The global balance of power is shifting. Within Asia, that is. China has taken centre stage in Asia for several decades now. China’s meteoric rise as the Asian superpower has made for a great case study about how dramatic the impact of opening up an economy to global markets can be.
Leader Deng Xiaoping’s bold move to adopt reforms-oriented policies in the late 1970s was the turning point, one that would eventually not only pull the nation out of abject poverty and isolation but make it the world’s most powerful nation after the US.
China, however, seems to be reaching its zenith as an almost-there superpower. Among other things, an unfavourable demographic dividend is a major growth hurdle as the nation stares down the barrel of a rapidly-ageing population even as its working-age group begins to shrink.
Even as China grapples with its woes, the air is filled with optimism in another part of the continent. Several countries, particularly in the South and Southeast Asia, are flexing their muscles to overtake China as the fastest-growing economies in the world. The names of some of these sleeping giants in the making might surprise you.
Top 5 potential Asian powerhouses
A recent research note by Standard Chartered’s chief global economist David Mann and head of India-based thematic research Madhur Jha peg the following five Asian nations to each grow GDP by 7% and drive global growth in the 2020s, according to Bloomberg :
If China’s absence from the 7%-club is striking, the inclusion of countries like Bangladesh and the Philippines, that don’t get much attention otherwise, adds a surprise element.
So what’s firing up these Asian economies and why should the world track them closely? Let’s start with Vietnam and the Philippines — two countries barely 910 miles apart but with hugely different growth stories to tell.
Vietnam: Redefining wealth
Vietnam’s resurgence from a war-torn, poverty-stricken nation until the 1970s to one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies is nothing short of a miracle. The government planted the seeds of a turnaround in 1986 when it adopted the Doi Moi policy to establish a “socialist-oriented market economy”. Today, Vietnam is a major global supplier of a wide range of products, including electrical equipment, footwear, and electronic circuits.
North America is a key export partner, and globally renowned companies like Nike, Adidas, and Uniqlo have made a beeline to set up manufacturing operations in Vietnam. Smartphone giant Samsung takes the lead, now manufacturing one-third of its total output in the South-East Asian country. Such is the nation’s appeal that key Apple assembler, Foxconn, is reportedly planning to set up an iPhone factory in Vietnam in the wake of the Sino-US trade war.
Credit goes to liberalisation, investments in infrastructure, and pro-investor foreign policies, all of which saw an upsurge in the past decade. Vietnam’s GDP has grown at an annual average clip of 6% since 2000 and it attracted record foreign direct investment (FDI) worth US$19.1 billion in 2018, up 9% from 2017, with Japan, South Korea, and Singapore providing the lion’s share of total FDI.
With a young, tech-savvy population and growing middle class to boot, Vietnam’s fortunes should continue its rapid upward trajectory. How rapid, you may ask? Well, Standard Chartered projects per capita GDP to more than quadruple by 2030, making the Vietnamese the richest people among the five Asian nations listed earlier.
Philippines: Fast-tracking its goals
In 2011, the Philippine economy grew at a snail’s pace of 3.7% , with natural disasters and global economic woes exacerbating the government’s anaemic infrastructure spending.
Fast forward to 2019. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) projects the Philippines to grow 6.4% for both 2019 and 2020 as President Rodrigo Duterte puts his ambitious “Build, Build, Build” programme into high gear.
In October 2016 , Duterte adopted AmBisyon Natin 2040 — a long-term vision with a 10-point socio-economic agenda. Part of it includes bringing the unemployment rate down to 3.5% (from the current ~5%) by 2022, backed largely by infrastructure spending. By 2040, the Philippines wants to become a “prosperous, resilient, middle-class society free of poverty.”
Duterte is actively seeking foreign capital to push his vision forward and has found an ally in China: Of the US$2 billion in foreign investment that the Philippines attracted last year, nearly half came from China alone. China inked another 19 business deals worth US$12.16 billion recently, with a major focus on Philippine manufacturing and energy infrastructure.
With Singapore, Japan, Indonesia, and Malaysia also joining the investor bandwagon, Filipinos trust their leader will take the nation to the next level. Credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s seems to echo the sentiment, having just designated the Philippine economy its highest credit rating ever! And if the latest reports are to be believed, the nation could achieve an “upper middle income economy” status this year itself, well ahead of its 2022 target. You just can’t afford to take the Philippines lightly anymore.
A lot more in store
At this pace, Vietnam and the Philippines could catch up with Asian tigers like Singapore in just about a decade or so. If that intrigues you, wait until you hear about India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. You might have caught India in the headlines lately, but you’d be stunned to know what’s happening in Bangladesh. Recent events in Myanmar make for an equally compelling narrative as Asian economies continue to lead the way globally.
HK MoneyClub (www.hkmoneyclub.com)