Headwinds, hazards and the Asian future at ST book club

Indian-American global strategy adviser Parag Khanna (far left) and ST associate editor Vikram Khanna (left) discussing their books at Wednesday's Straits Times Book Club, moderated by ST opinion editor Audrey Quek.
Indian-American global strategy adviser Parag Khanna (far left) and ST associate editor Vikram Khanna (left) discussing their books at Wednesday's Straits Times Book Club, moderated by ST opinion editor Audrey Quek.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

The Straits Times Book Club held its first double bill on Wednesday, with two non-fiction books on economics and international relations.

ST associate editor Vikram Khanna took the stage with his new collection, Headwinds And Hazards: Economic Snapshots In An Age Of Populism, alongside Indian-American global strategy adviser Parag Khanna, who spoke about his latest best-selling book, The Future Is Asian.

About 170 people gathered at the National Library headquarters to hear the authors, who are not related, discuss their books with ST opinion editor Audrey Quek. She quizzed them on hot topics such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a sweeping multibillion-dollar project to connect China with Europe, Africa and Asia.

"China needs Belt and Road to succeed," said Mr Parag Khanna, 41. "It wants diversification of trade corridors and supply channels. It doesn't want to depend on 80 per cent of its oil and gas coming through the Strait of Malacca, which it does not control.

"China will pay almost any price to get this done because it wants that geographical resilience. China has very propitious geography, it's a maritime and continental power, but it borders 14 countries and they're all very suspicious of it."

Mr Vikram Khanna, 63, noted that the BRI has been fraught with debt distress issues in several countries that are part of the project, but that the emerging reforms to the initiative have been increasingly multilateral and responsive to local needs.

Singapore will add much value to the BRI, he added.

"Singapore commands high credibility and its involvement in the BRI would lead to more buy-in from recipient countries and could help nudge Chinese lenders to improve lending practices and do things like socio-environmental assessments," he said.

He also spoke on some of the "headwinds" his book tackles, such as Singapore's ageing population. "Our working age population is going to start declining in 2020."

Attempts to raise the fertility rate and improve women's participation in the workforce have had limited success so far, he added.

"We have to revisit the whole issue of immigration. We have to think of bringing in people or we'll have to rely solely on productivity."

The book club runs every last Wednesday of the month.

At the next session, authors Karl Larowe and Ravi Vig will discuss You Are Good Enough!, their book on burn-out and life balance, with ST Press general manager Tan Ooi Boon.

Readers can register for the talk at str.sg/orJP

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2019, with the headline 'Headwinds, hazards and the Asian future at ST book club'. Print Edition | Subscribe