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Understanding Southeast Asia in 19 Infographics

Home to more than 600 million people, Southeast Asia is one of the most dynamic regions in the world. A gateway to the Pacific, it is an important trading hub. It is also blessed with a rich and diverse natural ecosystem. The eleven countries of Southeast Asia are Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Philippines, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, and East Timor. Except for East Timor, all countries in the region belong to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Next year, the region hopes to realize “ASEAN 2015″—the full integration of Southeast Asian economies, along the lines of the European Union.

The region is a place of contradictions, too. It is home to glitzy skyscrapers like Malaysia’s Petronas Towers, and it hosts the infamous sweatshops that are the target of consumer boycott campaigns in the United States and other developed countries. Southeast Asia’s uneven development is also reflected in the rise of rich countries like Singapore and Brunei, while poor countries like Laos continue to search for viable economic models.

With so much going on in Southeast Asia, infographics offer a useful heuristic for understanding the area, highlighting the diversity of the ASEAN community and the challenges that lie ahead.

The ASEAN Community Facebook page. Notice there are only 10 children representing 10 countries. East Timor is not yet a member of ASEAN

The ASEAN Community Facebook page. Notice there are only 10 children representing 10 countries. East Timor is not yet a member of ASEAN.

Southeast Asia is home to varying degrees of democracy. The recent coup in Thailand is just the most recent example of an ASEAN country's military intervening in its own domestic politics.

Countries like Myanmar have implemented democratic reforms in the past few years. Presumably as a result, recent elections attracted higher voter-turnout levels:

The region now confronts shared environmental threats, as well. Almost annually, forest fires in Indonesia generate deadly haze in Malaysia and Singapore. Expanded rubber plantations and palm oil production are spurring deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia, eradicating the region's endemic species. 

Despite the impressive economic growth of many countries in the region, there are still worrying signs that income inequality—the so-called “wealth gap”—is also rising:

Many consumers complain that tax rates are too high:

Image from Visual.ly

Image from Visual.ly.

One of ASEAN's major trading partners—and a chief competitor for foreign investment—is China.

Oil and gas deposits also abound in the region. Unfortunately, they are located in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea), where ASEAN nations and China have overlapping claims.

Image from ASEAN Facebook page

Image from ASEAN's Facebook page.

The movement of people across borders in Southeast Asia has been a source of intense friction between ASEAN members, particularly concerning issues of global significance like human and sex trafficking, which are widespread in the region.

Image from Trendnovation Southeast

Image from Trendnovation Southeast.

Tourism is big business—one of the area's most promising industries for developing the region further.

Image from ASEAN Facebook page

Image from ASEAN's Facebook page.

Islam is the dominant religion in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei. There are also large Muslim communities across the region:

Image from Mcedralin Files

Image from Mcedralin Files.

Internet speed is slow in many ASEAN countries, but it has improved in the law few years:

Like many places around the world, Facebook is the most popular social network in Southeast Asia:

Despite the uneven and poor IT infrastructure in many ASEAN countries, mobile-phone density in the region is quite high. Myanmar lags, but investors are quickly establishing a presence there, too.

Image from Fifty Viss, created by ASEAN DNA

Image from Fifty Viss, created by ASEAN DNA.

Mobile-phone subscriptions have increased dramatically in the past decade:

Image from ASEAN Facebook page

Image from ASEAN's Facebook page.

Life expectancy is also rising in most ASEAN countries:

Image from ASEAN Facebook page

Image from ASEAN's Facebook page.

Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam are the most populous countries in the region:

Image from Mcedralin Files

Image from Mcedralin Files.

Obesity is also a growing problem in ASEAN countries:

Over the past ten years, there has been a boom in nursing enrollment in several Southeastern Asian countries, particularly in the Philippines, in response to the demand for young health workers and caregivers in wealthier countries.

Image from ASEAN Facebook page

Image from ASEAN's Facebook page.

With world-famous cities like Singapore, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur, third-world spectacles in Jakarta, Manila and Ho Chi Minh (Saigon), and exotic destinations in Phuket, Bali, and Boracay, it's hard to deny the singularity of Southeast Asia. As it continues to prosper and assume greater prominence in the world, the region should also address the lingering inequalities that undermine its continued growth and robust future.

Our work building bridges across cultures, languages and perspectives is more urgent than ever before.

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