Asia poised to enter ‘new golden era’

ST foreign editor Ravi Velloor (left) and Professor Kishore Mahbubani at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum yesterday. Prof Mahbubani said an Asian resurgence did not mean a return to the days of export-led, double-digit growth but rather to the prosperity created by the major Asian economies. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

AN ASIAN resurgence is around the corner, notwithstanding the sluggishness in global growth and persistent geopolitical rivalries.

The upbeat assessment was delivered at The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum yesterday by Professor Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and a long-time chronicler of Asian affairs.

Asia is about to enter a "new golden era of peace and prosperity" over the next 10 years, Prof Mahbubani said in his keynote speech before a 400-strong audience of policymakers, diplomats, businessmen and academicians.

Speakers at ST's yearly stocktaking forum addressed the question: Will Asia see a resurgence in 2015?

Prof Mahbubani's answer was an emphatic yes, although he said this did not mean a return to the days of export-led, double-digit growth but rather to the prosperity created by the major Asian economies, especially China, India and Indonesia, maintaining growth rates of around 7 per cent a year. He attributed the good tidings to three factors.

First, the arrival on the scene of dynamic leaders in the three most populous countries of Asia - China's President Xi Jinping, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indonesia's President Joko Widodo - who were determined to transform their countries and provide a significant boost to Asia's growth prospects.

Second, the region's acceptance of the "Deng Xiaoping-Lee Kuan Yew consensus" - that a country's leaders should prioritise national development.

The third factor was the explosion in Asia's middle-class population, projected to grow to 1.75 billion in 2020 to create a new class of consumers who will propel the region's growth.

He did not deny there were clouds on the horizon. Challenges will arise if some of the world's most significant bilateral relationships - the United States and China, China and Japan or China and India - sour.

"However, in one way or another, pragmatic solutions will be found. There will be no major wars," he said.

At last year's ST Global Forum, speakers asked if 2014 would be a dangerous year for Asia. The topic proved prescient as the simmering territorial tensions in the South and East China seas escalated after China suddenly declared an air defence identification zone last November, noted ST editor Warren Fernandez yesterday.

"I hope they will prove equally prescient this year and the answer will be affirmative," he said.

The half-day event, which focused on the outlook for China, Japan, India and Indonesia next year, was sponsored by ANZ Bank.

Mr Sanjoy Sen, ANZ's head of retail banking in the Asia-Pacific, was among many who agreed next year could mark Asia's resurgence. He saw China's push to liberalise and internationalise its currency and the formation of the Asean Economic Community, with its promise of a freer flow of goods and capital, as the major drivers of Asian growth next year.

Mr Endy Bayuni, senior editor at The Jakarta Post, said signals from President Joko had been positive. The bold move this week to cut a fuel subsidy within weeks of taking office is a sign that Mr Joko is "very different", he said.

One of India's most respected financial editors, Mr T.N. Ninan, chairman of the Business Standard newspaper, explained why new PM Modi had yet to launch big-bang reforms. He has chosen what he calls the "third way" of introducing politically acceptable reforms, said Mr Ninan.

China expert Li Mingjiang of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies said he expected a gentler China ahead, after tense encounters with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines over contested areas. "In the past half year or so, there has been serious reflection in China... You cannot win respect, you cannot expand influence in the region, without slightly changing your regional policy."

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