southeast asians' concerns

Unemployment is among the foremost concerns of Malaysians, Indonesians, Thais, and the Vietnamese, while in Singapore, respondents are worried about increased military tensions. Echoing that, those in the Philippines highlighted stress around terrorism.

COVID-19's threat to health is what Southeast Asians are most concerned about (75.4%) in 2022, according to ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute's The State of Southeast Asia 2022 report. This is followed by unemployment and economic recession (49.8%), and climate change (37%).

What's interesting is: the top two concerns were consistent with the previous year, but the third, climate change, overtook 2021's 'widening of socio-economic gaps' concern. This is especially so for the Philippines (52.0%), and Vietnam (53.5%) where respondents gave higher votes to climate change as "they felt the impacts of extreme weather events more keenly than the rest of the ASEAN member states". This is, the research institute noticed, similar to other climate-related surveys where the Philippines’ and Vietnam’s climate concerns are "more elevated" compared with the rest of Southeast Asia.

What are the top concerns in each country?

Breaking down the concerns to a country level, Singapore's next few concerns, after COVID-19's threat to health (69.4%), are increased military tensions (46.4%), and climate change (45.5%). This is similar to Vietnam, and the Philippines. As for Malaysia, other than the pandemic situation, it is most concerned with unemployment and economic recession (57.8%), and domestic and political instability (50.4%). Neighbour Indonesia has divided concerns, with COVID-19 (67.9%) top of mind, but a significant number of respondents also unsettled with unemployment and economic recession (51.9%), and climate change (49.6%).

Here are the top five concerns for each country:

  • Singapore - COVID-19 (69.4%); increased military tensions (46.4%); climate change (45.5%); widening socio-economic gaps and rising income disparity (41.9%) ; domestic political instability (40.1%).
  • Malaysia - COVID-19 (78.5%); unemployment and economic recession (57.8%); domestic and political instability (50.4%); increased military tensions (28.9%); climate change, and widening socio-economic gaps and rising income disparity (26.7%).
  • Indonesia - COVID-19 (67.9%); unemployment and economic recession (51.9%); climate change (49.6%); widening socio-economic gaps and rising income disparity (36.6%); domestic political instability (35.9%).
  • Thailand - COVID-19 (75.2%); unemployment and economic recession (51.3%); domestic political instability (43.6%); widening socio-economic gaps and rising income disparity (36.8%); increased military tensions (31.6%).
  • Vietnam - COVID-19 (70.8%); unemployment and economic recession (60.4%); climate change (53.5%); increased military tensions (49.3%); widening socio-economic gaps and rising income disparity (26.4%).
  • The Philippines - COVID-19 (84.0%); climate change (52.0%); increased military tensions (51.2%); terrorism (24.5%); widening socio-economic gaps and rising income disparity (22.5%).

Diverging out of this list of concerns, Southeast Asians also named several issues they are bothered with in an ASEAN perspective. For instance, close to four in five (79.7%) Singaporeans find that ASEAN is slow and ineffective, and thus cannot cope with fluid political and economic developments; while more than half (58.5%) Malaysians think that ASEAN is unable to overcome current pandemic challenges. Meanwhile, close to half (51.3%) Thais believe that ASEAN is elitist and disconnected from ordinary people.

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Thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic

Focusing on the Southeast Asians' key concern, COVID-19, more than four in five (83.1%) Burmese find their government 'very poor' in handling the pandemic situation - the highest sentiment across its ASEAN counterparts. On the other side of the spectrum, Bruneians and Vietnamese consider their government 'well'. Covering the 'adequate' rating, which is one level below 'well' rating, are sentiments from locals in countries like Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Aside to COVID-19 management, Southeast Asians, in fact, also shared their most preferred vaccine brands in the market.

According to ISEAS's report, the most trusted brands in the region are mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna. The duo are most popular in Singapore (90.1%), followed by Myanmar (68.6%), Laos (65.9%), and Brunei (62.3%). The brands are ahead of Chinese brands Sinopharm and Sinovac (18.7%), which from the report are most trusted in Cambodia (67.9%), and least trusted in Brunei (1.9%), Vietnam (4.2%), Singapore (4.5%), and Myanmar (5.1%).

An interesting finding from the report revealed that the option of “any vaccine available” is selected by 13.7% of all respondents, significantly higher than the vote share of specific brands like AstraZeneca (9.2%), Indian-manufactured vaccines (1.9%), domestic vaccines (0.9%), and Sputnik-V (0.8%).

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Image / ISEAS

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