What are Asians tired of explaining

The little tigers are tired

Today, almost three years after the financial and currency crisis, the region is divided. Above all, the Asian crisis had one effect: the countries in the Asia-Pacific region are now much more differentiated than they were a few years ago. While the economies of the major economic powers China and India were relatively unaffected by the financial crisis, several countries in Southeast Asia have still not overcome the valley of tears: Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and, above all, the trouble spot Indonesia. And this despite the fact that the individual states initially tried to follow the restructuring concepts of the IMF. Among other things, these envisaged curbing government spending, tightening monetary policy and ensuring better and more transparent banking supervision. However, there can be no talk of a sustainable economic recovery today.

The north appears to be a big winner after lean times. The most impressive example is South Korea. During the crisis, it was among the five countries hardest hit, along with Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Today the country is booming again, despite the radical changes brought about by the restructuring in the banking and financial sectors. In 1998 South Korea had to cope with a decline in real gross domestic product of almost seven percent; but in the spring of this year the rate of growth had increased again to over 13 percent. In addition, the political rapprochement between South and North Korea is providing additional relaxation in the Asian north. Hong Kong has also recovered and is doing as well as it was before the Asian crisis. Taiwan was hardly affected by the Asian flu and China had proven to be a bulwark and stability factor anyway. Johannes Stoll, country analyst at DG Bank in Frankfurt, also confirms that the south is far behind. He explains which countries he is thinking of as a priority:

"Indonesia right away, that's not an issue. Even in Indonesia one has to say that Indonesia is of course handicapped by the fact that clans have ruled the economy for decades. That is still no different today. We have political liberalization, but there is also there there are the known problems. So nothing has fundamentally changed in Indonesia. Another case is Thailand. We have a government in Thailand that has started with good approaches, but more or less every day fails due to the resistance of the clans. We have the case of Malaysia, which - on the face of it - is having its first successes with its policies that have not been adapted to the IMF, but these are short-term for the time being. The question must be asked: Are structural reforms really being carried out and I see problems in Malaysia; Symptom than something changed in the actual problems. "

There are different but clear criteria for the gap between north and south within the Asian economies. At least that's what Sung-Hee Lee, author, lecturer and business consultant says. The city-state of Singapore in the immediate vicinity of Malaysia and Indonesia is an exception in terms of growth and financial strength - it has always been - but figures on direct investments and market capitalization clearly subdivide the region:

"This means that the market capitalization in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and Korea is currently 81 percent compared to 74 percent in January 1998. If you compare it to the south, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand have just 19 percent compared of 26 percent at the end of 1999. That was one criterion. The other criterion is the market valuation of the top 100 Asian companies, with the exception of Japan because Japan is currently in a difficult position the border of Hong Kong - are in the northern area; and the five Asean countries, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand only have locations of 17 of these companies compared to 40 four years ago. "

The Federal Association of German Industry in Berlin, on the other hand, does not really want to get used to the strict division into north and south. It is emphasized that the countries of the Asia-Pacific show greater differences than they did a few years ago. How does the current situation in Asia look specifically from the perspective of the German economy? Friedolin Strack, Head of the Asia-Pacific Division at the Federation of German Industries:

"I would not speak of a north-south divide; my assessment is that the Asia-Pacific region has become considerably more heterogeneous since the financial crisis than it was before the crisis It is more about the fact how the individual countries dealt with the challenges of the financial crisis. I believe that some countries have done this in a very positive way. In fact, most of them can be found in the northern part of the Asia-Pacific region, and some countries have so far been relatively unconvincing with structural reforms, and if you just look at the number, they are actually more likely to be found in the southern part of Southeast Asia. "

Foreign investors are looking at the boom region again with renewed euphoria. German direct investment, for example, rose sharply in 1999 compared to 1998 in Singapore, Thailand, Hong Kong, the People's Republic of China and South Korea. The Institute of German Economy in Cologne appreciates. that economic output, at least in individual countries in Southeast Asia, will increase by between four and nine percent this year. At the same time, however, the sharp rise in budget deficits continues to cause headaches. There is also agreement in the West that Southeast Asia is still neglecting the necessary structural reforms. Efforts were made to pursue an open, investor-friendly policy, but the growth figures in Asia are largely due to the good economic development in the world economy, especially to the impetus from Western Europe and the USA. This is confirmed by Keon-Woo Lee, European representative of the Asian Development Bank in Frankfurt:

"The US played an important role in the recovery in Asia because it imported a lot of Asian goods at a time when the Asian countries needed a lot of foreign currency to pay their debts and to build up reserves."

That leaves the West's appeal to the Far East to finally implement the long overdue reforms in the banking and financial sector: with the exception of South Korea, not much has happened in this regard, especially in Southeast Asia, although many new governments have made great promises. In some countries the withdrawal of foreign capital and the high internal debt of the companies are still noticeable, so that they cannot make any new investments in their own country. After all, the crisis in Asia has sharpened our awareness of the particular problems, emphasizes Johannes Stoll from DG Bank in Frankfurt:

"Before the crisis, we actually did not attach great importance to this problem of the political-economic network. You can see that particularly in the case of Indonesia, which was again and again clearly preferred to India in terms of investments, but also in terms of ratings That has now changed, fortunately, I would like to say, but it was also a logical consequence that, as a result of the banking problems, the corporate problems, the focus was much more on the problems in these two sectors, and of course we can See very, very clearly who is trying to implement structural reforms and who is not. And although it doesn't look like it in China, we have a very hard policy in China, despite difficult external conditions, i.e. external economic conditions, the attempt to restructure - slowly , but continuously. In Korea, although there are strong conglomerates, we have a very busy one and also consistent politics. From the outside, too, more emphasis is placed on observing this and we can see that these countries are also attracting direct investment. "

But the West also has a moral responsibility because of the severity of the Asian financial and currency crisis. The new problems in Southeast Asia are, in principle, the old ones; they were irrelevant for many Western investors during the booming business years before 1997, criticizes researcher and lecturer Sung-Hee Lee:

"During the economic boom years people liked to concentrate on this economic development and thus like to cover up and overlook or not want to admit (the problems) or to belittle all these problems that came to light during and after the crisis. They were all before known. Only the politicians and companies refused to admit it. In the end, they are old, new problems. "

Above all, the West continues to rely on China, whose export economy and national currency proved to be relatively stable during the entire Asian crisis. It is also China that, together with Japan, has a special role in today's north-south network. The former growth locomotive Japan, geographically attributed to the north, is finding it difficult to get out of the recession after ten years and is currently unable to live up to its original role.

"Japan, which was an economic engine in the 70s / 80s, gave up this role at the beginning of the 90s, due to its own problems. It looks as if Japan could take on this role again in the next 10 to 20 years, as we in Japan - far away from the political situation - have seen a significant restructuring within the economy. Internationally active companies in particular have diversified very strongly, have put their cost structures in order, and created new earnings potential, as it is called yes, also the current situation, where the high yen exchange rate should in principle not allow export growth; despite all this, we have for some time been seeing significant growth in exports in Japan, which is also a major growth driver that these reorganizations that have taken place will very well put Japan back in position to actively take on the leadership role. "

In contrast, the People's Republic of China continues to be the market of the future. Mainly because the Middle Kingdom is about to join the World Trade Organization. What does WTO entry mean for foreign investors and to what extent does it change economic relations with the Asian neighbors in the north and south? Friedolin Strack from the Federation of German Industries explains that the market conditions in particular will change:

"China has so far been of interest to foreign companies as a domestic market. Companies that want to do business in China in the long term are primarily focused on the Chinese market. That will change. In my opinion, more and more companies will go to China after one has been completed Accession to the WTO in order to be able to supply the markets of the Asia-Pacific region from China and to become a key player in the region from production facilities in China. "

But the starting position is not easy. The state economic stimulus programs are not without consequences for economic growth. DG Bank estimates that the People's Republic will grow by 6.5 percent this year and around 6 percent in 2001. Since the state economy is being completely rebuilt and unprofitable state companies have to close, the economic and social problems within the gigantic country worsen. Rising unemployment, corruption and the growing differences between urban and rural populations as well as between the individual Chinese provinces make it clear that the much-vaunted market of the future is also one of the most difficult. DG Bank analyst Johannes Stoll makes no secret of this:

"China is a state-administered economy. That means nothing else than that of course we have growth rates today that only exist on paper. That will continue to be the case as long as the Communist Party is in the lead. WTO accession is insofar change something than that legal certainty will slowly arise in China, that there will also be competition in China in the long term; but long-term does not mean tomorrow and may not mean 2005, but that will take place very, very long-term, as the WTO negotiations also show. We saw the problems that existed and that of course compromises also have to be made, and experience with China so far clearly shows that contracts are contracts, but whether we stick to them - you just have to put it bluntly - is still a question another sheet. "

Despite the immense structural problems in Southeast Asia and despite the political risks in some countries, the German economy is confident about Asia as a location. Above all, it wants to strengthen the status of medium-sized companies. The representatives of the German economy are also increasingly relying on the instruments of deregulation and privatization in order to be able to continue the expansion of bilateral relations. These hopes were expressed during the eighth Asia-Pacific conference in Kuala Lumpur in mid-September. As surprisingly as the Asian crisis hit the region in 1997, the upswing in some economies seems to have returned quickly:

"I am very surprised at how quickly Asia has returned to growth figures that the Asia-Pacific countries - with a few exceptions - had before the financial crisis. I am surprised that the foreign trade of the countries has already exceeded the level from before the Asian crisis and I am surprised that industrial production has returned to a significantly higher level within such a short period of time than it was before the financial crisis to have."

In addition, the great differences between North and South, the gap between the individual countries, should not be permanent. At least that's what Keon-Woo Lee, the European representative of the Asian Development Bank in Frankfurt, assumes:

"In the past, these countries in southern Asia had poorly conducive policies to the private sector. However, today they have realized that the private sector is indeed an aid to growth. Step by step, they have liberalized their economies so that today we can see an increased share of the private sector in the economy and these countries are growing a little faster than before. "

DG Bank analyst Johannes Stoll is less optimistic. In his opinion, the north is far too far ahead to be overtaken by the states of Southeast Asia:

"This gap will not be bridged. We clearly have - if you ignore the city-states and also Taiwan as invulnerable and far-advanced states - in China a much higher potential in terms of economic activity, in terms of economic development. Korea is too In principle not to be equated with countries like Thailand or Malaysia. It is actually the second major economic power in Asia, almost on the level of Japan in certain areas ... Therefore, the structure is far too advanced and can build on it What the countries Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia actually do not have in terms of structures and are now very difficult to catch up in terms of economic policy. "

However, one thing remains to be said: even if the Asian crisis widened the economic differences between the countries in the Asia-Pacific region, the difficult times have nonetheless sent a positive signal: trade within the region has increased significantly since the financial crisis. Today, the countries of the Asia-Pacific are more intertwined than ever through foreign trade. The Federation of German Industries made this clear in a statement on the eighth Asia-Pacific Conference. However, this means for German companies and investors: Despite the growth in bilateral trade, Germany has lost ground on individual markets in relation to Asian providers. Because of the great differences within the Asian economies, there will be different levels of involvement in the future, depending on the country and investment conditions. However, countries like China or South Korea will continue to be at the top of the agenda.And in the special case of Japan, they want to set a very special example: In Tokyo, both the Konsugerma trade fair and the ninth Asia-Pacific conference are to take place in the spring of 2002.