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View Metrics. Email alerts New issue alert. Advance article alerts. Article activity alert. JEL classification alert. Receive exclusive offers and updates from Oxford Academic. These references to 'nimble-fingered' 'young girls' need to be read against other gendered divisions of labour in the Triangle; notably the thousands of women sex workers in Batam. However, what The Economist's account shared with so many other assessments was a basic appeal to labour costs. All kinds of commentators remained haunted by the phantom-like objectivity of these numbers.
We mark this haunting effect of the costs disparities discourse because its has a powerful 'constitutive effect on the subsequent discursive and economic practices of actors' Hall , 71; cf. Gibson-Graham For, as Kelly , has argued more widely with respect to the narration of crisis and restructuring in Southeast Asia; 'these representational strategies can be linked to discourses of political power and the construction of economic policy'.
Only by considering the way the comparative numbers work at such registers can their connections to the economic production of the Triangle be adequately explained. The cost differentials between the three parts of the Triangle have had significant economic consequences. They allowed Singaporean capital to escape the spatial limits and high costs of the island state by expanding to neighboring parts of Malaysia and Indonesia. The peak of the Triangle investment hype was in the early s when Singapore was booming with growth rates of At the same time, new productive outlets for capital in Singapore were increasingly limited by land shortages, limits on water supply systems and other basic resources.
These pressures towards reterritorialization were in turn combined with the facilitating capacity of Singapore's highly developed financial sector which was able to play a key role in financing developments in Johor, Batam and enclaves of Bintan Guinness The resulting cross-border rescaling of local production systems was also accompanied by some of the shifts in the regional division of labour that Singapore's Economic Development Board has sought: namely, the off-shoring from Singapore of some of the lowest skill, export-processing assembly work and the co-development and anchoring of more remunerative financing, managerial and research and development work in Singapore itself.
None of these developments happened in a vacuum, of course, and when the so-called 'Asian financial crisis' hit in the supposedly complementary quality of these patterns became increasingly eclipsed by rising concerns about competition see Debrah et al. Unemployment levels in Singapore increased to as much as 4. In this new context, it was not entirely surprising that the interest in the local cross-border developments diminished. Overall, this uneven temporal development pattern of decline following expansion makes manifest the links between the growth of the Triangle and the ups and downs of the Singaporean economy.
However following the empirical example of Harvey's own discussion of the reterritorialization of nineteenth century Paris [Harvey ] , this bigger picture of a regional spatial fix needs to be nuanced by an acknowledgement of its uneven development on the ground. Contrary to the image painted by The Economist , it was not as if all of Singapore's industry suddenly shifted to Batam's 'floating factory' at the start of the s.
Indeed, in one more skeptical commentator noted of the Triangle that '[a]s yet its effect on the Singaporean economy is scarcely detectable in aggregate statistics' Rimmer , The same, however, cannot be said of Johor and still less of Batam and Bintan. In these respective corners of the triangle the impact of the developments on aggregate statistics was clearly detectable. In Johor, the state government had actively sought twinning with Singapore ever since , and even before this the National Malaysian Industrial Development Authority and the Singapore Economic Development Board had cooperated on facilitating cross-border industrial relocation and tourism development projects Guinness ; Parsonage The Malaysian enthusiasm to engage with Singapore in this way despite historic political tensions was itself indicative of the potentially large amounts of Singaporean capital inflow that were possible.
Van Grunsven noted in that '[w]ithin one decade Johor had developed into a largely export-oriented industrial economy. In Batam even more striking rates of growth were recorded during the s. Again, the developments started before Goh Chok Tong's announcement of the 'Triangle of growth'.
Habibie who succeeded Suharto as Indonesia's president in Habibie turned Batam into both a personal power base and a commercial-cum-national project of building an Indonesian mega-metropolis to vie with Singapore. The vision of rivaling Singapore also led to notably extravagant mega-projects, including the building of a set of massive bridges connecting the main island to the archipelago of smaller islands to the south - where even in there remained few signs of industrial or even residential development except the new road connecting the bridges. Clearly, Batam is not even close yet to rivaling the levels of investment, population growth and urban development prized by Singapore, but the plans that Habibie did make to invest in Batam and turn it into a duty free trade zone have led to remarkably rapid industrial development Chang ; Grundy-Warr et al.
These global corporations not withstanding, the bulk of the investment in Batamindo has originated in Singapore. In parallel with these investments, Bintan island has witnessed the transformative influx of capital from Singapore where the backers of Batamindo have created the Bintan Industrial Park, whilst a consortium of Singaporean and Indonesian firms have jointly developed the 'Bintan Beach International Resort' as a manicured tourist enclave in the north of the island Chang ; Grundy-Warr et al.
Clearly, then, there have been material transformations wrought by the reterritorialization of capital that has occurred under the label of the Triangle. Clearly too, these economic development patterns have related to the cost disparities between the respective corners of the region. But the phantom-like objectivity of these cost contrasts has had an altogether different, if not detached, effect at another level of strategic discourse.
The repeated rearticulation of the cost contrasts across the Triangle has effectively constituted a discourse of complementarity , the performance of which can be examined in terms of a wide range of analytical, geopolitical and geoeconomic repercussions. Analytically, it has led to the easy insertion of the Triangle as an example into broader discourses on growth triangles and cross-border regions as emerging global trends e. Rimmer More significantly, in some of the more normative renditions of these arguments, the Triangle has been held up at once as a political 'model' to follow and as a more purified economic embodiment of the theory of comparative advantage e.
Kumar The discourse about cost contrasts across the Triangle also works in this way to constitute what MacLeod and McGee , rightly call 'a marketing scheme'. The diagramming of the Triangle, based as it is on the discourse of complementarity see Figure 2 can thus be interpreted as doing the argumentative work of promoting the place of the Triangle amidst a wider geoeconomic competition for inward investment for a definition of geoeconomics as we using it here see Sparke , and Sparke and Lawson It should be noted, though, that this vision of triangular collaboration for the sake of interregional competition has not banished the ghost of cross-border competition from the Triangle itself.
Indeed, as Debrah et al. Ultimately, these authors claim, cooperation and complementarity 'will give way to competition as the Triangle develops' , One example of this spectre of competition within the Triangle itself relates to the development of port infrastructure, an arena of international economic competition where the imperatives of borderless world visions and calculations have a force that actually matches their imaginative scope.
While Habibie's initial ambitions to build-up the Batam port of Kabil as a rival to Singapore were largely abandoned in the s, Malaysia's quest for 'fully developed status' by - the so-called 'Vision ' see Bunnell - continues to anticipate a competitive expansion into economic ground currently occupied by Singapore.
Engels and the science of the 19th century
In Feburary the chairman of PTP was entirely open about this competitive agenda: 'We really want to be a trans-shipment hub to compete with Singapore. I repeat that statement: to compete with Singapore.
You got my message? The following month, Johor Chief Minister, Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman spelled out his state's intentions for readers of Singapore's Straits Times in the same direct terms: 'We are no longer in a complementary role to Singapore. We are competing with it' Straits Times 17 March, The Malaysians, so the article continued, had already 'enticed' Maersk Sealand to PTP: 'Winning over Maersk as a strategic partner and customer gave PTP an important start in its bid to build itself up as a trans-shipping hub to supplant Singapore' Straits Times 17 March As a Straits Times article on the port competition concluded, complementarity here had descended into a 'bare-knuckled fight' 17 March Early in , these competitive aspirations were reiterated in the Malaysian media, leading Singapore's Senior Minister Lee Kwan Yew to warn that competitive pressures of the form that PSA had experienced might soon widen to include Singapore's status as an air hub; in view of competition from budget airlines beginning operations from Johor Bahru's airport Straits Times 10 January Notwithstanding the competitive imperatives that development has exacerbated within the Triangle, it is the larger spectre of interregional competition with newly cheapened post '98 Asian investment zones that continues to dominate.
In this context, Singapore has moved forward with other geoeconomic strategies for entrenching its brand of embedded exportism: most recently through a bilateral free trade deal with the US. Such a web of FTAs will increase trade and investment and bind our economies and destinies more closely together' cited in Ong , Likewise, the commentary in the Singapore Business Times drew out the place promotional demonstration point that 'the FTA should help re-focus investor attention on Singapore' Ming , 2.
To this it also added an open acknowledgement of the specific spectres of comparison driving the need to refocus: 'With north-east Asia - and China in particular - rising, Singapore is in danger of dropping out of the radar screen' Ming , 2. In these kinds of comments and comparisons, the geoeconomics of place promotion through the Triangle seems to have been eclipsed by the new demonstration effect of bilateral free trade.
However, such an interpretation would miss a key feature of the free trade deal that takes us back from the economy of appearances to the basic economy of export processing in the Triangle. This is the simple fact that certain key products made in Batam and Bintan have been classified in the free trade agreement as subject to the same tariff reductions as those made in Singapore itself. In other words, for the purposes of the bilateral deal with the US the borderless economy of appearances of the Triangle: certain key products made in Batam and Bintan are classified in the free trade agreement as if they were made in Singapore itself The Straits Times , 4 February In other words, for the purposes of the bilateral deal with the US, the borderless economy of appearances has become real.
The incorporation of the Indonesian islands into the US-Singapore free trade deal may not have received much attention in the wider critical literature on recent bilateral free trade initiatives e. Choudry , but in literature catering to transnational business elites, the moment has not been missed.
Thus, the Review article underlines how the real investment and real developments in Batam have led to growth that is of increasing significance to the whole of Indonesia: 'Batam is betting its economic future on its proximity to the prosperity and order of Singapore. Whether it succeeds has important implications for Indonesia.
Dialectics, nature and the dialectics of nature
Though it is home to less than 0. In a way that moves from this point to a rearticulation of the complementary economies argument, the Review article also adds the comment that Batam's experience reveals 'the growing importance of Singapore investors for Indonesia's shattered economy' , As a result of the costs savings made available by Riau export processing, it argues that, 'Singaporean enterprises are better places to compete against regional rivals' , And Dume and Saywell even quote an Economic Development Board spokesman to the effect that the 'Singapore-Batam-Bintan combination [is] a viable proposition for investors seeking an alternative to China' , If such comments reveal the salience of the cost comparison accounting on both of the levels we have been discussing in this section - both in terms of the actual economic geography of export processing and the place promotional projects of geo-economics - they also underline once more the direct links and material fusions that result in practice.
Thus, in some sense, the bilateral free trade deal returns us to the place from which we began this section, the comparative geography of cost disparities. But, we have not entirely turned full circle insofar as our argument has along the way introduced questions about the representation of the landscape of the Triangle and the politics of labour; themes that we take up in the next section. The neat triangulation of complementarity conjoining Singapore's capital with Johor and Riau's land and labour not only licences the geoeconomic landscaping of the Triangle as a place of borderless opportunity, it also overwrites and obscures a great deal of history, geopolitics and struggle.
This geopolitical history is complex. Apart from the postcolonial novelty of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia - and the implications that this has for the 'nationalisation' of their territories and borders - there are also complex colonial and post-colonial histories of entanglement and interconnection that bear on the contemporary sometimes neocolonial relations of the Triangle. When the Portuguese seized Melaka on the west coast of peninsula Malaysia in , for example, Sultan Mahmud chose Bintan now in Indonesia as the new capital of a kingdom which incorporated all the territories of the current growth triangle, and beyond see Andaya and Andaya In a sense, then, the pre-national kingdom of Johor and its itinerant sultan, effectively prefigured today's supposedly post-national Triangle Colombijn However, this kingdom itself needs to be understood in terms of the larger historical geography of the Malay archipelago.
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