The View From Asia

Expecting a year of uncertainty ahead

Three regional commentators give their take on the challenges and opportunities in 2017 in Asia News Network papers

Top risk is decline in investment

Suthichai Yoon
The Nation, Thailand

I took a close look at the 2017 crystal ball the other day - and the only clear sign staring at me was for uncertainty, chaos and confusion.

It's the Year of the Rooster - and a fiery rooster at that.

Economists are already telling us that the new year will be full of unfathomable risks, and top of the list is a question nobody has the answer for: What will "Trumponomics" look like once it's put into force.

The Thai central bank has warned that risk No. 1 is the obvious slowdown in foreign direct investment (FDI), while all parties await President-elect Donald Trump's actions on the economic, social, political and security fronts.

Like the negative impact triggered by Brexit before it, the stunning US presidential election result has generated a high degree of uncertainty. Will American companies pull back from Asia? Will capital flow head back to the US? Will the new president impose a 45 per cent import tariff on Chinese exports as he threatened?

Another crucial question with far-reaching impact: What does "America First" mean in practice when it comes to trade deals, now that the incoming US leader has made it official that he will scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) initiated by President Barack Obama?

For Thailand, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has been cited as a fallback position in case TPP is derailed. Despite the fact that we weren't one of the 12 founding members, TPP's demise would dampen overall multilateral trade arrangements in the region.

But nobody is certain how and when RCEP will produce tangible results - and whether China's dominant role in the new trade deal is a stabilising factor - or a new "rebalancing" act that requires closer scrutiny.

The other concern is whether the US Fed will raise interest rates in the near future, as suggested by Fed chairman Janet Yellen recently.

The rise in non-performing loans is also a warning sign for Thailand, due basically to the economic slowdown. Even if the country's economy has registered growth, the positive effects have been concentrated on urban areas, while rural issues remain entangled in deep-rooted and drawn-out problems that are yet to be resolved.

And, of course, there is the big question of the political road map laid down by the powers-that-be for 2017. Will there be a general election before the end of the year, as stipulated in the new Constitution, which is due to be promulgated early next year?

Expect the unexpected

Andrew Sheng
Asia News Network

As a Christmas present, I was given by an old friend a copy of Richard Wilhem's translation of the I Ching (Book Of Change).

The I Ching is probably the oldest surviving text on how to deal with uncertainty. It is considered the fount of Chinese culture, including in mathematics, astronomy, historiography, music, architecture, medicine, philosophy, martial arts, political theory, art and religion. Both Taoism and Confucianism have their roots in the I Ching.

There are three fundamental principles of change embodied in the I Ching. The first constant is that everything changes. The second principle is change through simplification. The third principle is that even though things change, things may not change.The I Ching is useful not for actual predictions, but the process of analysis.

Firstly, every piece of information, however random or unrelated, may be relevant, because life or nature is inter-connected in ways that are not always obvious. For example, when Mr Donald Trump won the US election, every world leader was scrambling to find the right connections to get through to him. Some of them found it through the son-in-law. That is almost second nature to many Asians.

The second process is to ask questions that you do not normally ask yourself. For example, have you considered factors that are outside your normal frame of analysis? It is fashionable to talk about elephants in the room that everyone sees but refuse to talk about, or the black swan event that is rare but catastrophic in outcome. The I Ching questions everything, because there are no certainties.

The third part of I Ching is that we must think about the system as an interacting whole, not in compartments that do not add up. You cannot fix a system by just surgically removing one part of it. The human body is an inter-connected whole in which pain in the toe could be symptom of an organ dysfunction.

In 2017, Brexit and Mr Trump's election as president will bring many more surprises and what appear as random events. My Christmas present will be often consulted, not for predictions, but how to prepare psychologically for radical surprises.

Collective action on globalisation

He Yafei
China Daily, China

There have been unprecedented upheavals in globalisation and global governance in recent years culminating first in the British referendum to withdraw from the European Union and the election of Mr Donald Trump to be the next president of the United States.

And these upheavals are gaining momentum in Europe too, from Italy to France and Germany and beyond, affecting their political ecosystems and causing a social division so deep that it could override almost all the other traditional rifts along racial and gender lines.

This ripple effect is still being felt far and wide across the globe, baffling many, especially elites in the US and other Western nations, as to how it happened and what it means for the future of the US, with its liberal democracy and economic neo-liberalism as well as the future direction of globalisation.

At the same time, China is maintaining its fast growth momentum and its development model has caught the attention of many nations.

With its expanding global influence, China has taken on global governance with enthusiasm and determination. In this regard, the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou in September produced a shining report card with many new ideas for furthering globalisation while overcoming its "negative impact" on social justice and fairness.

Expectations are on the rise as to what should and could China do to "make globalisation great again".

First, China could take the initiative to use the window of opportunity of a new president coming into office along with the process of policy reviews to engage the US in a discussion to understand each other's strategic intentions and core interests.

Second, China should continue to encourage the US to co-lead global governance through the United Nations, G-20, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and other international and regional platforms to combat climate change, promote free trade and investment as well as implement the UN's 2030 Sustainable Development Goals for the benefit of developing nations.

Third, with the G-20 Hangzhou Summit under its belt, China needs to consult proactively with the US and other members of the G-20, in particular the Troika, to continue providing new ideas about global governance including new models of international cooperation.

In sum, globalisation is always an evolving process with inevitable ups and downs and does not move in a linear fashion. What we are witnessing today is not "the toss out of globalisation" or "breaking down of China-US relations". Challenges and opportunities exist hand in hand.

Therefore we need concerted efforts more than ever before to ascertain the big trends as well as individual difficulties and work out consensus and solutions for collective actions to "make globalisation great again". Here both China and the US will be playing a key role.


  • The View From Asia is a weekly compilation of articles from The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, a grouping of 21 newspapers. For more, see www.asianews.network.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2016, with the headline 'Expecting a year of uncertainty ahead'. Print Edition | Subscribe