Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Vietnam
Corona Crisis in the Mekong: From Extractive Imperialism to a New Bloom
As of January 2021, over 88 million covid-19 cases had been recorded worldwide leading to 1.9 million deaths. Countries in the Mekong subregion have managed the health aspect of the crisis far better than much wealthier counterparts such as the United States and United Kingdom. The US has recorded 66,660 cases per million compared to 6, 15, 23, and 141 cases per million in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand respectively. Having weathered the first wave, Myanmar became a regional outlier with 128,772 recorded cases (2358/ million) and 2,799 deaths after a mutated strain (D614) first d etected i n M arch t hat can multiply 20 percent faster and is 10 times more infectious began spreading locally.1 This may lead to a second wave sweeping through the subregion after new infections were discovered in Laos and Thailand in December. Despite relative success containing the virus, the political, economic, and social implications of measures to constrain its spread have been devastating for many and borne disproportionately by the poor. This will have long-lasting effects on the livelihoods and wellbeing of people across the region.
This paper provides an introduction to the initial impacts of the corona crisis on some the most vulnerable populations across the Mekong at the end of its first year. Part one highlights uneven fortunes of different social class fractions, from low paid workers in export-oriented industries to those participating in informal economies, immigrant workers and displaced persons. These fortunes are contrasted with those of salaried workers, big firms, and investors in financial markets.
Part two situates the corona crisis and its impacts in the Mekong within broader global and regional trends related to expansion of capitalist social relations of production, capitalism’s internal and external dynamics, and inherent crisis tendencies. It connects these to processes of class formation generated through the ongoing capitalist transformation of the subregion, noting those most affected by the corona crisis are those societies have disempowered as social relations and state forms have been reorganised towards expanded production of commodities for export. It argues this has been an essentially extractive process whereby natural and social wealth has been commodified, expropriated, and exploited, in pursuit of monetary wealth mostly accumulated elsewhere. This process is inherently imperialist, as social relations in dominated countries across the region have been restructured to meet the needs of dominant countries and class fractions, leaving subaltern class fractions especially vulnerable to shocks and disruption.
Part three argues the corona crisis has once again exposed the limitations of capitalist social relations of production and presents an opportunity to renew struggles towards more rational and democratic forms of social organisation. To this end, it highlights diverse social groups across the subregion, from peasants and factory workers to progressive youth, resisting concentration of power and wealth and the demands they have made on their respective states. The paper concludes by arguing long-lasting change and genuine social transformation can only be achieved by struggles from below led by such diverse subaltern class fractions, aiming toward progressive transformation of diverse state forms so that we may rationally re-order our societies to better serve the interests of people and planet. This task is to be pursued through political education and movement building.
Author: Charlie Thame and Jana Rue Chin Glutting
Download: Corona Crisis in the Mekong: From Extractive Imperialism to a New Bloom (En)