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In the famous cover engraving of Thomas Hobbes' "Leviathan," the state is embodied in an authority-bearing figure presiding over a serene European landscape. But as the world tries to reimagine the state in the aftermath of COVID-19, it makes sense to look toward governments like South Korea and Taiwan, which have mixed high state capacity with plenty of technological innovation.   © Illustration by Chuan Ming Ong
The Big Story

Coronavirus: Asia embraces big government to battle recession

Lavish spending, deep debt, high-tech surveillance. Is this the end of the small state tradition?

JAMES CRABTREE, Nikkei Asia contributing writer | Southeast Asia

SINGAPORE -- His face disguised by a black protective mask, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin posed for the cameras in early November, holding up a thick red budget document. Inside, its pages bulged with promises for $78 billion of spending over the next year -- the most expensive budget in Malaysian history. Some of it targeted a worsening COVID-19 pandemic via higher health care investment. Other measures tried to kick-start a stuttering economy with cash handouts and infrastructure schemes.

Altogether, the budget pushed spending higher even than in 2020, when Malaysia launched four successive emergency packages to soften the impact of COVID-19.

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