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CAN Singaporeans debating population issues learn anything from Australia’s experience? At first glance, the answer seems to be “no”. One country is continent-sized and sparsely populated but blessed with huge natural resources, and with its people mostly having strong cultural ties to Europe. The other, an island city-state, has few natural resources and a distinctly Asian cultural heritage. Ask citizens in both countries about the sort of future they envisage for themselves and their children, however, and you will come across a strikingly similar debate.

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THIS year is likely to be another challenging one for South-east Asia’s monetary managers. Capital inflows have been rising for some time, triggered by low interest rate regimes in the US and Europe. They are likely to rise even further this year after a fresh round of monetary easing in Japan results in yet more capital finding its way into South-east Asia’s fast-growing economies.

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AUSTRALIA’S voting system is arguably one of the most unusual in the world. Like Singapore, the country makes voting compulsory. Unlike Singapore, however, it avoids the “first past the post” system in favour of preferential voting. Both electoral practices are far from typical.

Key Political Risks

Asia is the fastest growing region in the world, and is likely to remain so in 2013. However, a number of risks cloud the picture.

The good news is that domestic demand in the region remains strong and should continue to cushion the impact of weaker external demand on overall economic growth. The completion of national elections in Japan and South Korea in December 2012 should also help reduce political uncertainties. 

But Asian governments will need to guard against the adverse impact of prolonged easy financial conditions on inflation.

Rising inequality also continues to threaten social stability. Ethnic and religious rivalries remain just below the surface in many countries. When combined with government corruption and (in some countries) high youth unemployment, this could become a deadly mix. This seems particularly true of China.

Territorial disputes also require close monitoring. Much diplomatic activity in the new year is likely to be centered on finding ways to reduce tensions over resource-rich islands in the South China Sea, where Beijing's claims overlap with those of Japan, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian states. South Korea and Japan also have rival territorial claims.

North Korea remains the wild card. Inclined to believe its own propaganda, Pyongyang's new leadership could miscalculate, making belligerent moves that plunge the region into a military conflict that nobody wants.

About Me

My name is Dr Bruce Gale and I am a senior writer with the Singapore Straits Times. I studied at  LaTrobe University (BA Hons) in Melbourne and later at the Centre for Southeast Asian Studies at Monash University (MA). My PhD thesis, which focussed on Malaysian political economy, was completed at the Malaysian National University (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia) in 1987.

From 1988 to 2003 I was Singapore Regional Manager for the Hong Kong based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC). 

I have written several books and articles on Southeast Asian affairs, including Political Risk and International Business: Case Studies in Southeast Asia (Pelanduk Publications, 2007). Books on language include Mastering Indonesian: a guide to reading Indonesian language newspapers (Pelanduk Publications, 2008)

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