Southeast Asian Tigers No More

TIME has a story about the challenges facing Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, after many years of rapid growth. “The issues for the region nowquestionable or authoritarian political systems, economic competition from China, and terrorismare obstacles that even the most optimistic visionary has trouble seeing past. In the 20th century, the region’s bogeymenimperialism, war and communismcame from without. In the 21st century, Southeast Asia’s greatest threats come from within.”

A related story looks at Singapore:

To the casual visitor flying into Singapore, such gloom seems absurd. The wealthy city-state still thrums with technocratic efficiency. But beneath the gloss of its modern skyline, an unprecedented economic downturn has produced the worst identity crisis since the traumatic 1960s, when the island gained independence from Britain. The body blow the economy took from SARSPrime Minister Goh Chok Tong recently warned of a possible recession in 2003has confirmed Singaporeans’ worst fears about their future. Accustomed to defining themselves by their country’s extraordinary commercial successes over the past four decades, they now confront the possibility that hard work and talent may not be enough, that history and geography can rob a nation of its wealth as fast as it was earned. “It sometimes seems as though Singapore’s best days are over,” one Singaporean accountant in his late 20s says. “Now we have to run as hard as we can just to stay in the same place.”

This was a view echoed by a few of the people I met during a recent trip to Singapore. Outwardly, everything remains the same – Orchard Road on a Saturday is full of crowds, the flights seem quite full, SARS is only visible in the hoardings and leaflets, construction activity continues. But beneath, there are rumblings that there is a bubble waiting to burst.

The two growth engines of the Asian region are China and India. These are the places to be. The coming years will see some economic turmoil in the other countries as China sucks up manufacturing jobs, and India does the same in services. Both countries also have huge, largely untapped domestic markets, which could become large opportunities.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.