It can be oh-so-hard to find good books which contain both good text describing the situation and good, current numbers indicating the order of magnitude. If you are trying to understand the people of a region, the politics, the economics, the history, and the geography, you need both. So I was delighted to find this book in the excellent bookstore in the Singapore airport, which is now sporadically available on Amazon. If you can’t get it there, try amazon.uk, amazon.ca, or other sources. It’s worth the extra effort to get a copy.
Because if you want to understand Asia right now, there is no better source than Asia’s Turning Point: An Introduction to Asia’s Dynamic Economies at the Dawn of the New Century by Ivan Tselichtchev and Philippe Debroux (John Wiley Asia, 2009). If you have any interest in doing business in or with Asia, this book is a “must have. ”
The book focuses on the economies of Asia, but you will learn a great deal about the people and their governments as you study the economies and economic trends.
The first third of the book contains six chapters discussing broad trends across Asia – from changes in the structure and attitude of government to business and labor trends, from age structure to productivity trends.
But my favorite part of the book is the other 250 pages, which are broken into 14 chapters, each focused on the key nations or geographies of the region: China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, North Korea, The Russian Far East, India, and Japan.
Each chapter begins with a section, “A Few Basics,” which tells you the very latest information in order to understand the place: income levels, natural resources, key industries, religion, etc. It was in the Singapore section that I discovered that Singapore now ranks above the US in per capita GDP, when adjusted for purchasing power. And that 83% of Singaporeans live in housing built by the government Housing Development Board.
The next section of each chapter, “Postwar Development,” gives one of the best concise histories I have read, covering each nation’s political and economic development over the last 60 years. In just a few minutes’ reading, you will be up to speed on the political history of the country you are interested in.
The fact the authors use the same treatment for each country also simplifies comparative studies: looking at two or more nations side-by-side. There are also plenty of data tables, and even some discussion of the key regions within nations.
Each chapter then proceeds to discuss, at some length, Structural Reforms (often as a response to the Asian economic crisis of 1997), Present Performance (right up-to-date), foreign trade, and FDI – foreign direct investment, which reflects the activity of foreign-based investors and companies in this nation. Each chapter closes with “Concluding Remarks,” which is an excellent overview of where the nation stands today and what the future may hold.
While these chapter descriptions may sound like this book is only of interest to economists, let me assure you this book is important reading for anyone with any interest in Asia. It is written at what I would call “an Economist (magazine) level of intelligence and informativeness.” Like the Economist, it’s totally up to date. Unlike the Economist, it covers all these nations in a fair amount of depth, at the same point in time, in a consistent manner.
Whether you are doing business with an Asian company, studying Asian politics and policies, thinking about travelling to Asia, investing in Asian markets and companies, or wanting to export into or export from Asia, this is the book you need to read now.