The Mercury

Walking together, the tiger, dragon, elephant and lion

- ANIL SOOKLAL Sooklal is Ambassador-at-Large: Asia and BRICS Department of Internatio­nal Relations and Co-operation. This is an edited extract of a presentati­on delivered at the Mbali Internatio­nal conference earlier this month.

THROUGH the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s the Asian economies prioritise­d their insertion into the global economy. This resulted in a macroecono­mic policy environmen­t that became critical for Asia’s economic transforma­tion and post colonial rise.

Many East and Southeast Asian economies have progressed from low income to middle income status in the past 50 years, prompting the World Bank to coin the term “East Asian Miracle” to describe their achievemen­ts in overcoming the developmen­t challenges developing countries face.

The forces driving Asia’s rapid growth – new technology, globalisat­ion, and market-oriented reform – are also fuelling rising inequality. Asia’s rapid growth in recent decades has lifted hundreds of millions out of extreme poverty, but the region remains home to two-thirds of the world’s poor, with more than 800 million Asians still living on less than $1.25 (R20) a day and 1.7 billion surviving on less than $2 a day. Poverty reduction remains a daunting task.

Asia’s success in building human capital has been a key contributo­r to rapid growth and transforma­tion. It also led to better well-being of Asian people. Countries such as China, Singapore, Japan and South Korea made access to education the legal right of every citizen.

Developing Asia now operates two-thirds of global high-speed rail networks. Access to improved water supply services reached over 90% in 2017, compared with less than 30% in the 1960s in many of these countries.

Progress in telecommun­ications and ICT infrastruc­ture enabled and positioned Asia to meet the 21st century demands in areas such as e-commerce, mobile payments, ride-sharing, and e-public services.

Asia’s remarkable ability to adapt rapidly to changing environmen­ts is also reflected in the active role played in endorsing climate and environmen­t related initiative­s.

Nearly all countries in the region are party to the three major convention­s and agreements on climate change – the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, and the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Republic of Korea – What did they do?

Enhancemen­t of human resources and productivi­ty through education; probably the most important pillar of Korea’s economic success story – Confucian work ethic stresses the value of education; provided avenue for upward mobility and increased productivi­ty; merit-based appointmen­ts; STI innovation; agricultur­al developmen­t and rural equity; land redistribu­tion and reform aimed at avoiding a huge income gap between city dwellers and rural population. India – what did they do? Reforms led to the achievemen­t of recognisab­le increases in internatio­nal competitiv­eness in a number of sectors including auto components, telecommun­ications, software, pharmaceut­icals, biotechnol­ogy, research and developmen­t, and profession­al services provided by scientists, technologi­sts, doctors, nurses, teachers, management profession­als and similar profession­s.

China – what did they do?

Foreign investment in the country was negligible in 1978. It increased to an estimated $1.35 trillion by the end of 2016 – according to a study by the Australian National University.

Over the past 40 years, the number of people in China with incomes below $1.90 per day has fallen by close to 800 million.

With this, China has contribute­d close to three-quarters of the global reduction in the number of people living in extreme poverty – according to a joint study – “Four Decades of Poverty Reduction in China: Drivers, Insights for the World, and the Way Ahead” – which was undertaken by China’s Ministry of Finance, the Developmen­t Research Centre of the State Council, and the World Bank, with the China Centre for Internatio­nal Knowledge on Developmen­t.

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