Future of the Asian Economy

Tuesday, May 23, 2017 - Dr. Richard R. Vuylsteke was the guest speaker at Asia Society Korea’s May Monthly Luncheon where he gave a lecture titled “Forecast Asia: The Future of the Asian Economy.” Dr. Vuylsteke is the president of the East-West Center and an expert on strategic and operational leadership in multicultural organizations. He returned to the EWC following several decades of living in Asia, where he served most recently as the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. Having been involved in Hong Kong from an economic and business perspective, Dr. Vuylsteke spoke of three economic developments to watch in Asia: China’s One Belt One Road initiative, smart city development, and the importance of jobs.

While the One Belt One Road contains a lot of rhetoric on the land routes taking shape throughout Asia, Dr. Vuylsteke believes the real focus should be on what is happening in the oceanic waters that surround the continent. China realizes that it is much easier to build ports than it is to build road and rail links through the deserts of central Asia. The development of the Pearl River Delta is a model for what OBOR is trying to achieve with high-speed rail networks, vast underground systems, highways, ports, and bridges now connecting Hong Kong and Macao to the nine major cities in South China. The project is a demonstration of what connectivity means both economically and intellectually.

The definition of a smart city is still unclear, with the concept being a relatively new phenomenon. For Dr. Vuylsteke, it is the adoption of information and technology to get people connected in urban areas. With the growth of new cities and the expansion of old ones, putting cities in the cloud will bring a variety of entrepreneurial business development. Making big data available to both the public and private sectors will enable mobile applications to bring e-commerce and e-governance to people living in these places. Seoul, Singapore, and Tokyo are the leading locations in Asia for smart city development while the Netherlands is leading the way in Europe. 

Dr. Vuylsteke concluded his lecture by highlighting the problem of the lack of employment opportunities in the future. Robotics and artificial intelligence are resulting in the destruction of jobs, especially in the middle-level sector. For example, with many tasks now online, there has been a one-third cut of people within the law establishment. It is important to ask what we are going to do with all these people between the ages of 35-55 who cannot find jobs. While places like Japan, and to an extent Korea, do not currently have this issue, it is still going to be a problem in the future.