Asia still a tiger

24 September 2008
In the media
Published at
Manila Times
The financial troubles in the Western hemisphere, highlighted most recently by the collapse of US investment bank Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., might affect Asia ’s growth curve. It will not, however, stop the region from fulfilling its destiny of coming out of the West’s shadow. This optimistic forecast comes from Lee Kuan Yew professor Kishore Mahbbani at a time when we are overwhelmed with the biggest food safety scandal in China in years. Certainly, China ’s economy is more diverse than exports of infant formula laced with melamine. It could affect confidence in Chinese products and, ultimately, the pace of her economic development. Locally, many already have the impression—rightly or wrongly—that Chinese exports, while they are inexpensive, are not necessarily of the best quality. Freedom from Debt Coalition President Walden Bello is already predicting an Asian recession as a result of the US financial problems. He explains that the US is China ’s biggest market and problems there would result in a slowdown of demand for Chinese exports. China ’s primary source of raw materials and intermediate goods is the rest of Asia, so a dip in demand from the end market would also result in a decreased demand for raw materials from China. Hence, a slowdown in Asian economies. If ever, this Asian recession could be one of the lows Mah­bubani also sees in the region’s future. He does not predict the region’s development to be a straight line. There would be peaks and lows. But the region will not deviate from the trend, he says. Mahbubani attributes Asia’s bright future to seven pillars of Western wisdom that at least three countries—China, Japan and India—have mastered: free market economics, mastery of science and technology, pragmatism, meritocracy, a culture of peace, rule of law and education. Admittedly, Asia is not just these three countries put together. There are smaller countries, like ours for instance, or Myanmar or Pakistan and Afghanistan that are, to be kind, faring below expectations. Mahbubani believes that because of the sheer size of those three economies, the rest of Asia cannot help but be showered with economic opportunities themselves. Only a nitwit of a government would be unable to take advantage of the prospects on hand. Those are not his words, however. To sum up, Mahbubani, described by the Foreign Policy magazine as among the top 100 intellectuals, is incredibly optimistic. And since it is our future he is confident over, I’d like to share his optimism. He believes that, as people in Asia become more economically well-off, societies would naturally aspire to nurture an environment that would propel growth and development. That should mean that there might come a time when we do not have to see a truck-bombing like the one in Pakistan’s Marriott Hotel, which killed at least 53 people. Or that regulators would be more vigilant in ensuing there wouldn’t be another food safety scandal in China. Or that we wouldn’t be hearing news about children being trained as guerrillas by Muslim separatists in Mindanao. Professor Mahbubani discusses his assessment over the region’s destiny in the book The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Power to the East. Speaking of books, former journalist Armand Nocum and his wife, Ann, have started A- Book-Saya-Group or ABSG book donation project. It aims to flood kids in Mindanao with books. The rationale is if kids grow up with guns and violence and a culture of hatred and violence, what can we expect them to become? Conversely, if they grow up with books and a thirst for knowledge and understanding, what would they become? Armand and Ann, parents to two beautiful Christian-Muslim kids, have designated the Satti Grill House outlet in SM Fairview Food Court as a drop-off point for the books. Hope you can part with old books to help build a new future for the kids in Mindanao. Just an announcement. The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, with Ayala Corp. and Philippine Airlines, is hosting the 2nd Teodoro Benigno Memorial Lecture on September 25 (Thursday) at the Ballroom 2 of Mandarin Hotel.