Scholar: Eastern Asian countries more competent at handling COVID-19
By Zhu Feng

Governments' management of the COVID-19 pandemic in Eastern Asian countries provided valuable lessons to a more efficient global governance, a leading scholar and veteran diplomat told CGTN during the 2021 Boao Forum.

Professor Kishore Mahbubani added that Asia has now become an increasingly important force in driving world economic growth.

Mahbubani is a distinguished fellow at the Asia Research Institute of the National University of Singapore. He is also a veteran diplomat with 33 years of experience with the Singapore Foreign Service.

China, ASEAN countries, Australia, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand signed the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) last November. The deal will greatly improve market access and make business predictable with common rules of origin and transparent regulations, and encourage firms to invest more in the region, including building supply chains and services and generating jobs. 

Mahbubani said RCEP reflects a changing world.

"In the past, it was the advanced Western countries that led the way, for example, in signing regional free trade agreements. The United States, which used to be a champion of free trade, cannot sign any free trade agreements because they have become politically toxic," he said. "By contrast, it is the Eastern countries that are signing some dramatic agreements like the RCEP."

The COVID-19 pandemic, the biggest black swan in 2020, reflects different approaches in handling a major public health crisis.

"The number of deaths per million from COVID-19 in Europe and the U.S. is between 1,500 to 2,000. In Eastern Asian countries, it's less than 50. In many cases, less than 10," said Mahbubani. "This shows that Eastern countries have become more competent at handling this issue."

The pandemic has set back economic growth for most economies, including Asian countries. In the Asian Economic Outlook and Integration Progress Annual Report 2021, the Boao Forum said that Asia's GDP growth was a negative 1.7 percent. That's compared with 4 percent growth registered in 2019. The report forecasts that the region's economic growth will reach at least 6.5 percent in 2021.

"China's quick return to economic growth is going to be a huge boost for the regional economic growth," said Mahbubani. "This also makes RCEP far more important because Asian countries have to collaborate even more to make growth come back faster."

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