Accepted Paper:

Passengers: the effect of ASEAN on local perceptions toward labor migration  


Tommy Koh (Johns Hopkins University)

Paper short abstract:

Regional organizations moderate the effect of nationalistic rhetoric on labor migration. By examining the case of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), this paper finds that regional organizations balance out nationalist rhetoric and serve both stabilizing and legitimating functions.

Paper long abstract:

From Brexit to Trump, polarization and nationalism have been a central feature of political discourse in 2016. The polarizing tactics of President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines indicates that Southeast Asia is not immune to this trend. With the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Chairmanship rotating to Manila in 2017, this paper explores the implications of such instability on ASEAN's response to migration.

The 2015 ASEAN Economic Community' promised to revitalize ASEAN's role in uniting its 10 members, defending against accusations of it being an ineffective "talk-shop" (e.g. Acharya 2003). However, as political regimes utilize increased nationalist rhetoric to maintain power, some may politicians find it compelling to limit or terminate regional cooperation, especially when domestic perceptions of ASEAN legitimacy is low.

While states have policy levers to encourage or curb migration at the national level, regional organizations also have an influence. By examining interactions amongst domestic political interests, ASEAN and international labor migration, this study finds that domestic political concerns of labor-sending countries are more economic while those of labor-receiving countries are more cultural. While both sending and receiving countries seek greater domestic legitimation through ASEAN, member states have differential regional influence on ASEAN's position depending on whether they seek to promote or block action.

Through a nuanced thematic synthesis of "Arrivals" (Labor Receiving Countries), "Departures" (Labor Sending Countries), "Passengers" (Labor Migrants) and "In-Transit" (ASEAN's Regional Project), this project integrates individual, state and regional discourses to determine the prospects of regional mobility and integration amidst an uncertain climate.

Panel RM-MRB05
Migration in a world of turmoil