Headwinds, hazards and the Asian future at ST Book Club

(From left) Global strategy advisor Parag Khanna, The Straits Times opinion editor Audrey Quek and The Straits Times associate editor Vikram Khanna at The Straits Times Book Club held at the National Library on April 24, 2019.
(From left) Global strategy advisor Parag Khanna, The Straits Times opinion editor Audrey Quek and The Straits Times associate editor Vikram Khanna at The Straits Times Book Club held at the National Library on April 24, 2019.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - The Straits Times Book Club held its first double bill on Wednesday (April 24) 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 advisor Parag Khanna, who spoke about his latest bestselling 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, who quizzed them on hot topics such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a sweeping multi-billion 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 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 also spoke on some of the "headwinds" tackled in his book, 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 burnout and life balance, with ST Press general manager Tan Ooi Boon.

Readers can register at str.sg/orJP