Even amid a global economic slump, Singapore’s ambassador to the United States told a conference of Yale students Saturday that Asia’s wealth was built on — and will be restored by — free trade.
Ambassador Chan Heng Chee addressed the current economic situation in Asia and its potential implications for global power dynamics at this weekend’s “Asia Tomorrow” conference, co-sponsored by the Yale Entrepreneurial Society and the Yale Undergraduate Business Society. Other speakers included Jack Perkowski ’70, managing partner at JFP Holdings Ltd., and John Haley, CEO and President of Watson Wyatt Worldwide.
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At the onset of the financial crisis, Chan said, Asian nations thought they would be sheltered from the recession in the United States by virtue of Asia’s own strong economy, a concept known as “decoupling.” But even with Asia’s “dynamic and robust” economy, Chan said, it exports heavily to the United States, whose appetite for consumer goods dropped drastically as the recession wiped out wealth.
“The current economic crisis has proved decoupling as a myth,” Chan said. “All the engines of growth are shutting down globally.”
Chan said some countries with more isolated markets were less affected by the crisis, but added that “trade is a win-win agreement” and globalization is necessary for growth. Chan said protectionist and isolationist economic policies, to which some countries have turned to in hopes of ending the slowdown, will not solve the problem.
Asia is better equipped for recovery than its Western counterparts, she said.
“Asian countries have invested in education and in the population,” Chan said. “And generally in most of the countries, they have good work habits.”
Citizens in Asian nations have higher rates of savings than citizens in America, Chan said, which has somewhat buffered the region from the global recession. But for the Asian economy to recover, these consumers must spend some of their savings, Chan said, an uneasy task for citizens unwilling to part with their hard-earned cash in a no-guarantees world.
The end of the current crisis, Chan said, will bring about a reordering of world power dynamics. The new world will still be dominated by the United States, Chan said, but China will be a close contender for global power.
The ambassador’s speech served as the keynote address for the conference organized by James Zhang ’11 and Vivek Raman ’11. Zhang said he hopes the conference, whose mission was to educate students about the importance of Asia in a “flat world,” becomes an annual event.
But the outside weather — nearly 50 degrees and sunny —may have led to low turnout, organizers said; two-thirds of registered attendees did not show up for the conference.
“It was very difficult to get everybody to come,” Zhang said. “Although the turnout was a bit low, we were still pleased with the content and the discussion that took place.”
Joanna Cornell ’12 said she enjoyed hearing Chan speak about the economic crisis from a new perspective.
“Prior to this talk,” Cornell said, “I had only heard debates amongst Western scholars and politicians about how to solve the crisis and what the deeper implications are.”
Chan received her appointment as Singapore’s ambassador to the United States in 1996.