JC History Skills Series: Essay Approaches (1)

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Sample Essay Question (Paper 2):

How effective were Southeast Asian states in overcoming economic challenges in post-independence Southeast Asia?


The student should identify the key economic challenges facing Southeast Asian countries after independence and to highlight the approach to determine whether these policies were effective. The thesis should be more nuanced to illustrate how different approaches or models to address these challenges resulted in varying outcomes.


Approaches to tackle the challenge of promoting growth were effective insofar as an export-oriented industrialisation strategy was adopted, coupled with a more open door policy which gave countries access to technology and investments. This however, often came at the expense of equity in capitalist countries, a challenge socialist countries devoted much focus. Through land reform and other redistributive measures, socialist countries made progress in addressing pervasive inequities though negating conditions for growth. Ultimately, through various approaches influenced by their ideology and models they adopted, Southeast Asian countries tackled these challenges, with some achieving significant progress, though it often came at the cost of mitigating other obstacles to development.


There is a need for the student to align the approach and the challenge more explicitly or it might appear that you are only listing strategies.


In addressing the post-colonial challenge of economic recovery and creating conditions for economic growth, many countries sought an answer in industrialisation. Early stages of industrialisation favoured by these countries centered on import-substitution which enabled them to experience short-term growth but longer term economic stagnation. The Philippines was the pioneer of ISI and imposed a variety of barriers to protect its nascent industries as well as exchange controls. By the 1950s, the country was among the fastest growing economies in the region but the longer-term implications of this approach tended to result in these industries being sheltered from competition and becoming the preserve of industrialists associated with the regime. As the capacity of the domestic market was reached in the 1960s, the country’s industrial sector began to stagnate and the Philippines entered into economic problems. In contrast, an approach favouring exports produced more sustainable growth. Singapore’s export-oriented industrialisation enabled it to become the second most advanced economy in Asia after Japan by 1990, on the back of average 8 per cent GDP growth for 2 decades. It was thus evident that while industrialisation was often seen as the key to promoting growth, tackling this challenge required the adoption of a more viable long-term strategy which enabled countries to take advantage of the connectivity to export markets, investments and technology.


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