As the world prepares for the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, Asia is on the way to rapid economic revitalization. An expert discusses why Asian countries are able to recover quickly and what factors can hinder the process.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) projects that China, Asia’s largest economy, will again grow 8% in 2021, compared to the US, 3.2% and according to the Asian Development Bank forecasts, the Asian economy will recover by 6.8% next year.
Asia has become the new frontier not only for global trade and capital, but also for knowledge creation, culture and digitization, says Syed Munir Khasru, president of the Institute for Policy, Defense and Governance, in his article for South China Morning Post.
According to him, as key suppliers of technology, capital and markets, Asia’s economies and populations have proven resilient and diligent, and are ready to play a leading role in setting up the next phase of globalization.
Asian response to challenges
Many Asian nations, particularly in East Asia, practice a culture of discipline and adherence to instructions, which has allowed governments to deal with the pandemic effectively, the analyst says. For their part, South Asian countries have been able to take advantage of their lessons in epidemic and disaster management.
For example, Vietnam has been exemplary for its aggressive containment and cost-effective control measures, demonstrating the ability of Asian countries to act quickly.
Asia regularly suffers from infectious diseases. Despite the fact that many countries in the region lack the necessary infrastructure to support an emergency surveillance and response system, governments continue to work continuously to build it, he says.
Natural disasters, particularly in South Asia, contribute to the development of these emergency systems, leading to rapid and dynamic changes in infrastructure. The expert assures that the key is the flexible strategies and an approach to rebuilding better, instead of continuing as before.
Bangladesh is a prominent example for its response to deadly cyclones, having built early warning systems, cyclone shelters, coastal embankments, and evacuation plans, while raising community awareness.
Singapore is another example, where its technological capabilities are combined with respect for the rules and discipline on the part of the population. For example, it has developed a rapid response to COVID-19 through a national WhatsApp channel and a Gowhere website to educate and inform citizens.
The low number of COVID-19 cases in Singapore is an excellent example of a disciplined, mature and informed population that respects government decisions, stresses the expert. The response from Asian countries has largely contrasted with protests against the use of masks and anti-COVID restrictions in Western countries, he said.
Asia technological development
Syed Munir Khasru believes that the key factor in Asia’s resilience is its rapid technological development, “particularly in East Asia and India, where investments in intra-regional technology companies have increased.”
According to him, Asia is becoming the main driver of technological advance, as there are four fast-growing innovation centers and the headquarters of 50% of the world’s largest technology companies.
This advance has been led by a dynamic economy and a young population rapidly transitioning from the lower class to the middle class, with vast resources for innovation and access to quality knowledge at competitive prices. The sharp rise in literacy across Asia has also led to productive employment.
The OECD estimates that China and India will account for more than 60% of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates by 2030, compared to 4% in the US and 8% in Europe.
As an innovative and entrepreneurial middle class grows in major Asian economies such as China, India and Indonesia, the consumer market is also changing rapidly, the analyst noted. He specified that a preference for domestic products is developing over Western imports, since stricter regulations expel the poorer quality products.
These factors have fueled the success of companies such as Alibaba, Samsung, WeChat, Toyota and Huawei, and have increased the Asian presence in the world. E-commerce revenue in Asia is forecast to reach $ 1.4 trillion this year, compared with $ 425 billion in Europe.
Obstacles to Asian progress
On the other hand, the expert listed the challenges that Asian countries face and that can impede regional progress.
First, there are regional conflicts. The rivalry between India and China and the conflict between India and Pakistan in Kashmir are hotbeds of long-term tensions. Another point is the divisions in Western Asia.
Vulnerabilities in areas such as poverty, health care and the impact of climate change are major obstacles to progress in the region, continues the expert.
As culture, technology and unity propel Asia to the global forefront, greater attention to education and healthcare for underserved populations can reinforce technological transformation, he said.
With economic growth and population flexibility, a shift towards sustainable practices is essential, he stressed.