South Asia has crossed an important milestone, one that is being celebrated by international bodies, but has gone largely unnoticed in Asia. This is the first time that all South Asian nations have a democratically elected government. India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Maldives have all successfully held multi-party elections and appointed heads of state accordingly.
While politics has always been melodramatic in South Asia with protests and walk outs becoming a norm, this year is no exception. The Supreme court of Pakistan recently barred both Nawaz Sharif and his brother Shahbaz Sharif from holding electoral office. Bangladesh is undergoing a mutiny by rank-and-file guards protesting over pay and conditions. Meanwhile in the south, tensions continue to grow between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lanka Militia.
Nonetheless, this is a milestone to be celebrated.
After fighting land and sea battles, India and China are now competing to woo over the Himalayan state of Nepal. Nestled amongst the lofty mountains between the two economic superpowers Nepal’s location is strategic for peace and prosperity of the region.
Within the past ten days ago, foreign secretaries from both India and China have visited Nepal to improve ties with the former Kingdom. Indian Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon visited Nepal to improve bilateral ties and assess the progress of commitments pledged between India and Nepal. Besides a friendly border, India and Nepal share strong political, economic and cultural ties. This week, Former king Gyanendra Shah will visit New Delhi and the eastern Indian state of Orissa on a goodwill mission. India will be the first country he visits after stepping down from the throne in 2006.
A few days ago, Liu Jieyi, China’s assistant foreign minister, arrived in Kathmandu to meet with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav and leaders of major political parties. Earlier this month, Beijing had also sent a six-member government delegation headed by its international department vice-minister Liu Hongcai.
The current economic crisis is deepening in Asia with exports hitting rock bottom, GDP’s sinking, fiscal deficits ballooning and suicide rates rising. In January, Japanese exports nearly halved since the year before, Taiwanese exports fell 42 percent and Hong Kong’s GDP is expected to contract by 2~3 percent this year.
While the three financial crisis in recent economic history (1997-98, 2001 and 2008-09) cannot really be compared, similarities do echo between the three in terms of there being a mass exodus of money from Asian nations, government aided stimulus packages to resuscitate the economy and social, trade and political upheaval.
It is also interesting to note that the four Asian nations – Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia – which are coupled to the west have been the most affected during all three crisis. Further, economic reactions were similar in all three crisis – currencies plunged, GDP’s dipped and stock markets slipped, prices of assets such as real estate and automobiles fell, interest rates dropped and jobs were lost across the region.
Slumdog Millionaire, the movie which won eight Oscar awards, five Critics Choice Awards, four Golden Globes, and seven BAFTA Awards has won appreciation for its music and cinematography the world over. The rags-to-riches story of a boy from Asia’s largest slum – Dharavi – winning a jackpot brings out real life in India without the melodrama of Bollywood.
Released to mixed reviews in India, the movie is based on Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup’s book Q&A. Swarup now India’s Deputy High Commissioner to South Africa wrote the book when he was posted in London. Q&A was inspired by India’s reality Tv show ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ (the Indian version of ‘Who wants to be a millionaire’) which ruled TRP’s for more than a year.
Post the hype of the Slumdog Millionaire, the real question however remains what will happen to the slum children that were picked up for the movie? How much will the money, fame and glory change them and what impact will it have on their lives, their family’s and the community? Continue reading
Moving closer to a more integrated ASEAN region, the stock exchanges of Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have agreed to to start an e-trading link between the five countries by next year. The technical backbone and policies of the intra-regional trading platform are still being worked out.
“This e-trading link, through one single access point, allows intra-ASEAN cross-border trading and will attract more international funds into ASEAN,” the Singapore Exchange, Bursa Malaysia, Indonesia Stock Exchange, Philippine Stock Exchange and the Stock Exchange of Thailand said in a joint statement. “Offering a single platform is a starting point to achieve our 2015 vision of a more integrated ASEAN capital market with harmonized rules, regulations and practices,” Thai Finance Minister Korn Chatikavani told UPI.
In order to stay afloat during the economic crisis the ASEAN region is increasingly working together denouncing protectionist trade policies and increasing aid and currency reserves in the region. During the recently held ASEAN+3 conference held in Phuket, Thailand ASEAN member countries agreed to resist protectionist pressures and ensure all regional and international agreements are adhered to.
While job losses, plunging currencies and cuts in interest rates are a more apparent form of the economic crisis, changing food habits are a less obvious alteration. As consumers give up fine dining for a cheeseburger, fast food restaurants around the Asia have found sales jump manifold. In recession hit Japan McDonald’s reported record sales of US$4.4 billion in 2008 as the Japanese choose cheaper, quicker food over finer dining.
A more gravitating change is also apparent in Asian consumers moving away from meats that are traditionally considered expensive and are reserved for special occasions, preferring a cheaper protein variant in tofu and vegetables instead. Studies have shown that the Chinese have reduced their consumption of pork a staple meat and are consuming more tofu and vegetables. In Indonesia, fried tempe a tofu has replaced fried chicken just as the Vietnamese are consuming more bowls of vegetarian noodle soup or pho.
In a sinking display of Asia’s deteriorating economy, Asian currencies fell this week to a three month low according to the Bloomberg-JPMorgan- Asia Dollar Index. The index which tracks 10 Asian currencies against the U.S. dollar said a slowdown in exports and the economy led the depreciation in Asian currencies.
The index which was at its lowest since Dec 2, this week showed the maximum impact on currencies in Taiwan, South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore. While Taiwan’s economy shrank 8.4 percent in the last quarter, the fastest on record, the Taiwan dollar sank for twelve straight days to a five and a half year low of 34.699 per US dollar. South Korea which is on the brink of recession saw the won drop below 1,500 per dollar for the first time since November. More bad news came from recession hit Singapore whose exports have been at a 22 year low. The Singapore dollar and Philippine peso also hit three month lows at 1.5 against the dollar and 47.99 per US dollar respectively. Meanwhile the Malaysian Ringgit reached a two-year low of 3.6680 per dollar.
Owning to the worsening global scenario, the Asian Development Bank has cut its growth projections for the ASEAN 5 in 2009 to 3.4 percent.