I was pleasantly surprised when the Institute of Policy Studies of National University of Singapore invited me to the ‘Japan-Singapore Symposium’. It is an annual event where eminent people discuss the social, economic and geo-political situation prevailing in SE Asia in general and Japan-Singapore relations in particular. I went there in my capacity as an independent blogger.
And what an experience it was !
Here was the panel :
- Prof.Tommy Koh – NUS
- Manu Bhaskaran – Singapore Economist, Adjunct Professor NUS
- Yoshiji Nogami -Japan’s Ambassador for UK, President of Japan Institute of International Affairs
- Moriama Toru – EVP and Regional CEO of Mistubishi Corp
- Prof.Oba Mie – Tokyo University
- Lee Yong Chye – SVP, Equities, GIC Asset Management
Manu spoke about the economic outlook for the region, currency situation and the relative political and economic forecast for the ASEAN countries. He was very positive about India due to the new government under Modi and the work Modi had earlier done in Gujarat.
Toru of Mistubishi Corp spoke of his increased focus on South Asia and sounded extremely optimistic about India and Indonesia – both have new reform oriented governments. He particularly spoke about the uniform GST that the Modi government wants to implement that which the earlier Congress government was hesitant and did not even consult the states on.
Prof. Oba spoke of the recently founded AIIB-the Brics Bank where China and India played a role. She expressed apprehension about the rising clout of China and its hegemonic intentions. She brought an interesting point – the relation between FDI and political influence and how China could be increasing its political clout using the FDI route.
I agree with Prof. Oba. China has invested heavily in Sri Lanka and Africa and finances ports and oil terminals there. China also extends cheap loans to nearly bankrupt but oil-rich quasi-socialist economies thus ensuring cheap oil for herself. They use the Sri Lankan ports and oil terminals to safely store oil sourced from South America.
There was an interesting and well informed exchange of ideas between Koh and Nogami. When Koh said that AIIB was the need of the hour as the America dominated Asian Development Bank (ADB) did not live up to its purpose and ADB was often useless and acted as per the whims and fancies of America, Nogami said it was China which had 51% holding in AIIB and hence it was a Chinese bank. When Koh countered that the USA and the west did not understand the emerging realities and still held on to old notions in the United Nations, Nogami said that expanding the security council to include Japan and India was opposed not by America but by China and Russia.
Every speaker spoke of the optimistic outlook for India and the way situation has changed in the last six months after Modi took power. I see a distinctly favourable image of India in many disciplines. That was not the case 6 months ago.
What change a determined leader could make ! Modi rocks.
Modi and China dominated much of the conversation.