Friday, 18 May 2007

What's happening to Asia

What is this about Asia.

Stock markets went berserk. Shanghai market seems to see no end to the bull run. When will it crash? Anybody's guess, really.

All this talk about Dow Jones and the US economy driving the world seems passe for now. Its China man! The Chinese farts, and the world farts along. Even Cannes film festival. Full of Chinese participation from director to artistes. Surely this must have been the effect of having more than one billion people there.

But can China sustain? Looking at the 4,000 years or so of Chinese history, there's this tendency to sit back and relax. Just like those emperors who resort to wine, women and song in the past, hence neglecting the livelihoods of the commoners, or "lau pai sing". Really hope this new breed of Chinese leaders are different from the emperors living in the comfort of their palaces.

So what's in store for the rest of Asia? India is catching up fast. Indian conglomerates are buying up European and Amercian companies like the Arabs did in the 70s with their petro dollars. Of course it's a bit more sensitive when the Chinese try to do the same - a deal some months ago to buy into one of the oil companies in the USA hit a snag with government intervention. So who is going to come out on top of this? The Chinese or the Indians, both of which are savvy traders and merchants since time immemorial.

And what is the rest of Asia doing about these two juggernauts? The Association of South East Asian nations (ASEAN) tried to do their bit. But with political turmoil and the lack of strong leaders, it doesn't look like they'll catch up anytime soon.

Thailand had its coup, Indonesia is mired in political jostling, Malaysia has its share of racial problems to resolve, Vietnam and Cambodia are still reeling from the transition from communism to semi-capitalism. Singapore has a strong government but they are at the mercy of their BIG brothers to the north, south, and west; plus the envy from these poorer big brothers. Hongkong is also at the mercy of what happens to CHINA, which they are supposedly a part of. Japan is embroiled in their own domestic problems, amidst the complications of an emerging Korea. Yet Korea is not without its own problems, considering the militant north. What about Taiwan? Probably more turmoil cos they are struggling to reconcile the relationship vis-a-vis China. Maybe when they stop punching one another in parliament will there be some serious work done in the county.

Where does that leave us in Asia?

Supposedly the South East Asian nations were to achieve ASEAN integration like Europe, with one common market and one common currency. But with such diverse economies and cultural roots, that sounds like an overly ambitious end. There's the issue of indigenous people, the majority of which belong to the Malay race, against the immigrants primarily the Indians and the Chinese who have settled in South East Asia. These are people who left their homes for a purpose and one purpose - to make life for themselves and their families back home better, economically. Their mindsets are different from the indigenous people who take their rights to their own lands for granted, and who feel that they should enjoy the fruits of economic success by virtue of the fact they are indigenous.

This isn't an Asian phenomenon. The Americans had to deal with the Indians and the Australians had to deal with their aborigines. The difference is that the American and Australian immigrant population surpassed that of their indigenous people many many years ago, before they started to realize that their indigenous people are being marginalized, in a way. Honestly, this is really of no consequence to the evolution of mankind and the modernizing of economies and the advent of freedom of global trade.

Asian countries, being a bit more backward (with some exceptions) economically and politically started to introduce immigration and restraint of trade regulations which prevented and hindered the free movement of talents and investments to the extent that they're unable to balance the ratio of their laid back indigenous populace with primordial mindsets against willing immigrants whose only objective is to improve their economic well being in the country they've chosen to live.

A free market economy is probably the only way forward in this day and age. Sure, one can choose to pace the opening up of their economy in tandem with local sentiments and sensitivities. Like China, which has chosen to regulate the appreciation of their currency to avoid social unrest. But the longer the process lasts, the more its populace will be left behind. Closing doors to the rest of the world succeeded in China through the centuries, for there was no internet, no international phone calls, and no super jumbos who can fly from one corner of the world to another in less than one day (disregarding time zones). In that aspect, India seems to be a bit more open, although they have to reconcile the divide between Hindus and Moslems and the impact of neighboring Pakistan on their own people.

What a mess Asia has become! Europe is probably facing the same problems after having merged western European economies with the newly liberated, previously Communists, eastern European markets. But they seem to be doing fine, although they don't have the critical mass which Asia has in China and India.

Long live the king, the queen, the emperor, the raja, the sultan or whomever else. As long as they have the long term interests of the populace in mind, they can live for as long as they like, provided God allows them to...........

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