Peter Sands Urges Asia to Step Onto World Stage

Top banker wants 'louder, clearer' voice from region's leaders

March 23, 2012 — Peter Sands, senior executive of Standard Chartered PLC, joined Asia Society Hong Kong Centre for a talk whose title — "The Shifting Center of Gravity from West to East" — left no doubt as to how he views recent trends in the global economy.

Sands was careful to qualify his remarks, however, with a call for Asia's leaders to assume a level of political influence commensurate with the region's economic clout.

"There's really no better place to have this discussion than Hong Kong, which for a long time really, has signified a balancing point between the powers of Asia and the West," Sands began. "And today, you can really feel the growing dynamism in the city."

When discussing the current global economic climate, Sands told his listeners, the simplest place to begin is in 2007, with the earliest tolls of the "global" financial crisis. (Sands joked, "In classic form, the West created a financial crisis and then called it global. Kind of like the 'World' Series!") According to Sands, the financial crisis crystallized a growing trend, namely complacency about the health of the system. "The crisis was the result of too much debt, too little growth and an erosion of competition in certain sectors," Sands said.

In his discussion, he went on, he would be touching on the various threats to the global economy going forward — namely a potential energy crisis and dealing with overwhelming debt. "While sorting out the mess of many years of too much debt is fundamentally a Western problem, the energy crisis poses a genuine threat to Asia," he said.

"As a banker," Sands said, "I'm paid to worry about what will go wrong. And that's something that bankers forgot before the crisis." But despite the risks that Sands outlined, he said that we shouldn't dismiss the genuinely enormous scale of growth creation and social change happening in the developing world.

So how do we augment this vitality? Well, Sands pointed out, China has been one of the consistent frontrunners of economic development in the modern world. "What is well understood here but not in London," he said, "is that China's growth is not something that happened despite their best efforts, but rather a very conscious policy shift towards sustainable growth. And China will continue to be the single largest contributor to global growth. In terms of both GDP and prospective growth, there has been and will continue to be a real shift eastwards."

Nevertheless, China and Asia aren't perfect. Asia still lags in innovation, and also in its ability and willingness to assert global influence — in other words, to play a defining role on the world's political stage. Sands argued, "It is still the West that drives the policy agenda. I'd like to hear Asian leaders speaking with a louder, clearer voice." He went on, "Too little in the reshaping of the global economy reflects the needs and priorities of the emerging world. Asia can't afford to let this process occur in a rearview mirror, trying to correct the mistakes of the West."

In closing, Sands urged that in the year of the dragon, "Asia can no longer mind its own business. It must get involved in minding the world's business. That's what happens when the center of gravity shifts."

Reported by Maddie Gressel

Video: Watch the complete program (48 min., 53 sec.)