Welcome to Inside Asia, conversations with Asia’s leading movers, shakers, thinkers, and provocateurs. Each week, we bring you an extraordinary tale of a country, a trend, a sector, or an idea. It’s informed and engaging conversation, and invaluable insight into the innovations and entrepreneurs who are shaping and changing the region.
A Case Against Cronyism (w/ Razeen Sally)
Conversations – most would agree – are best had in person. Yet, our recent bout with Covid has shown that sometimes technology is necessary to keep that conversation flowing. When restrictions lifted several months back, I was quick to return to in-person meetings, on location. It was nice while it lasted. In recent days, Singapore made a call to re-impose rules to keep us at home, out of the office and away from crowds. It’s probably the right decision, but I confess, the thought of going backward instead of forward is mildly distressing. I have the feeling I’m not alone.
Nothing replaces face-to-face engagements. Warm up to a conversation with a coffee or a meal, and the entire tone and tempo changes. It’s noticeable. Or at least, I think it is. Find a place that puts a person in a calm and positive frame-of-mind and you can literally hear the difference. I’d like to think that the conversation you’re about to hear captures that feeling.
My discussion with Razeen Sally took place after a sumptuous Thai meal at the Jim Thompson Restaurant just off Tanglin Road here in Singapore. There are many beautiful places to dine in the city, but this restaurant is among my favorite. High ceilings, exotic décor, and…did I mention the food…it’s really something special. It all made for great conversation.
Razeen is Associate Professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. He’s also a mix of Welsh and Sri Lankan. It was – in part - the thing that drew him back to his country of origin several years ago. That trip (and subsequent others) resulted in a book: Return to Sri Lanka: Travels in a Paradoxical Island. And so it was, we joined up to talk about those paradoxes, the evolution of Sri Lanka, and the example it sets (or not) for other emerging economies.
Valuing Our Forests (w/ Koh Lian Pin)
My guest this week is Koh Lian Pin, a Singapore-based conservation scientist, and also one of nine nominated members of the Singapore Parliament. He’s staked his career on identifying ways to preserve our planet’s natural resources. His dream, as he says, is to see agri-business and forests in a state of peaceful co-existence.
This week, we take a look at the movement to preserve and protect our forests. There’s a new sense of urgency in the race to combat climate change. Trees, it so happens, are one of the greatest single sources of carbon-capture. And because of that, they are receiving a well-spring of conservationist and investor attention.
Programs like OneTreePlanted, Global Forest Generation, and One Trillion Trees are all encouraging individuals and corporations to plant and preserve forests. It couldn’t have come at a better time. While the pandemic might have slowed the rate of carbon output from manufacturing and travel, rain forests were not spared. In fact, the rate of deforestation accelerated in 2020, led primarily by logging and clearing activities in Brazil – home to more than 50% of the world’s rain forest.
Evidence suggests that love of trees alone won’t stem the deforestation tide. What we need are market mechanisms that value trees and the carbon they capture and process. Singapore is lining up on the opportunity and I spoke with Lian Pin to better understand what’s at stake.
Capitalism’s Right of Passage: Part 2 (w/ Pietro Ventani)
A couple of weeks ago I was sitting in the member’s lounge of a local club I like to visit, and my Italian economist friend, Pietro Ventani comes up to me, sits down, and pushes a piece of paper across the table. “I’ve been thinking about this,” he says. “There’s more to it.”
What he’s referring to is an earlier conversation that resulted in the release of our first “Capitalism’s Right of Passage” episode released on April 2nd. I unfolded the paper and there, printed in black and white, were four statements with accompanying bullets. There was “The Problem,” “Root Causes,” “What governments are doing to fix the problem,” and “What governments should do to fix the problem.”
We had a coffee, talked it over, then retreated to a corner of the club to have the conversation you’re about to hear. We get straight to the point. And if I’m not mistaken, we address, in its entirety, the problem with the current state of Capitalism. I’m joking of course, but I have to say, it was a pretty tight and focused conversation. You be the judge. To latch onto what we’re saying, it’s not essential, but you might want to first listen to part one. Either way, I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.
Has Asia Lost It? (w/ Vasuki Shastry)
This week on Inside Asia, we reach across the Pacific to speak to Vasuki Shastry. He’s a Washington D.C.-based Senior Fellow at the US Chamber of Commerce and an Associate Asia Pacific Fellow at the policy institute Chatham House in London. We reached out to talk about his new book, provocatively entitled: Has Asia Lost It? A surprising headliner at a time when many would say the Pacific Era is upon us and Asia is most certainly on the rise.
Vasuki disagrees. On the face of it, he says, things looks good. For instance, in just four short decades, the region has climbed its way out of poverty. Political and economic risk remains low. Vast wealth has accrued. And China has assumed Superpower status. Not too shabby. What we’re facing now, he says, is Peak Asia. Scratch beneath the surface and you see two systems. One that caters to the elites and one that controls the average citizen. Opportunities and upward mobility are diminishing. And unless Asia breaks the bonds of economic integration with the west through trade and manufacturing, it may never realize its potential. With talk of further de-coupling, the pressure is on Asian leaders to change – and fast.
Capitalism’s Right of Passage (w/ Pietro Ventani)
This week on Inside Asia, we’re tackling a big topic – Capitalism. You might argue that it’s a system as tightly imbedded in our daily lives as any other. There’s hardly a place on Earth that isn’t affected by it. In most places, it governs the basic exchange of goods and service, provides the means for that exchange, and offers a set of economic rules by which most of us can agree.
It can be credited in large part for lifting half of the human population out of poverty in only half a century’s time. Healthcare and lifestyle innovations did wonders in keeping disease in check. That led to a global population explosion. But corporations responded, building things better, faster, and cheaper so that everyone could take part in the great Capitalist dream.
It was all going so swimmingly, until it wasn’t. Starting in 2005, there were warning signs. By 2007, in the U.S., delinquency rates on subprime lending rose sharply. And at the outset of 2008, the markets were in free-fall. What ensued was a Global Financial Crises, the likes of which the world hadn’t seen since the Great Depression.
If this re-telling strikes you as tiresome, forgive me, but here’s the point: It could have been prevented. It’s a failing of government regulators who proved unable or unwilling to check the collective power of monied interests. In the blink of an eye, Capitalism as a means of serving the greater good became the whipping boy of the financial elite.
The real question is: Can we get it back? Here to discuss it with me is Pietro Ventani, a Singapore-based economist and investment strategist, who does some dabbling in early-stage fintech and blockchain ventures. We talked about Capitalism’s victories and failings, its ability to address new world issues, and how politics and technology are spoiling some of those prospects. All this in less than 35 minutes. So stay tuned.
The Still Angry Clean Energy Guy (w/ Assaad Razzouk)
My guest this week is Assaad Razzouk, Group CEO at Sindicatum Renewable Energy and host of The Angry Clean Energy Guy podcast. We’re talking about the need for new market forces to drive sustainability and reduce carbon output. In Assaad’s view, we’ve been playing around the perimeter for too long. Now is the time to align corporate, government and societal interests to ensure a cleaner world and healthier planet.
On the environmental and cleantech front, we’re off to a fast-start in 2021, and according to my guest this episode, there’s no time to waste. Structural changes, however, are essential. And this means calling out the biggest contributors to our current climate change crises. It starts with Big Oil. They have a lot to account for, says Assaad, not just in the way they operate, but in the tactics they have long employed to divert public attention and lay the blame elsewhere.
In this 35-minute conversation, we touch on the geopolitics of climate change, fossil fuel charades, investor responsibility, and the need to once and for all impose a set of progressive policies that hold corporations accountable for extracting from the earth and polluting the environment.
Really enjoyed the podcast with Thomas Morgan. It’s a great movie and everyone should watch it.
As good as it gets
If you want a genuine sense of a multi-dimensional Asia that isn't "lost in translation," Steve's podcast is as good as it gets. Top quality guests, queried by a class act of a (former WSJ) journalist and host. You are missing out if you are not listening to Steve.
Highlights Emerging Trends
Steve Stine does a great job spotting the emerging trends in Asia and then getting the best from his guests to highlight the issues for his audience.