Eminent East Asian Thinkers Reflect On The Impact Of Their Region's Transformation

September 18, 2006

Singapore, September 18, 2006 – Seventeen   prominent Asian policymakers, scholars and statesmen reflect on the impacts of the recent transformation of their region in a new collection of essays called East Asian Visions: Perspectives on Economic Development, released today in Singapore.

A joint publication of the World Bank and the Singapore-based Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), East Asian Visions presents a cross-section of views around issues ranging from China’s rise to East Asian governance and from Cambodia’s experience of economic integration to the Philippines’ lessons from the financial crisis.

Launching the conference edition of the essays at the World Bank-IMF annual meetings, Professor Tommy Koh, director of IPS and contributing author, welcomed the collaboration of all 17 writers who offered critical and constructive insights into the many challenges facing East Asia as a consequence of the region’s recent success.

“Despite its success, Asia still faces many shortcomings,” Professor Koh said. “This collection of essays reflects on the high standards that Asians set for themselves and offers suggestions on how the region should develop so that no-one is left behind.”

In his essay on Asia’s challenges, Prof Koh says he dreams of an Asia that will be admired by the world not only for its prosperity and modernity but also for its ‘soft power’. ‘Three of the obstacles that we have to overcome in order to achieve my dream are corruption, growing social inequity and environmental neglect,’ he writes.

The contributors to the collection of essays are: Tommy Koh, Kishore Mahbubani, Andrew Sheng, Roberto de Ocampo, Haruhiko Kuroda, Mari Pangestu, Toyoo Gyohten, Felipe Medalla, Yujiro Hayami, Cao Sy-Kiem, Minxin Pei, Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Joseph Yam, Zheng Bijian, Long Yong-Tu, Wu Jinglian, and Aun Porn Moniroth (see the attached table for their backgrounds).

In an overview chapter at the beginning of the collection, editors Indermit Gill, Yukon Huang and Homi Kharas of the World Bank suggest that four themes permeate the essays:

  • Can all countries in the region benefit from China’s success or will some be crowded out?
  • Will regional integration increase efficiency or become a source of vulnerability?
  • Can East Asian countries avoid domestic disintegration given growing intolerance of rising inequity, pollution and corruption?
  • From where will East Asia find its next generation of leaders?

“None of these questions draws a ready answer,” said Dr Gill. “But by writing reflective essays, rather than technical papers, the authors have the freedom to move between politics, economics, culture and ethics.

“For many of the essayists the trauma of the financial crisis has clearly not disappeared from the Asian psyche. One author writes that the crisis exposed glaring faults in regulatory regimes and governance structures of corporations while raising questions about family and relationship-based conglomerates and their links with governments.

“Many authors conclude that East Asia needs to be more self-reliant by shifting more towards regionalization than globalization.”

The degree of enthusiasm for integration varies among the writers – lagging countries in Asia are ambivalent towards greater regional economic integration in stark contrast to China which has embraced it. On matters of domestic disintegration, however, there is considerable consensus.  If Asia is to avoid social disintegration, the writers suggest, it needs to deal with the challenges of the conflicts within civil society, the increasingly overwhelmed and polluted cities and unresponsive or corrupt bureaucracies.

Effective governance is seen as paramount across the region. Most authors argue, however, that Asia needs to find its own way in determining the most effective forms of governance that are acceptable in light of history and social and cultural distinctions.

“The new Asia is about much more than just revived prosperity,” said the World Bank’s Dr. Homi Kharas. “It is also about  creativity, cohesion and civilization.  It is about how Asia is gaining the world’s respect.”