected president by members of the legislature. Than Shwe stepped down by dissolving the junta that had ruled previously, the State Peace and Development Council, on March 30. Than Shwe also stepped down from his military posts, and Thein Sein took his place as the head of a new civilian government. During the rest of the year, Aung San Suu Kyi and 200 other prisoners were released and/or pardoned, a National Human Rights Commission was established, and labor unions and strikes were legalized. A cease-fire agreement was signed with the Shans, one of the ethnic minorities that had been in revolt for many years, and another cease-fire accord was reached with an even more intransigent minority, the Karens, in January 2012. The National League of Democracy was allowed to register as an official party, and on April 1, 2012, a special election was held to fill 45 vacant seats in the 440-member lower house. The NLD ran candidates for 44 seats, and won 43 of them; even more amazing, the winners were allowed to take office. One of them was Aung San Suu Kyi, who was elected to a seat representing Yangon.


Officially Than Shwe retired when he stepped down in 2011, but it is rumored that he still has considerable influence over today’s generals, even though he is 88 years old as I record this. Now I will introduce you to another person who has influence, but no job, in present-day Myanmar. This is Than Shwe’s grandson, Nay Shwe Thway Aung. Born on May 22, 1991, he is just 30 years old at the time of this recording, and also goes by the nickname “Pho La Pyae.” Nay Shwe is an example of a rich kid who acquires too much money, too early in life. All of my sources list his profession as “business tycoon,” and one describes him as, quote, “brash, loud and outrageously snobbish,” unquote, which is probably what you would expect of someone with the kind of upbringing he had. It is also reported that the generals resent him, because Nay Shwe has never served in the military, but when he attends government meetings, he gets as much attention as they do.

We don’t know exactly how rich Nay Shwe is; one webpage I saw estimated his net worth at $1 million to $5 million in US dollars, but considering that his grandfather is a corrupt former head of state, he probably has much more. He certainly has access to much more, anyway. In 2009 the 18-year-old Nay Shwe wanted the government to buy an English football team, Manchester United (that’s a soccer team for you American listeners). The purchase would have cost 1 billion US dollars, and he was talked out of it, because Cyclone Nargis had wasted the country less than a year before, and it would look insensitive to spend that kind of money while so much of the population was suffering. Instead, Nay Shwe ended up buying a plot of land within the compound of the University of Yangon, and converted it into a discotheque. Finally, during his teenage years, rumors went around asserting that he joined a gang of teenagers called Sin Zway, meaning Elephant Tusk, and that once he and his friends kidnapped Wut Hmone Shwe Yee, a famous model and actress, and held her in his house for several days.

Fortunately Nay Shwe Thway Aung has matured somewhat over the past decade. In 2015, when the government handed over power to Aung San Suu Kyi, following that year’s election, Nay Shwe acted as the go-between in that meeting. However, he may be following in the footsteps of his quirky predecessors, Ne Win and Than Shwe. In previous episodes, I told you that Ne Win and Than Shwe were superstitious and followed the advice of astrologers, even when it was insane. Ne Win reportedly bathed in dolphin’s blood, ordered everyone in the country to drive on the opposite side of the road, and wrecked the economy by issuing paper money in denominations divisible by 9. Than Shwe wasn’t as bad, but you may remember he built a new capital city on empty land, two hundred miles from Yangon, and gave government workers only two days to pack their bags and move to it. So far, Nay Shwe has only shown one personality quirk, which may be because he isn’t old enough to show more. He is the world’s number one fan of Enrique Iglesias.

Yes, that Enrique Iglesias. The pop star whose name means “Henry Church” when translated into English. Since 2016, Nay Shwe has been releasing music videos where he either covers or lip-syncs to Enrique Iglesias songs. And these aren’t fun little TikTok videos like the ones your friends or relatives might record film at home. We’re talking about actual music videos, done with a cast and a budget. Productions like the videos MTV used to show, back in the days when that cable TV station was more interested in music than in reality shows. So far his biggest success is a cover of Enrique’s “Tonight (I’m Lovin’ You)”; because he announced it on his Facebook page, it got one million views within 24 hours. For another cover song, “Hero,” he added a line in the Burmese language at the end. If you want to see those videos, all you have to do is go to YouTube and type “Nay Shwe Thway Aung” into the YouTube search box.

Now if you’re wondering what Nay Shwe’s real voice sounds like, there are YouTube videos of that, too. He let everyone know he had hit the big time, by singing at the 2019 Miss Universe Myanmar pageant. I will just say you won’t confuse him with Enrique Iglesias.


Back to the narrative. We saw in previous episodes that Burma followed a strict isolationist foreign policy, starting in 1962. That policy began to loosen up after 2008, partly because of Cyclone Nargis. The government’s new attitude paid off, in the short run. In 2011 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton became the first senior US official to visit in at least fifty years, and President Barack Obama paid two visits, in 2012 and 2014. In return, Thein Sein visited Washington, DC in 2013, and Aung San Suu Kyi visited in 2016. From 2010 onward, the outside world eased its economic sanctions, so the once-depressed economy began to grow again. In 2006, it was Myanmar’s turn to host the meetings of ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, but Myanmar, following its isolationist tendencies, refused to do it. The next opportunity to host the organization’s meetings came in 2014, and this time Myanmar accepted, presumably because the new capital, Naypyidaw, was now finished and ready to receive visitors.

The most important sign that things had changed took place in November 2015, with the holding of parliamentary elections. This was the first completely free election since 1990, which you will remember was annulled by the military, after the NLD won a solid victory. It was another sweeping NLD victory; that party won 86 percent of the seats, 235 in the House of Representatives and 135 in the House of Nationalities. The NLD needed a two-thirds majority to outvote the pro-military bloc in the government, and to make sure its candidates for president and second vice president would be elected; they got that for sure! The newly elected Assembly of the Union began meeting in February 2016; in March a friend of Aung San Suu Kyi, a poet named Htin Kyaw, was elected and inaugurated as president. We mentioned already that Aung San Suu Kyi could not serve as president, so a new office, called the State Counselor of Myanmar, was created to replace the office of prime minister, and she was appointed to that position. As State Counselor, she got to act as president in all but name, and was treated as the country’s real head of state when traveling abroad. However, on the country’s periphery, clashes with insurgent groups continued, despite the political progress.

Speaking of the rebellious minorities, once she was in a position of power, Aung San Suu Kyi’s top priority was bringing to an end the various insurgencies that were being waged across the country by some 20 armed groups representing the ethnic minorities. Way back in Episode 5, I told you that most of the ethnic groups in present-day Myanmar are related to one another; together we call them Tibeto-Burmans. At some point, possibly as early as 500 B.C., the Tibeto-Burmans migrated south from China, and began to displace another ethnic group, the Mons, that was already living in the southern half of Myanmar. Then in the ninth century A.D., the latest group to arrive, a tribe called the Bamars, became the dominant group in the area; the Bamars are the direct ancestors of today’s Burmese.

Today the Burmese make up about two thirds of Myanmar’s population, but there are more than 100 ethnic groups making up the other third, and they have never been happy under Burmese rule. This is because the Burmese enjoy a privileged position in society and hold most of the government and military positions. Meanwhile the minorities face systemic discrimination, a lack of economic opportunities and development in their regions, minimal representation in government, and abuses at the hands of the military.

To start with, since independence, discrimination has been ingrained in Myanmar’s laws and political system. For example, ethnic identity determines who can have citizenship. The 1982 Citizenship Law states that only members of ethnic groups that lived in Burma before 1823, the last year before the British invaded the country, are full citizens. The British invasion, the first Anglo-Burmese War, was covered in Episode 24. Anyway, the Citizenship Law rendered hundreds of thousands of people, who had been in Myanmar for their whole lives, effectively stateless. This is especially the case with the Rohingya, who the Burmese see as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Under the 2008 constitution, only full citizens are entitled to most rights, such as nondiscrimination, equal opportunity, freedom of expression, voting and running for office.

Over the course of this podcast, I have mentioned the many revolts from the minorities, especially the Karens. Currently the largest revolts involve the Moslem Rohingyas versus the Buddhist Arakan Army in the west; the Karen National Liberation Army in the southeast; the Kachin Independence Army in the north; and the Shan State Army and the United Wa State Army in the east. Human rights groups have documented the Tatmadaw’s abuses in response to the revolts; these include extrajudicial killings, forced labor, rape, torture, and the use of child soldiers. The instability has also allowed Myanmar to continue as a global center for illicit drug production; the Shan State is part of the infamous “Golden Triangle,” the opium-growing zone where Myanmar, Thailand and Laos meet.


Podcast footnote: The latest Karen revolt began in 1949, just a year after the British granted independence to Burma, meaning it has now gone on for 72 years. In a previous episode, I called this the world’s longest continuing civil war. Recently I was reminded that the revolt is not over when I listened to a podcast that interviewed a Karen woman, who now lives in Bowling Green, Kentucky. She has never seen her ancestral homeland; her parents are political refugees who fled from Myanmar, and she was born in a refugee camp in Thailand, where her family stayed until they were allowed to immigrate to the United States. When recalling the history she knew about her homeland, the woman gave an interesting point of view; she did not consider Burma oppressed or colonized while the British were in charge; that began when the Burmese took charge in 1948. This shows the preferential treatment the Karens got under British rule, presumably because the Burmese stood firm with Buddhism, while many Karens were converted to Christianity by Protestant missionaries. End footnote.

While Thein Sein was president, a nationwide cease-fire was signed with eight of the rebel groups in 2015. To follow up on that, the new government opened the 21st Century Panglong peace conference in August 2016, and regular meetings were held afterwards. However, these meetings came at the same time as the government’s latest crackdown on the Rohingya.


In case you haven’t been following news stories concerning the Rohingya, they are a Moslem minority group living in Rakhine, a state on the border of Bangladesh. In the past, Rakhine was called Arakan, and before Burma conquered it in 1785, it was an independent kingdom. I talked about Arakan more than once in the early episodes of this podcast, especially in Episode 18; it enjoyed its peak years in the 16th and early 17th centuries.

I also mentioned previously that most of Myanmar’s inhabitants have enthusiastically followed Buddhism, since it was introduced more than 2,000 years ago. In the second half of the twentieth century, a militant form of Buddhism developed, which was promoted by the military, not the clergy. Then after the twenty-first century began, extremist monks, who promoted the supremacy of Buddhism, warned that Moslems were plotting to take over the country, and that there were schemes to pay Moslems for marrying and converting Buddhist women; they also spread hate speech in the form of inflammatory pamphlets, which called for a boycott of Moslem-owned businesses and an expulsion of all Moslems from Myanmar. In 2013, the initial extremist group, called the 969 Movement, was banned by the Sangha Council, the government-appointed body of monks that oversees and regulates the Buddhist clergy. The extremists not only rejected the ban, but also rejected the authority of the Sangha Council in general, which they saw as a tool of the previous military regime. In January 2014 they formed a new group, the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, commonly called by its Burmese-language acronym, MaBaTha. Monks, nuns and lay people were all eligible to join this group, and it grew quickly because its monks were seen as the rightful experts on religious issues, rather than religious authorities working for the government. By promoting or condoning violence in the name of protecting race and religion, they caused tensions to rise between the country’s Buddhist majority and Moslem minority, especially in Rakhine, where the largest Moslem community lived. The government ordered MaBaTha to disband in 2017, and when the group renamed itself the Buddha Dhamma Charity Foundation, this was outlawed as well. Nevertheless, extremist sentiments can still be found among the country’s Buddhists.

For the other side, a new group called Harakah al-Yaqin attacked Burmese border posts along the Bangladesh–Myanmar border in October 2016, resulting in the deaths of at least 40 combatants. This was the first major attack in the area by Moslem militants since 2001. 86 more were killed in clashes during November. Then on August 25, 2017, Harakah al-Yaqin, now renamed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, or ARSA, launched coordinated attacks on 24 police stations and an army base that left 71 dead, twelve of them Burmese security forces personnel. Finally, there was an attack on Hindus living in Rakhine, also in August 2017, which the organization Amnesty International reported nine months later. The Hindus, like the Rohingyas, originally came from Bangladesh, a country with a Hindu minority. According to Amnesty International’s report, members of ARSA rounded up 69 Hindu men, women and children, executed 53 of them with knives, swords, spades and iron rods, and only spared those who agreed to convert to Islam.

That was all the information I could find about acts of violence by the insurgents, and I suspect there may be more incidents like this, because the rest of the world has many terrorist groups motivated by Islam; the attacks I described by ARSA sound a lot like what ISIS did in the Middle East, for instance. Also keep in mind that because Buddhism is a peaceful religion in most of the world, it must take strong physical and political pressure to make Buddhists respond violently like we are seeing here. To give just one example, Buddhists did not react violently in 2001, when the Taliban blew up the world’s largest statues of the Buddha in Afghanistan.

Therefore, if there aren’t any unreported attacks by the Rohingya, it’s safe to say that the actions on the part of the Tatmadaw and the police are excessive. They launched a brutal campaign against the Rohingya, killing, raping and beating thousands of people, and burning down entire villages. And to add insult to injury, soldiers made a profit by rounding up and selling farm animals from the destroyed villages. Human rights groups and the United Nations suspect that this is a campaign of genocide and ethnic cleansing, led by the Tatmadaw. According to the latest figures I have, the Rohingya population is estimated at 1.3 million; of those, 733,343 have fled across the border into Bangladesh, and 128,500 are internally displaced, meaning they are still in Myanmar, but have been driven from their homes. Since Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest and most crowded countries, resources and land for the refugees is definitely limited. Most of the refugees ended up in Kutupalong, a camp in the southernmost part of Bangladesh; with more than half a million currently living there, this is the world’s largest refugee camp. Recently Bangladesh has been in discussions with Myanmar about repatriating the refugees, but understandably, most refugees don’t want to come back under the current conditions.

Podcast footnote: The violence against the Rohingya also claimed a key member of the National League for Democracy Party. This was Ko Ni, a prominent Moslem lawyer, who was assassinated in 2017 because he was seen as being too soft on the Rohingya. Ko Ni’s murder deprived Aung San Suu Kyi of his perspective as an advisor, especially when it came to reforming the military-drafted constitution, in order to bring true democracy to the country. End footnote.


The civilian government’s reputation became tarnished, because its response to the army’s campaign against the Rohingya was weak. This was especially the case with Aung San Suu Kyi, who now came under worldwide criticism; she, of all people, should have remembered what it is like to be persecuted by the Tatmadaw. She simply denied that ethnic cleansing was taking place, and refused to discuss the issue most of the time. In December 2019, when the country was brought before the International Court of Justice for allegedly having committed acts that constituted genocide against the Rohingya, Aung San Suu Kyi went so far as to defend the military’s actions, and said that if any war crimes had been committed by members of the military, they would be prosecuted in Myanmar’s military justice system. A few of her defenders have argued that she is a pragmatic politician, trying to govern a multi-ethnic country with a complex history. As Derek Mitchell, former US Ambassador to Myanmar, explained it to the BBC, quote: “The story of Aung San Suu Kyi is as much about us as it is about her. She may not have changed. She may have been consistent and we just didn’t know the full complexity of who she is. We have to be mindful that we shouldn’t endow people with some iconic image beyond which is human.” Unquote.

Back in 2007, when Aung San Suu Kyi was an activist for democracy and human rights, Canada declared her an honorary citizen, but later, in 2018, Canada’s parliament voted unanimously to strip her of that Canadian citizenship. There were also calls for the Nobel Committee to take away her Peace Prize; the Nobel Committee didn’t do that because it never de-prizes anyone. But despite all that has happened in the past few years, Ms. Suu Kyi remains popular. A 2020 survey by the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections, a watchdog organization, found that 79% of the Burmese people trust her – up from 70% the previous year.

President Htin Kyaw resigned suddenly in March 2018, due to poor health. He was succeeded by the civilian vice president, Win Myint. Because Win Myint is also an ally of Aung San Suu Kyi, his elevation did not change anything in the government.

The country’s next election took place on November 8, 2020. Polling places were not open in some sections of the country, however, with the election commission citing the insecurity from ongoing unrest between the military and armed ethnic groups as the reason. This affected less than 10 percent of the total electorate, but it was primarily ethnic minority voters in provinces like Rakhine that were disenfranchised. The NLD won even more legislative seats than it had in 2015, taking 396 out of 476 available seats. The pro-military USDP Party only won 33 seats. Though Human Rights Watch and other groups said the elections were flawed, the NLD probably still would have achieved a massive victory, had voting been permitted in all areas. The USDP and the military rejected the results, alleging that the election had been tainted by fraud and irregularities, called for the voting to be done all over again, and demanded that the first meeting of the new parliament be postponed; the electoral commission rejected these requests.

Evidently the Tatmadaw could tolerate losing one major election, but not two. On February 1, 2021 — the day that the newly elected parliament was scheduled to meet for the first time — the miltary acted, arresting Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and other leading members of the NLD. A state of emergency was declared, lasting for one year, and control of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government were handed over to the commander in chief of the armed forces, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. The general claimed that the military takeover was necessary because there were still unresolved electoral irregularities and because the request to postpone the opening of parliament had not been heeded. He promised to hold new elections when the state of emergency ended, and to hand over power to the winner. Of course, there’s a chance the general will find an excuse to extend the state of emergency past February 2022, so he can hold power indefinitely.

Podcast footnote: Do you remember when I talked about Naypyidaw, the country’s new capital, in Episode #112? I mentioned that the main road through the city has twenty lanes, but almost no traffic. Well, Khing Hnin Wai, a physical education teacher, takes advantage of that empty road by recording fitness videos from a roundabout in the middle of the road. She had been filming herself on this spot for months, and on the morning of February 1, she did an aerobic dance routine on the roundabout, wearing a yellow-and-black workout suit and a face mask. Meanwhile, a number of black vehicles went down the road behind her, heading for the government buildings, and in the video, Khing Hnin Wai danced like she wasn’t aware of them. It was only after she posted the 3-minute video on her Facebook page that she learned about the coup, and that she had recorded the beginning of it!

Because of the way social media works, the video went viral; it got more than 67,000 Facebook reactions and was shared on other social media platforms; on Twitter, for example, it gained nearly 60,000 likes and 25,000 retweets. According to Al Jazeera, here is what Khing Hnin Wai wrote on Facebook about the video. Quote: “Before I heard the news … in the morning, the video I made for the aerobic dance competition has become an unforgettable memory.” End quote, and end footnote.


The Tatmadaw used the constitution to justify its actions, which is no surprise since somebody close to the military wrote it, if they didn’t write it themselves. The constitution allows the military to take control in any situation that could cause, quote, “disintegration of the Union, disintegration of national solidarity, and loss of sovereign power.” Unquote. The military argued that their allegations of fraud in the 2020 elections fit this description. Aung San Suu Kyi and Win Myint were put on trial for various charges that had to do with inciting dissent and breaking COVID restrictions. While I was working on this episode, both were found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison. In Aung San Suu Kyi’s case, the sentence was first reduced to two years, then commuted to two years in the undisclosed location where she has been held since the coup. If this means house arrest, I’m sure she is thinking, “Here we go again!”

As you might expect, the coup was widely condemned in the outside world, and a national civil disobedience movement began holding public protests the next day. This included labor strikes, a military boycott campaign, a pot-banging movement, and a red ribbon campaign. Those candidates who won the election and hadn’t been arrested were sworn into their offices, forming a shadow government. On the nation’s periphery, a cease-fire had been in effect with the Karen rebels at the time of the coup; now the rebels announced that the war was on again. Abroad, some nations, including the United States, considered re-imposing the sanctions against Myanmar that had been removed only a few years earlier.

For casualties, the most recent figure I could find comes from a monitoring group called Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which states that the number of protestors killed by military and police forces is 1,303. As for how many have been detained, their figures suggest 10,600. In October the ruling junta released 5,636 of them, or roughly half of the group. Min Aung Hlaing said they were released so they could celebrate Thadingyut, Myanmar’s festival of lights, and that the move would help bring peace and stability to the country, but it is more likely he did it because he was dis-invited from attending the next ASEAN meeting. That meeting, also held in October 2021, was hosted by Brunei, but due to travel diffculties caused by the COVID virus, all the conferences took place online. No one represented Myanmar at the meeting. This was the first time ASEAN had taken such an action against one of its members; previously the organization was seen as rather toothless.


We will finish today’s narrative with a look at Myanmar’s economy. Since independence, improving the economy has always been a major challenge for whoever was in charge. Throughout your lifetime and mine, Myanmar (or Burma if you are more than 32 years old) has been one of the world’s least developed countries, due to a lack of infrastructure, isolationist policies favored by the military juntas, economic mismanagement, which includes the decision to follow socialist policies, and the endless conflicts with rebel groups. Outside of Yangon, most of the country didn’t even have electricity until the 1990s. But in 2011 the country was opened up to trade and investment; that, and other economic reforms have led to some gains.

From 2011 to 2019, Myanmar’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by more than 7 percent per year, with a peak growth rate of 8.4% in 2013, according to the World Bank. Currently, when you adjust figures to reflect purchasing power, the per capita income is US $5,170, much better than it was previously. Likewise, the country’s poverty rate has dramatically declined, falling from 48 percent in 2005 to 25 percent in 2017. However, poverty remains high in rural areas, where much of the population lives by subsistence farming, and the COVID-19 crisis has probably made poverty worse over the past two years.

Following the 2011 reforms, foreign investment skyrocketed from $900 million in 2010 to $4 billion in 2017. The outside world is attracted to invest in Myanmar because of its resources: rice, teak and other hardwoods, jade, rubies and natural gas. In addition, China and Myanmar signed an agreement in 2018 to create the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, or CMEC. This is part of China’s Belt and Road global infrastructure initiative, a project to improve the infrastructure in the countries surrounding China. With Myanmar, the objective is building roads, railroads, pipelines and a deep-sea port, to create a direct connection between Yunnan, a landlocked Chinese province, and the Bay of Bengal, thereby giving China access to the Indian Ocean. There are also plans to continue some of the roads from Myanmar into the next countries to the west, Bangladesh and India. However, the proposed deep-sea port, Kyaukphyu, is in the troubled state of Rakhine, meaning construction may come too close to the conflict between the Tatmadaw and the Rohingya.

Foreign aid also grew dramatically, especially from the European Union, Japan, the United States, and the World Bank. Before 2005, foreign aid coming in from all sources was less than US $100 million. Most of that aid was humanitarian, and it came in without going to government agencies. By 2013, however, the amount of developmental assistance to Myanmar had increased sixty-fold, to $6 billion, making Myanmar one of the world’s largest recipients of foreign aid. Donors also focused more on long-term development goals, rather than simply giving the money where it was needed. The largest amount committed by any nation was US $7.73 billion over a five-year period; this was announced by Japan at the 2016 ASEAN summit in Laos.

However, after 2013, foreign investment decreased and economic growth slowed, as the civilian government struggled to implement further reforms and the military’s suspected genocide of the Rohingya drew an international backlash. The COVID-19 pandemic has also caused a sharp decline in exports, remittances from citizens working abroad, and tourist spending. Finally, it looks like the 2021 coup will further damage the economy; to start with, it has caused the Western nations to cut back on the aid they are sending. At the same time, China is pushing ahead with its building project in the country; since the Chinese government is also a dictatorship, which exists mainly to impose suffering upon its own people, Beijing is not concerned about how the Burmese generals are behaving.


And that’s the current situation with Myanmar. I chose the title “Which Way Is Myanmar Going?” for this episode because to most outside observers, the country had been making progress for the past decade, but with the 2021 coup, it now seems to have gone back to the way it was before. For some of the nations covered in this podcast, their stories sound complete; you could even say they have happy endings. That’s not the case with Myanmar; although this episode brought us to the present with that country, I may come back at a future date to record another episode on how the Myanmar story turned out. Is another long period of tyranny beginning as I wrap up this episode? Or will the military back down, and give civilian government another chance? And will the backward, impoverished, and often persecuted masses get the opportunity to truly enter the modern world? Keep watching the land around the Irrawaddy River, and someday we’ll find out.


Well, Myanmar is one more country for which the story, as told in this podcast, is complete. There is one country left that I have to finish up the recent history on; I’ll let you guess which one it is. That will be the topic for Episode #119, but now I want you to look past that, to Episode #120. I am planning to make Episode #120 a question and answer episode, the fourth I have done so far. At the rate I am going, that episode will probably come out in February 2022. For those who haven’t heard the other question and answer episodes, this is where the listeners take control of what subjects are covered. You do it by ansking questions having to do with Southeast Asia, history in general, or even about me. To a point, of course; I’m not going to answer questions about my underwear, as Bill Clinton did once! And then I will answer those questions to the best of my ability. By doing an episode in this format, I hope to go to subjects I overlooked in the narrative, or revisit subjects you did not hear enough about. To get the questions to me, you can post them on Facebook, at the History of Southeast Asia Podcast page. Or you can email them to berosus@gmail.com — that’s B-E-R-O-S-U-S, at gmail.com. Start thinking of those questions now, and send them my way — it will be February before you know it!

I said earlier that this is the last episode I plan to do for 2021. To keep the podcast going into early 2022, consider making a donation to support it. This podcast is free for you the listeners, because I believe information should be freely available, and not held behind a paywall, but it does cost time and money for me to produce the podcast; in fact, the time and effort are comparable to another job. To make a one-time donation, follow the link on the Blubrry.com page where this episode is hosted, or go to the link I posted a month or so ago, on the podcast’s Facebook page. After you click on the link, follow the instructions.

Also, let me tell you how you can take advantage of the year changing, soon after this episode becomes available. On the Blubrry page, there is also a link to the podcast’s Hall of Fame page, where I give recognition to the donors. Those who donate get their first names added to the page, and if they donate in more than one year, a special icon is added next to their names. If you donate for two years, you get the coveted icon of Walter the Water Buffalo, and if you donate for three years, you get the Ever-Popular Shwe Dagon Pagoda icon! You can give a donation now, and if you give another one right after the New Year starts, you will quickly move up two steps. For example, if you haven’t given before, you can give before January 1, and again after that day, and you will already qualify for Walter the Water Buffalo! What’s more, the donations don’t have to be much; $5 at a time will do the trick. Finally, to the three of you that already have the Shwe Dagon Pagoda icon, if you give again in 2022 I will have to invent a new icon just for you! Do you want to put me to the test?

You can also support the podcast by becoming a Patron; that means you will give a small amount at the beginning of each month, $1 or more. If that is for you, follow the Patreon link on the previously mentioned Blubrry page. I plan to give a special shout-out to the Patreon team in the next episode.

Finally, I would love it if you spread the word about this show. You can write a review, on most of the podcatchers that offer this podcast, or you can just tell the people you know, either on social media or in the real world. Now that Christmas is here, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and I’ll see you in 2022! Thank you for listening, and come back when the monsoon winds are blowing right!