Asia has been the world champion of economic growth for decades, and this year will be no exception. According to the latest International Monetary Fund Regional Economic Outlook(REO), the Asia-Pacific region’s GDP is projected to increase by 5.5% in 2017 and 5.4% in 2018.
Despite escalating geopolitical tensions, most countries in the region have maintained their economic momentum. They have benefited from policies supporting strong domestic demand in China and Japan, and from favorable global conditions.
Growth is picking up across many advanced and emerging market economies, and financial markets have, for the most part, proven to be resilient.
Nonetheless, Asia will still have to confront fundamental medium- and long-term challenges, not least the aging of its population – a problem that is well known to most policymakers. In past decades, the region reaped a demographic dividend from its young, expanding workforce and strong growth policies. But this dividend has already run out for “old” countries such as Japan and China.
With fertility rates declining and people living longer, the workforce is shrinking and getting older at the same time.
To be sure, not all Asian countries are aging at the same rate. In China, Japan, Korea, and Thailand, these demographic trends could subtract anywhere from 0.5 to a full percentage point from annual growth over the next three decades.
But in “young” countries such as India, Indonesia, and the Philippines, the working-age population will actually increase, adding from 1-1.5 percentage points to average annual growth over the same period.
And yet, even these young countries will not be spared from the effects of an aging population. In this year’s Asia-Pacific REO, we point out a little known fact: almost all of Asia is at risk of growing old before ever becoming rich.
To boost productivity in the future, Asian governments will have to implement well-targeted structural reforms today.
Why is this occurring? For starters, although Asia is not the most aged region in the world today, it is aging remarkably fast. One indicator of this is the old-age dependency ratio: the share of the population that is 65 and older. In Europe, it took 26 years, on average, for this ratio to increase from 15% to 20%; in the United States, it took more than 50 years. Among Asian countries, only Australia and New Zealand aged at similar speeds. In most other countries in the region, this transition took – or will take – less than 15 years.
So, being the world growth champion simply isn’t enough. To see why, consider each country’s per capita income (in terms of purchasing power parity) when its old-age dependency ratio, benchmarked against the US experience, peaked or will peak.
As the chart above shows, with the exception of already-rich Asian economies such as Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and Singapore, per capita income in Asian economies falls, or will fall, far short of other advanced economies at similar stages of the aging cycle.
For example, when China reached its old-age-population peak in 2011, its per capita income was still only at 20% of the US level; and when Vietnam reached it in 2014, that figure was just 10%.
And despite its young population and strong growth, India’s per capita income will only have reached 45% of the US level when its old-age population peaks in or around 2040; and that assumes, optimistically, that India will maintain very strong growth over the next few decades.
This demographic trend has far-reaching implications for the region. Asian countries will have significantly less time than advanced economies have had to prepare for the transition to an aged society. Worse, they will have to manage the high fiscal costs of aging while they are still relatively poor, which will create new social pressures, which are already apparent in the “old” Asian countries.
Moreover, slowing productivity growth could compound Asia’s demographic problem. Since the 2008 financial crisis, productivity growth has decelerated in Asia’s advanced economies and, to a lesser extent, in its emerging economies, too. Thus, the region’s push to catch up with countries at the global technology frontier has stalled over the past decade.
ASEAN weathering the COVID-19 typhoon
Author: Sandra Seno-Alday, Sydney University
The roughly 20 typhoons that hit Southeast Asia each year pale in comparison to the impact on the region of COVID-19 — a storm of a very different sort striking not just Southeast Asia but the world.
Just how badly is the COVID-19 typhoon thrashing the region? And what might the post-crisis recovery and reconstruction look like? To answer these questions, it is necessary to investigate the strengths and vulnerabilities of Southeast Asia’s pre-COVID-19 economic infrastructure.
Understanding the structure of the region’s economic house requires going back to 1967, when Southeast Asian countries decided to pledge friendship to one another under the ASEAN framework. While other integrated regions such as NAFTA and the European Union have aggressively broken down trade barriers and significantly boosted intra-regional trade, ASEAN regional economic integration has chugged along slower.
Southeast Asian countries have not viewed trade between each other as a top priority. The trade agreements in the region have been forged around suggestions for ASEAN countries to lower tariffs on intra-regional trade to within a certain range and across limited industries. This has lowered but not eliminated barriers to intra-regional trade. Consequently, a relatively significant share of Southeast Asian trade is with countries outside the region. This active extra-regional engagement has resulted in ASEAN countries’ successful integration into global value chain networks.
A historically outward-facing region, in 2010 around 75 per cent of Southeast Asian commodity imports and exports came from countries outside of ASEAN. This share of extra-regional trade nudged closer to 80 per cent in 2018. This indicates that ASEAN’s global value chain network embeddedness has deepened over time.
Around 40 per cent of ASEAN’s extra-regional trade is with the rest of Asia. From 2010 to 2018 Southeast Asian countries forged major trade relationships with four Asian countries: China, Japan, South Korea and India. Outside Asia, the United States is the region’s major trading partner. ASEAN’s trade focus on Asia’s largest markets is not surprising. Countries tend to establish trade relationships with large, geographically close, and culturally similar markets.
Fostering deep relationships with a few large markets, however, is a double-edged sword. While it has allowed ASEAN to benefit from integration in global value chains, it has also resulted in increased vulnerability to the shocks affecting its network connections.
ASEAN’s participation in global value chains has allowed it to transition from a net regional importer in 1990 to a net regional exporter in 2018. But the region’s deep embeddedness in a small and tightly-coupled network cluster of extra-regional global value chain partners has exposed it to disruption to any and all of its external partners. By contrast, ASEAN’s intra-regional trade network structure is much more loosely-coupled: a consequence of persistent intra-regional trade barriers and thus lower intra-regional trade intensity.
In the pre-COVID-19 period, ASEAN built for itself an economic house held up by just five extra-regional markets, while doing less to expand and diversify its intra-regional trade network. The data shows that ASEAN trade became increasingly concentrated in these few external markets between 2010 and 2018.
This dependence on a handful of markets does not bode well for risk and crisis management. All of the region’s major trading partners have been significantly affected by COVID-19 and this in turn is blowing the ASEAN economic house down.
What are the ways forward? The immediate task at hand is to get a better picture of the region’s position in global value chain networks and to get on top of managing its network risk exposure. Already there are red flags around the region’s food security arising from its position in food value chains. It is critical to look for ways to introduce flexibility into existing supply chains for greater agility in responding to crises.
It is also an opportune time for ASEAN to harness the technology transfer gains of global value chain participation and invest in innovation-driven diversification of products and markets. The region’s embeddedness in global value chain networks certainly places it in a strong position to readily access large export markets not just in Asia but also Europe and the Americas.
Over the longer term, ASEAN is faced with the question of whether it should seriously look…
Tiger Trade Launches SGX Trading, Meeting Demand from Asian Investors
Access to the Singapore Exchange (SGX) adds to Tiger Brokers’ current menu of stock exchanges, such as the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the Nasdaq Stock Market (NASDAQ), the world’s two largest stock exchanges, as well as the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX).
Will Nepal once again become a Hindu state?
Author: Pawan Kumar Sen, Leiden University
Nepal was constituted as a secular state after the endorsement of the Interim Constitution in January 2007, which was formally ratified in May 2008. The declaration of secularism was taken as a major contribution to the modernisation of a ‘New Nepal’ by religious minorities and culturally marginalised groups. It was an important move towards institutionalising a new Nepali identity based on multiculturalism.
As the draft of a new constitution is being finalised, a number of Hindu groups and religious leaders are demanding that the country again be declared a Hindu state. Prominent Hindu groups have been organising rallies in various cities around the country demanding the restitution of the Hindu state in the new constitution. A nationalist party, Rastriya Prajatantra Party Nepal, has also been demonstrating in numerous cities demanding a Hindu state and the removal of the term ‘secular state’ from the draft constitution.
Some mid-level figures in the Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist) are also opposed to a secular state identity, demanding the inclusion of ‘religious freedom’ instead of ‘secular state’ in the new statute. Demands to retain a Hindu state seem to be an effort to stop proselytisation by Christian missionaries and the slaughter of cows in Nepal. It has even been reported that some Muslim leaders appear to support the Hindu state identity, arguing that the country’s present secular status has increased insecurity for their communities.
On the other hand, non-Hindu groups like the Nepal Buddhist Association, and numerous hill indigenous groups (i.e. non-Hindu Mongolian communities), including Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities, and Muslims groups have repeatedly argued that a religiously and culturally diverse country like Nepal should remain an unambiguously secular state not just one that endorses ‘religious freedom’. An individual’s right to religious freedom is guaranteed as a fundamental right in Article 23 of the Interim Constitution. This clause will be retained in the new constitution, so there is no need to replace the term ‘secular state’ with another one such as ‘religious freedom’.
Analysis of recent opinion polling conducted in Nepal supports the view that there should be no official association between the state and a particular religion. Although the majority of Nepali people still want Nepal to be a Hindu state (this is not surprising since more than 80 per cent identify as Hindus), a significant proportion of Nepalis wish to see their country as a secular state. A strong preference for a secular state is evident at some sub-national levels.
The proportion of those who support secularism is also very significant among certain groups of the population such as Buddhists, Muslims, Kirati, Christians, hill indigenous groups, and supporters of most of the Communist parties. The Nepali state’s official association with Hinduism is not universally accepted. The majority of Buddhists and Muslims, as well as the Kirati and Christian populace, want Nepal to be a secular state. Neither Buddhist nor Muslim peoples have pushed for Nepal to be a Buddhist or an Islamic state. Hindu groups demanding that the Hindu state be reinstated simply because Nepal is a Hindu-majority country are misguided.
Further analysis of the survey data shows that supporters of republicanism and federalism are more likely to support secularism, while supporters of a monarchy and a unitary state are more likely to support a Hindu state. Therefore, Nepal’s disassociation from secularism may lead to a weakening of the country’s other new structures — republicanism and federalism — which are pillars of an inclusive democracy. This further justifies moves to link the Nepali state’s identity to secularism.
Some Hindu groups and religious leaders appear to be promoting a return to a Hindu state because secularism, unlike republicanism and federalism, is the only state restructuring issue they can attack. Nepali society has changed a lot in the last eight years. There is no going back to the structures of the old state. Demands for returning Nepal to a monarchical unitary state are simply a pipe-dream.
An inclusive democracy should accommodate the views of minorities and not just the majority. If a country is constitutionally secular, religious minorities can also feel a sense of ownership of the constitution and enjoy equal freedom. It is crucial that those responsible for drafting Nepal’s new constitution recognise the voices of the entire spectrum of the Nepalese people, not only the Hindu majority. This will not only guarantee an inclusive democracy, but also will make the entire populace, including its minorities and marginalised peoples, true owners of the constitution.
Pawan Kumar Sen is a PhD candidate in Political Science, Leiden University, the Netherlands.
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Will Nepal once again become a Hindu state?
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