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In this section we will consider:

(1) the viability of the Growth Triangle in the longer term;
(2) what we feel are key policy issues arising from the Singapore case-study specifically and EMRs in general.

The sustainability of the Growth Triangle model

Prospects for the Growth Triangle as a model for ASEAN

One of the key areas of interest in the Growth Triangle is in regard to its relevance to the development of ASEAN.27 The Growth Triangle may prove to be the start of a new period in intra-ASEAN relations, leading to increased economic integration and the much-sought-after rise in "complementarily." As it is, Singapore far and away dominates intra-ASEAN trade, and the Growth Triangle may prove a useful policy instrument to increase that trade. Some would go further and argue that the Growth Triangle may presage the integration of ASEAN markets and thus an increase in the general well-being of the member states (through economies of scale and comparative advantage).

The relevance of the Growth Triangle as a model for future ASEAN relations is a moot point at best. There are a number of potential down-sides to the development of the Growth Triangle in terms of the future of ASEAN, such as:

• The concentration of investment in this region may lead to feelings of exclusion among other members, such as the Philippines and Thailand.

• The key role played by Singapore makes many wary of the "balance" to be found in the new-found relationships.

• There are no other Singapores in ASEAN, and, as we have argued, Singapore's role as a world city is a key ingredient in the mix of the success of the Growth Triangle.

• The strength of the Growth Triangle concept lies in its vagueness. In order to be generalized to other areas, it would need to be clarified. This clarification would likely be impossible because each nation has a different vision.

• The level of complementarily found in such close proximity in the Singapore case is perhaps unique in ASEAN.

Inherent weaknesses in the Growth Triangle

For the moment the Growth Triangle is succeeding because the benefits seem to be outweighing the costs for each of the participants. However, one wonders if this positive balance is likely to be maintained for long. A number of issues may arise that could scuttle the development of the triangle. For example, there are very real political questions to be addressed in terms of the increasing negative orientation of Johore and the Riaus to Singapore.

Whereas Singapore is an independent nation, the other two facets of the triangle are parts of larger political economies. There are already stresses developing over the appearance that sovereign areas of Malaysia and Indonesia are coming under the sway of Singapore. In Jakarta, for example, the military have come out and questioned the utility of large expenditures on Batam (felt to be benefiting only a small group of the Jakarta Úlite and Singapore), especially in light of the most recent development plan's goal of developing eastern Indonesia, which desperately needs the influx of capital. In Malaysia, Tengku Razeliegh has sounded an early warning that the closeness of Johore and Singapore would likely become an issue on the national stage. This occurred in the general elections in 1990 when the opposition party attempted to stir up Johore voters by emphasizing the "sell out" to Singapore. There are already struggles between Johore and Kuala Lumpur over the control of water in Johore (a critical ingredient in all the developments).

Perhaps the key political issue underlying the fragility of the Growth Triangle concept is ethnicity. Both Indonesia and Malaysia have an engrained history of ethnic conflict between the local Malays and the Chinese. The apparent and actual dominance of Chinese Singapore or the re-incursion of Chinese capital into Malaysia and Indonesia are very volatile issues. The political costs in this regard may soon come to outweigh the perceived economic benefits of the triangle.

It also needs to be remembered that much of the logic for the development of the Growth Triangle has emanated from Singapore. Singapore has been attempting to move a number of activities offshore that are no longer considered suitable or possible for the city-state to maintain. Yet the social changes affecting Singapore values that are leading to the movement of noxious industry and social activities (such as prostitution) offshore are also likely to become increasingly unpalatable to the people of Johore and to a lesser extent Batam. Animosity might quite likely arise. In this case the Singapore EMR, or Growth Triangle, is at a disadvantage when compared with other non-transnational EMRs in the longer term. In other ASEAN cases, where the hinterland is within political boundaries, the overriding power of the "urban-based" Úlite can come to prevail over the qualms of the "rural" populations. In the Singapore case these populations are parts of other polities. This is an advantage for the original dispersal of undesirable activities but in the long run may serve to be a political liability.

Summing-up: The future of the Growth Triangle

The future of the Growth Triangle as an idea is thus far from clear. Political, social, and economic forces may assist in its further development and acceptance. However, as we have been arguing, there is more to the development of this regional economy than the proponents of the Growth Triangle might suggest. Underlying all the talk of comparative advantage and international goodwill is an economic logic that will be difficult to deny (especially for Singapore). That logic is bound up in the trend throughout Asia for the establishment of extended metropolitan regions as key production and distribution complexes. What does this development mean from a policy perspective?

The EMR Model: Policy issues

Why are EMRs emerging?

EMRs are an increasingly prevalent fact of life in the space-economy of Asia today. They are the heartlands of growth and are attracting massive levels of investment. The Growth Triangle girding Singapore is but one example of the development of these regions. Singapore (along with Hong Kong until 1997) is distinctive in the relative importance of transnational issues. But underlying this peculiar nature one sees forces at work similar to those in other EMRs. These forces we consider to be:

• the need to decentralize some activities to avoid high costs in the core;

• the need to keep certain industries and activities out of the city but nearby;

• the need to develop the hinterland to support the urban core's service base;

• the development of a "pleasure periphery" to service "core" consumers who are attaining higher levels of disposable income;

• the utility of tapping "rural," inexpensive workers in situ for a global market-place;

• the flexibility possible in the development of regional production and distribution complexes;

• the impact of new communications and transportation technologies, which transform the time-space fabric of economic activity.

The growing concentration of certain activities in urban cores and the explosive transformation of the countryside are very apparent in the Growth Triangle case. The tentacles of the global economy spreading out from Singapore are finding their way deeper and deeper into the hinterland. This pattern is repeated in other EMRs as well. The process of extending the "urban" economy far into the once-rural hinterland is revolutionizing the lives and the livelihoods of the inhabitants of "rural" areas.

The scale and diversity of these changes add both an urgency and a difficulty to the task of formulating policy frameworks from which one could begin to address the impact of the emergence of EMRs. As a starting position we suggest three key policy areas:

(1) the impacts of very rapid social change;
(2) environmental damage;
(3) the risks of overbuilding.

The impacts of rapid social change

We have described a process wherein an older space-economy has been pulverized by new and varied investments. However, the statistics on investment levels, structural change, and land redevelopment cannot hint at what is occurring "on the ground" - what happens when the city comes to the countryside. This process is distinct from traditional models of social change in at least two ways. First, it is moving at unprecedented speeds. Second, it is changing the very way that "modernization" is reaching the countryside. Traditionally, the impulses of "modernization" were considered to diffuse down through an urban hierarchy and eventually into the hinterlands (i.e. this was urban-based and -biased social change). This pattern is being supplanted in the EMRs by a "region-based" modernization process. Once "rural" and "backward" areas may well be experiencing deeper and more rapid social change than that found in secondary cities.

Looking more closely at the types of change occurring, one can delineate three broad categories: changing occupational structures; high in-migration levels; the spread of "urban" social vice.

CHANGING OCCUPATIONAL STRUCTURE. The changing economic structure in the peripheral areas of EMRs has transformed traditional occupational structures and the patterns of life accompanying those structures. For example, an unknown portion of the 70,000 "structurally unemployed" in Johore are undoubtedly former income-earners. They are being replaced by a new breed of worker, who is usually young and female (Akil, 1989). The collapse of traditional employment and social structures is also enhanced by the growing mix of employment types available to rural Johoreans. They can now work in tourism, petrochemicals, construction, and/or retail, all usually very close to home. The micro-level impacts of this change will need closer examination, but it will likely mean a destabilization of "normal" routines and lifestyles. The changes in the occupational picture are also being aggravated by the introduction of numerous in-migrants from other areas of Malaysia and Indonesia.

IN-MIGRATION. The social cost of EMRs in terms of the impact of massive immigration into the hinterland regions is an issue needing rapid consideration. Despite the fact that many employers in these regions have set up worker housing, there has been a growth in the number of squatter settlements. This trend is evident in both Johore and Batam. As the EMR regions become increasingly dynamic, there is also an upward pressure on land valuations, making squatting more difficult and pushing squatters to more marginal land.

In terms of the impact of in-migration on local populations, the Batam case presents a fairly differentiated set of issues. On Batam, the population is entirely immigrant; people come from all over Indonesia, making ethnic mixing another issue to be addressed. One also wonders what will be the social outcome of the development of industrial parks on Batam employing and housing 50,000 young females in isolation on the island for 2-year contracts? Batam is an extreme but not unique example of the dilemma these regions pose to workers from other areas. The longer-term impacts of this ethnic mixing and labour market segmentation need closer scrutiny.

THE PLEASURE PERIPHERY. Migrants from other peripheral areas are not the only new faces in the EMR outskirts. These areas are also experiencing an increasing presence of "urban" consumers seeking land, entertainment, and investment. The leisure industry is an especially important facet of EMRs in general and the Singapore EMR in particular. The massive infusion of capital (much of it based on the leisure market) into the hinterland areas of ASEAN has led to the proliferation of "urban" vice problems such as prostitution. These areas are becoming a "pleasure periphery" for the core areas (be this in the form of theme parks, holiday spots, bars, or brothels). The clearest manifestation of this transformation of the countryside into a playground is the explosive growth of golf courses. There is a growing list of the social and environmental impacts of the golf course boom in Asia (especially in Thailand).

DIFFICULTIES IN ADDRESSING RAPID SOCIAL CHANGE. The problems inherent in rapid change may well be worsened by the inability of local states to do much about the social and environmental costs consequent upon the massive development they are also unable to control. The EMR regions are characterized by an apparently very ad hoc planning process (though this is, of course, "more flexible"). The manner in which these regions are planned will be the key issue in the coming years.

The provision of services to a population no longer migrating to cities but staying and growing in situ raises a number of questions about how one can spread limited state resources over a wider area than previously projected and adds to the social burdens of EMRs. The difficulty in the state meeting the spatial challenge is perhaps most clearly noticeable in the issue of environmental monitoring and regulation.

Environmental problems

The combination of the extremely mixed set of activities and the rapidity of growth in EMRs presents policy makers with a particularly difficult problem in terms of environmental quality. Without immediate action, the EMRs of Asia will become major environmental problem areas.

The rapid growth rates that characterize these areas are consuming tremendous levels of resources, especially land. Widespread erosion is a critical issue in both Batam and Johore. The speed with which the land has been cleared of vegetation has left little protection for the topsoil on areas awaiting development. As a result, siltation of water systems is a key issue in both locales. In Johore, rapid development is leading to severe water quality problems and thus serving to undermine the very base of the state's industrial development. In other EMRs such as Bangkok and Jakarta, similar and worse environmental damage is occurring.

Although there has been a recent drive by the Johore state government in particular to control environmental problems by pushing new developments into industrial parks, this approach affects only the larger producers. The smaller-scale "subcontractors" so prevalent in these regions are still far from controlled and will require different policy solutions from the state.

The difficulty of regulating and providing services to an array of smaller (often dispersed) enterprises brings one back to the key issue of policy formation on such an expansive spatial scale. Various counties, provinces, or other subregional political groupings not only are failing to maintain a coherent policy framework to control environmental impact but are indeed competing with each other to attract industry. This competition increases the region's attractiveness to capital but does little to ensure a coherent policy regime.

The division of political space into units smaller than the region as a whole presents one with a wide range of problems. The silted and polluted rivers running through these regions bear mute testimony to the need for a wider, coordinated regional level of government. The tragedy of the environmental carnage is magnified because much of the land-clearing is speculative. There is a serious problem of overbuilding in the Singapore region and in EMRs in general.


When driving or walking through the Singapore EMR one is struck by the insistence of the growth, the signboards of coming projects, and the constant state of demolition and construction. The explosiveness with which the Growth Triangle has caught the global imagination has left little time for sober contemplation in the rush to get in on "Singapore 20 years ago." As a result, one surmises that there has been a good deal of overbuilding. For example, could Johore Bahru, a town that until recently did not have one five-star hotel, support 700 new five-star rooms by 1995? Can the region support an unlimited number of Waterfront Cities and Desarus? Or are these developments mirages - cleared lands but no future?

There is much to the Growth Triangle that seems to be for show. For example, in terms of manufacturing investment, a Batam development document claims that investment in Batam has now reached S$2.2 billion. However, the document neglects to mention that S$500 million of this money comes from the Singapore government and another S$500 million from the Indonesian government. It also refers to S$500 million of Indonesian private sector capital - this is largely the Salim Group. Together, these two huge blocks of investment represent not incoming funds but the proposed investments by the developers of the island's largest industrial park. Again and again, first-hand observation tends to undermine the grandiose assertions of developers. A 1989 article on Batam discussed the presence of a hopeful signboard pointing to the CBD of Batam Centre. It flapped in the wind surrounded by empty lots dotted with project signboards. Today the situation is strikingly similar. Grand schemes, hatched in a time of optimism; but what will they leave of the landscape?

If one stands back and considers the rate at which capital has begun flowing into these areas (such as Bangkok or the Growth Triangle), the scale of present and planned investments is stunning. Yet one should also consider that the rapidity with which these regions have risen may in the longer term be matched by an equally rapid exodus of investment once these regions are spent.

For today, there is something basic about the success of these regions and they are likely to stay for a while. However, just as we have demonstrated that in many ways the needs of capital and of the Singapore state "created" an industrial region of the southern tip of Malaysia, one wonders if other, perhaps more successful, regions could not develop in other regions of the world, leaving the Growth Triangle and other EMRs in its wake.

Summing-up: The future of EMRs

This chapter has described the dynamic growth of the new economic and spatial entities we have termed EMRs. These regions are increasingly the growth nodes of Asia. They promise to provide unprecedented opportunities for the populations of "rural" areas. However, they are also harbingers of numerous new social problems.

In many ways the development of EMRs seems an ineluctable process: the logic behind them is so pressing that they are developing relatively autonomously of government influence. Thus there is a need for a pragmatic approach to policy formation in regard to Asia's EMRs. These policies will need to:

(1) discard old models based on urban/rural distinctions and adopt a regional level of analysis and governance;

(2) immediately address the environmental and social repercussions of the explosive growth of these regions.

The key issue facing policy makers today is the need actively to manage development in these regions so as to respond to the social and environmental concerns listed above. Unless these challenges are met, these regions will become "time-bombs" that will pose serious problems to the environment and quality of life of the people resident in them.


1. The research for this paper was carried out in 1991. Since the completion of this chapter, there has been much development, especially on the Riaus.

2. The deconstruction of the concept of the urban raises serious questions about some central concepts in development theory such as the rural-urban social divide and traditional metropolis-hinterland models of spatial development.

3. In fact the Hong Kong case, with its links to the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone and Guangdong province, is on a much larger scale than the Singapore situation. At present, the Growth Triangle cannot be compared to the scale of development going on in the Pearl River Delta and Shenzhen. See Johnson (1991).

If one takes a wider perspective it becomes apparent that, despite their unique needs, the Singapore and Hong Kong situations are not completely singular. Both are searching for "offshore" investments in basic productive and other activities for a variety of economic, social, and political reasons, which we outline below. This movement is increasingly characteristic of all of the so-called newly industrialized economies (NlEs) (e.g. Taiwanese investment in Fujian, China).

4. Kazuo Nakazawa, Keidanren's managing director, has stated that "The Growth Triangle is a unique concept that will facilitate further co-operation and promote direct foreign investment" (Business Times, Singapore, 26 February 1991:23).

5. These two documents outline Singapore's role in the development of the Riaus and Indonesia's undertaking to supply water to Singapore as well as guaranteeing investments in Indonesia.

6. See Straits Times, 13 July 1990 and 25 July 1990. This proposal is losing its lustre as a number of observers have noted that the present Malaysian State Railway right-of-way from Johore Bahru to Singapore is underutilized, largely for what appear to be political reasons.

7. For Batam, Singapore companies were the source of 48 per cent of investment in 1989 (BIDA). An unknown, but undoubtedly large share of other investment came from other sources through Singapore (for example, Sumitomo and Thomson Electronics channel their investment through Singapore). In Johore, Singapore was slightly behind Japan in terms of cumulative investment from 1981 to 1991. However, again, much of this Japanese investment came via Singapore (see the section on Singapore's world city niche). Finally, in terms of the number of investments in Johore, Singapore far outstrips any other nation (Business Times, 21 March 1991:8).

8. Taiwan's China Steel Corporation has proposed a US$8 billion plant and Korea's Pohang Iron and Steel a US$4 billion project to go into Johore's Pasir Gudang Industrial Estate near Johore Bahru (Business Times, 3-4 March 1990).

9. Though this development is now undergoing some difficulties it evinces the scale of the growth mentality in the state. Desaru would have 4 championship golf courses, 1,600 rooms, a winter wonderland, including artificial snow, and other theme parks. It was planned to attract some 1.8 million tourists per year.

10. Two critical factors are at the root of the push into more remote areas. The first concerns the congestion in the town of Johore Bahru. Employers have complained of workers simply refusing to put up with the extensive traffic jams that now characterize the core area. The second factor is gender based. Employers are much more sanguine about finding young female Bumiputra labour than hiring male plantation workers. Industrial estates opening in the interior tend to emphasize the access to female Bumiputra (Straits Times, 9 January 1990).

11. The logic that lies behind this trend is stark. Plantation land is easily redeveloped and the plantation sector is suffering from the decline in world commodity prices. For example, Chee Tat Plantations was in deficit until it decided to redevelop its prime asset, an older plantation on the outskirts of Johore Bahru. This land is now being redeveloped into a M$800 million recreational, residential, and industrial project (Business Times, 7 May 1990).

12. Led by the Salim Group, this consortium also includes Singapore Technologies, United Overseas Bank, and Straits Steamships (Business Times, 4 February 1991:1).

13. Wage rates on Batam can be two times higher than those in the outskirts of Jakarta. See Amid (1990:15).

14. For example, foreign capital is now responsible for 89 per cent of investment commitments in Singapore. See Singapore International Chamber of Commerce (1991:1).

15. By the third quarter of 1990 the growth rate had reached 16.8 per cent. See Yue (1991:30).

16. The ageing of the Singapore population also increases the demand for recreational housing and space. A large portion of Batam residential sales are to senior citizens (Straits Times, 21 September 1989).

17. This goal can be traced to 1985 (see Far Eastern Economic Review, 20 December 1985, "The Post Industrial Economy," pp. 53-54). For a wider discussion, see Jussawalla, Meheroo, and Cheah Chee Wah (1983); Kuo (1988); the National Computer Board's journal IT Focus; Low and Toh Mun Hung (1988); and Kuo (1989).

18. See Scott (1990) on production complexes. We have included distribution as a key ingredient for these regions because it evokes both the high transactional densities and the key changes in consumption that also occur with the development of an EMR.

19. This dependency is illustrated in a comment from the Business Times of Singapore: "It is conservatively estimated that 30% of all cargo handled in Singapore's ports originated in the peninsular" (2 May 1990).

20. In terms of production linkages, several Japanese multinationals have selected Singapore as their regional HQ (e.g. Toshiba, Sony, and Hitachi). Castells has suggested that "most of the management decisions of American companies are communicated via Singapore, regardless of the relative hierarchy of their Singapore branch, given the direct satellite link-up between Singapore and the US" (Castells, 1988:24).

Singapore's role as a control centre for local consumer markets is most apparent in Anderson (1981), which portrays Singapore as the regional hub for advertising transnational corporations (TNCs).

21. Interestingly, Batam itself is short of water and will need to import water from Bintan to feed its industrial growth. Demand on Batam would not itself be enough to support this development but when the Singapore demand is added the project becomes feasible.

22. For a discussion of this term see Yoshihara Kunio (1988).

23. There is an entire lead story on this topic in Far Eastern Economic Review (23 May 1991:55-62)

24. It should be noted at this point that this uncompetitiveness is in part a relative matter. In fact Singapore's unit labour costs increased 8.5 per cent in 1989, which was below the NIC average (Economist Intelligence Unit, 1991:16). A good deal of this increase was a result of the appreciating Singapore dollar.

It should also be noted that the impact of increasing labour costs is unevenly felt, depending on the labour component of the product being produced. For example, Tandon Corp, a computer disk maker, finds Singapore attractive because labour accounts for only 4 per cent of its costs - offset by the benefits of importing materials into Singapore's free trade environment (Rodan, 1989).

25. The emphasis on personal linkages also has a long tradition in Singapore, especially in the realm of ethnic guilds. "Guilds had been established in Singapore as far back as the middle of the 1800s and consisted of members generally of a single dialect or locality groups engaged in particular trades or crafts" (Deyo, 1981:34). The above-mentioned machine tool sector is dominated by Cantonese speakers. However, a 1975 study indicated that, at least in larger foreign-owned firms, there was a marked mixing of ethnic groups (Deyo 1981-85).

26. This trend is in evidence in Singapore's drive to establish electronic trading, whereby the flow of goods is monitored, controlled, and billed through computer systems based in Singapore. Singapore is pushing to become the regional hub for the electronic trading of goods.

27. Most of the analytical discussion of the Growth Triangle to date has occurred under the auspices of ASEAN or in ASEAN-focused discussions. Also note that there have been a good number of business "seminars" and "conferences" on the Growth Triangle, but these have tended to be slanted towards selling the concept rather than considering its implications.


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