Since I took the decision a little over a year ago to relocate to Hong Kong, I have had a ringside seat at the fundamental shift which is taking place in the world’s economy and social structure – the repositioning of the centre of gravity for the global economy from West to East.
If you accept that this shift is taking place, then you also accept that Asia as a region should have an increasing role on the global economic and political stage. US President Barack Obama certainly seems to recognize this point; his “pivot to Asia” has been well documented and was reinforced when he made a visit to Asia on his first overseas trip following his re-election.
Over the past twelve months I have met with more than 400 chief executives and one question I keep hearing from those based in both the East and West is: What does an increased role for Asia look like, and how should we all be responding?
There are two parts to the answer. First, Asia should and will in the future have a stronger input into global corporate governance models. We are well beyond the era where global rules for business were developed in the West and simply exported to the East. Second, we need to develop a deeper understanding of different ways of doing business.
There are many areas where business and political leaders in both the East and West should be learning from each other and collaborating for the benefit of the global economy. Taking practical steps to enable dialogue in these areas will help to support, in the short term, global economic recovery and create a platform for sustainable long-term growth.
International banking capacity, and by extension regulation, is an obvious area where more collaboration could drive a return to global growth. When you look at the economic development of Central and Eastern Europe, the first entrants were the big European banks. This meant that when an international business arrived there it had access to capital. I would like to see a continuation of the growth of Chinese banks in developing and developed economies such as Latin America, Africa and Europe.
China has both the capital and the appetite to invest. As such, we need to create a regulatory environment where this money can get to the Chinese and local businesses that need it to invest in growth and major projects such as infrastructure, which will drive growth. Equally the role of Japanese, Korean and Singaporean banks is important, particularly in the developing economies of the ASEAN region, where their successful track record in infrastructure investment can be utilized.
China and other Asian countries should continue to loosen their grip on capital controls and enable funds to move freely both in and out of their economies. China is making progress here, in addition to supporting the steady internationalization of China’s RMB, Shanghai, for example, will in 2013 pilot a scheme – The Qualified Domestic Limited Partner Program (QDLP) – which will allow foreign hedge funds to raise RMB in mainland China to be invested in foreign funds.
In the East, there can be frustration about the dominance of Western thinking when it comes to governance; Asia feels it has not always been consulted on the development of regulations around areas such as international accounting standards and the role of independent non-executive directors. Asian institutions do not feel a significant responsibility for the last global financial crisis. However, increasingly, it is funds from the East that are being used in global markets to recapitalize and provide liquidity in the banking system. It makes perfect sense then that Asia should be at the heart of the thinking on the new wave of regulations that are being debated and developed to respond to issues raised by the global financial crisis.
In my experience, Asian and Western investors typically have different approaches. Asian investors tend to place more emphasis on trust and long-term relationships. The model is more traditional with less emphasis on meeting formalities and more on building consensus, whereas Western investors want a clear rule of law, and contractual entitlement. However, there are some things which unite all investors – mainly, a desire for certainty, greater transparency and stronger governance. Across the globe I see investors putting increasing pressure on businesses to appoint truly independent executive directors who will help deliver this stronger governance. Investors also want to see greater certainty from governments and regulators. Creating an environment where there is more market disclosure and greater collaboration on a global scale between business, government and regulators will help to increase capital availability.
As many global business and political leaders prepare to head to Davos for a week of intense dialogue, I hope the need for an improved business dialogue and greater understanding between East and West will be uppermost in their minds. I am convinced with better communication we can develop legislative and regulatory solutions which meet the needs of East and West. This can in turn be a catalyst to accelerate the global economic recovery.
Author: Michael Andrew is Global Chairman of KPMG International.
Image: Traffic in a road in Beijing REUTERS/Jason Lee