Is Asia in for a turbulent year ahead?

Is Asia in for a turbulent year ahead?
Dr Parag Khanna of geostrategic advisory firm Hybrid Reality speaking at the 2013 edition of the ST Global Outlook Forum. This year’s event will feature a keynote address by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

While conflict seems too frightening to contemplate, there is no question that Asia is heading towards a more dangerous place as the United States, Japan and India move to confront a more assertive China.

Many ASEAN states could potentially be caught in the middle of this competition.

What are the various pressures tugging at the region, and how will states respond individually and collectively?

These are among the broad themes of this year's Straits Times Global Outlook Forum to be held on Nov 20.

Sponsored by OCBC Bank, the forum - the fourth edition since it started in 2012 - has become a key event in Singapore's year-end calendar. It brings together some of the region's finest minds, together with experts from The Straits Times newsroom and its foreign news bureaus.

Asia, clearly, is approaching a period of unknowns. Meanwhile, fresh challenges are rising as several of the region's key economies are slowing, some more than others.

The biggest worry of all is China. While opinions vary about the nature of its economic troubles, there is little doubt that its growth rates have slowed significantly.

Meanwhile, Japan's economy is flirting with recession.

A silver lining in this cloudy atmosphere is India, which, under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is showing signs of acceleration. But India has its own worries, most notably fears of a communal backlash as its minority communities fret about the rise of Hindu nationalism.

Closer to Singapore, Malaysia's multiple crises - deep political and racial divides and a slowing economy - compound the situation.

The forum is headlined by a keynote speech by Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam and a special address by Ambassador- at-Large Ong Keng Yong, who will draw on his experience as ASEAN secretary-general as well as Singapore's envoy to Malaysia and India, aside from his current role.

"Over the past four years, the Global Forum has emerged as a significant event highlighting the challenges of the year to come," said Straits Times associate editor Ravi Velloor. "This year, we are particularly fortunate to have DPM Tharman as our keynote speaker. Few know the global - and regional - economy better than him. And in Mr Ong Keng Yong, we have a person who knows ASEAN's many challenges from the inside."

Straits Times editor Warren Fernandez will engage Mr Tharman on stage after the minister's keynote address.

The audience will also get an opportunity to pose questions directly to the minister, as well as Mr Ong.

Following the speeches by Mr Tharman and Mr Ong, an expert panel will look at the region's business prospects, especially as the ASEAN Economic Community takes shape by the year end.

The panellists will include Mr Samuel Tsien, group chief executive of OCBC Bank, and Mr Raman Singh, president of leading pharmaceutical company Mundipharma.

Two scholars - Professor Huang Jing of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and Dr Sanjaya Baru of the International Institute for Strategic Studies - will provide a scholarly overview of the great changes sweeping Asia's two biggest nations.

On the same panel, Mr Shannon Teoh, Straits Times' Malaysia correspondent, will present a briefing on Malaysia's troubles as seen from the ground level.

Said Mr Velloor, who will moderate the second panel: "Rather than pure punditry, we wanted to include the views of how top businessmen who lead major companies view this region.

"Between Sam Tsien and Raman Singh, we are able to serve up practical common sense from a top banker and a top consumer goods executive that should be of immense value to the audience."

The half-day event, at the Grand Copthorne Waterfront Hotel, is priced at $230, including lunch.

Registration starts today, with early-bird rates at $180 till Nov 6. To sign up, go to www.straitstimes. com/stoutlook

The forum's presenting sponsor is OCBC Bank, and OCBC credit and debit card-holders enjoy 10 per cent off the admission fee.

This article was first published on October 26, 2015.
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