Southeastern Asia Economy


Malaysia is a successful economy, not least due to the electronics industry. According to law, employees have the right to organize in a trade union, but in reality trade union rights are restricted. Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable and referred to the most dangerous and lowest paid jobs.


Country Facts

State condition: Monarchy

Surface: 329 750 km2

Capital: Kuala Lumpur, but Putrajaya is the country’s administrative center

Language: Bahasa Malay is the official language, in addition English, Chinese, Tamil and more are spoken.

Labor market and economy:

According to, Malaysia is the three richest country in Southeast Asia after the small states of Singapore and Brunei. The country is a newly industrialized market economy, but where the state actively intervenes in supporting industries that the government wants to develop.

In Malaysia today there is an extensive manufacture of electronic products and cars. The electronics industry alone accounts for almost a third of the country’s exports. Malaysia is also a major producer of palm oil and fruits, including pineapple. An economically important natural resource is the gas deposits.

The workforce has about 15 million employees. Unemployment has long been relatively low, just under 4 percent. However, there are significantly more women than women who have a job. The employment rate among men is currently just over 80 per cent, while the corresponding figure for women is around 55 per cent. One reason for the country’s economic success is the high level of education.


According to, with just over 100 million residents, the Philippines is one of Southeast Asia’s most populous countries. Since dictator Marcos left the country in 1986, the political system has been marked by a fragile democracy. The Philippines has not been as economically successful as the region’s “tiger states”, but growth has increased in recent years. Working life is characterized by a large informal sector. The country has a long trade union tradition and yet the trade union movement is divided and often party politicized.


Country Facts

State condition: Republic

Surface: 300,000 km2

Capital: Manila

Language: Tagalog and English are official languages, in addition to which several minority languages ​​are spoken

Labor market and economy:

Of a population of just over 70 million, just under 45 million are included in the labor force. This means that the employment rate is high. The business structure is characterized by many service professions, small businesses and a widespread informal economy. Every fourth worker works in agriculture. Industry plays a modest role in relation to the size of the country.

A large part of the population is English-speaking, which is one of the reasons why people from the Philippines are attractive as migrant workers. Several million women from the country work abroad with housework or in healthcare. The government has even called women “the country’s most important export commodity”. Many Filipino men are also migrant workers. A quarter of all sailors in the world come from the Philippines. The migration meant a bloodletting of important knowledge. 85 percent of the Philippines’ graduate nurses work abroad. Major recipient countries of migrant workers from the Philippines include Saudi Arabia and the United States.

The Philippines exports electronics, clothing, copper and agricultural products primarily to Japan, the United States and China. Important imports are advanced technology and minerals.


Thailand is a kingdom with an unstable political structure. At the moment, the military is in control. The trade union movement is weak, but there is potential for trade unions. Not least, several unions have been formed in the industry. The trade unions are often subjected to repression.


Country Facts

State condition: Monarchy

Surface: 514,000 km2

Capital: Bangkok – see

Language: Thai

Labor market and economy:

The Thai economy consists of several successful industries – from textiles, to electronics and rice and rubber. The most important exporting countries are in Asia.

In Thailand, rapid industrialization is taking place. In the province of Rayong in particular, many foreign companies have established themselves. One reason is that wage costs have risen in China and that companies are therefore looking for new countries to invest in.

A significant part of the Thai economy is fishing, the country has Asia’s third largest fishing fleet after China and Japan. Thailand has also become an international center for pirate companies, ie companies that have produced goods – watches, clothes, etc. – with another company’s brand.

In parts of Thailand there is a rapid industrialization and Thailand is also a large tourist country with over seven million visitors a year.

Several thousand Thai workers travel to Sweden every summer to support themselves in picking wild berries. In the summer of 2013, 200 of the berry pickers were cheated on their salaries, which led to large protests in Thailand. Eventually, a settlement was reached in Thai court, but only a small part of the berry pickers received their salaries.



Country Facts

State condition: Socialist republic, in effect dictatorship

Surface: 329,560 km2

Capital: Hanoi

Language: Vietnamese is the official language, in addition to which several minority languages ​​are spoken

Labor market and economy:

Vietnam has undergone fundamental economic changes since the end of the war. Among other things, the country has been opened up for foreign investment.

At some points, Vietnam has even gone further than China, the state price system has been completely abolished and replaced with market-driven prices. New entrepreneurs are flocking from Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong. Investments from countries in Southeast Asia have increased exponentially. A negative effect of market thinking is the increased fees in schools and healthcare. The poorest part of the population cannot always afford to see a doctor. Many farmers are forced to let their children work in agriculture instead of going to school, which has led to an increase in child labor. Despite these difficulties, Vietnam’s social standard is still very high compared to other countries at the corresponding level of poverty.

However, the independence of the united Vietnam proved to be problematic. During the war, the traditional planned economy had worked, but when the Soviet model was introduced in peacetime, the consequences were catastrophic. The economy stagnated rapidly and in 1996 the ruling Communist Party was forced to make a drastic change through the introduction of a new economic policy called Doi Moi (renovation). The inspiration came from the powerful neighbor in the north, China. Suddenly, it became free to start companies, economic free zones were established and collective agriculture was privatized and family-run.


East Timor is ranked as a low-income country. The country’s infrastructure is extremely deficient and almost half of the population is illiterate. The country is still suffering from the long liberation struggle against Indonesia. After independence, a new trade union was formed.

Country Facts

State condition: Republic

Surface: 15,000 km2

Capital: Dili

Language: Tetum and Portuguese are official languages, in addition bhasa (Indonesian) and several minority languages ​​are spoken

Labor market and economy:

East Timor, along with Afghanistan, is the poorest country in the world outside of Africa. Large parts of the country’s infrastructure were destroyed during the national war of liberation. In rural areas, a large proportion of households still lack electricity. For further development, the country is heavily dependent on international support.

Most important for East Timor’s economy is the oil and mining industry, which accounts for just over 60 percent of the country’s GDP. The oil and mining industry is also the most important sector for employment, with just over 43 per cent of all employees, but almost as many are employed in agriculture. The public sector is weakly developed.