AFG Venture Group Dispatches

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A 360 Degree Analysis of Asia's Recent Economic Development by John West

John in his latest tome has cast a critical eye over the development parameters of a number of Asian countries, a feat which is unusual these days as most commentators seem to think Asia equals China and China equals Asia, so for that reason alone this book warrants serious consideration. But it is much more serious than that. The review of the various countries is a monumental task. In-depth analyses and discussions are made for no less than 20 countries which is half of Asia, and in most there is an impressive array of statistics to demonstrate the points made, but thankfully they are presented in an easy reading style which is a pleasure to undertake.

The argument is put that the growth of the Asian countries has reached it’s a plateau and if they are to attain the level of economic and social development similar to that of western countries, some significant changes must be made in many of the countries. Those changes are required in almost every area including education, health, equality, corruption, life styles of the population, and in human rights, and the list goes on. Of particular note is level and extent of poverty which is still widespread in the region, however it is acknowledged that it is a lot less than previously, as improvements have been made.

Interestingly, rapid development, both social and economic has been achieved in selected countries including Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, Korea and parts of Asean, however no reason has been proposed for their elevated development. But the need for significant changes is clearly required in most countries

Among the issues which the “Asian Century” face, seven challenges are explored in some depth and these include: –

More traction with Global Value Chains, as these are seen as the means of a more rapid transition to development.

Rectification of the fractured urbanisation in many countries, particularly in relation to social infrastructure, as the growth of populations and the stampede of that population growth to the cities has resulted in a dire lack of infrastructure. That compounded with a lack of planning and a shortage of capital has exacerbated the situation

The need to treat all sectors of the community equally. There are significant pockets of displaced people throughout the region. From the castes in India, the Rohingya in Myanmar the LGBT throughout the region. This is a problem to be solved and much of it is generations old, but if a formula can be found it would probably have international appeal. Interestingly, in some countries the women take a prominent role in commerce and government, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and there are certainly others. We note also that many countries have had a female head of state, including Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Philippines, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, South Korea, and Pakistan, so it may be suggested that the solution may be closer than is originally imagined

Probably the most difficult aspect to “fix” is the demographic of the aging population. Some clever planning and implementation is going to be required to balance the economy. No country has effectively developed a solution, but the plight of the countries in the region is such that a reasonable fix will be adopted

The argument is proffered that a fix is required for the democratic processes in most countries, and that argument is difficult to counter. What is not made clear is the form of democracy which should be adopted. Is it the bicameral British where 55% are appointed and 45% are actually elected, or in the USA where less than 55% of the eligible voters actually vote? There are quirks and anomalies in almost any system, however in the most recent 2 formations in Asia have been “reasonable”. Indonesia formed a bicameral fully elected system after 350 years of colonial rule 30 years of incompetent rule and a further 30 years of dictatorial rule and they have had parliamentary system now for 20 years. Myanmar had 55 years of extremely repressive rule by the military and it moved less than 10 years ago to a bicameral system in which 75% of seats are elected and 25% are appointed. In both places there are still “teething problems, but the prognosis is good considering that in neither country was there a stock of experienced administrators from which to draw the legislators.

The level and extent of crime, particularly economic crime needs to be countered. It is widespread, it is international and in many cases is linked to international syndicates. John’s book cites many examples of both economic and institutional crime.

Can the countries of the region co-exist? A good question, however, the history indicates that there is every chance they can and will, of course, there will be irritants which need to be addressed, but none are expected to be serious. The big exceptions are China and eventually India. China has been quietly growing its influence both in depth and spread, and it may well bump up against India as its economy expands, however China seems to be concentrating on developing economic linkages rather than militaristic ones.

John’s book is an excellent overview of the development profile of the major countries in the region, and his question in relation to “where next” is appropriate. The region has developed from the quagmire of incompetent colonialism, corrupt mis-administration by incompetent officials, but it has managed to reach a level where it is becoming a global economic force, of course there are massive differences between the various countries in the form of culture, religions, populations, and geographic opportunities, but John has managed to craft a document which captures the differences, but also highlights the similarities.

Asia Century On a Knife-edge by John West is recommended for the person who wants a serious overview of the region in an open and readable style.


Review by Glen Robinson AFG Venture Group; Tel +61 412 229 664; mail [email protected]


John West. Asian Century … on a Knife-edge: A 360 Degree Analysis of Asia’s Recent Development. Palgrave Macmillan. 2018. 335 pages.

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