Thursday, August 24, 2017

Role reversal: Singapore and China

The Chinese used to look to us to learn as much as possible to bootstrap their development. Increasingly the roles are being reversed as in more and more sectors we will be learning from them. It has now gone to the using technology in the courts. We were an early innovator in this game but the Chinese have clearly sped ahead of us.

I once told my ex boss that in business and employment, the most difficult moment for us is when the Chinese are catching up and overtaking us. It will get easier when they are ahead of us. Globally this is clearest when the developed world were the customers for the Chinese but it is now shifted very much to the Chinese being the customers instead.

Fortunately not all economic sectors suffer this transition at the same time or the strain may be too hard to bear. But it is coming, one by one and like it or not, all of us in Asia would become economic vassals to China. Then the Chinese will use their economic might to bolster its military and extend their security umbrella over Asia challenging the Americans inch by inch with the Indians, Japanese and Aussies among the last to fall in line. This is not the foregone scenario though, the future reality will also depend on how the Japanese, Indians and Americans react to China's obvious strategy. We do not need to care about these big powers except how they might price the external environment which we must make a living out of. The issue is can we pay the Chinese price? Everything falls into the place after that.

If you cannot make enough sense of what is happening, you would say the future is unpredictable and bears watching closely developments. That is the stance of our PM and his ministers. The issue is not its unpredictability but our inability to make enough sense of it. Without having a sufficiently clear idea of what might come, we do not know how to get ready for tomorrow. Singapore performance as a society and economy is going to suffer.

We have done quite well but I am not sure if we know how to continue doing so. How do you know what to pack for the trip when you do not know where you are going? Meanwhile a party which place its interests ahead of the nation will prevent the next LKY if we have one at all from emerging. As always good is the enemy of the great.

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