Counting the Cost

The pivot to Asia

How important are the ASEAN nations to the US and regional powerhouse China, and how are they courting the region?

The United States has been making efforts to refocus its military, trade and economic ties with the part of the world that is actually still growing – Southeast Asia.

But as ever it is not as simple as that because Barack Obama, the US president, has been touring Southeast Asian nations, trying to persuade them to join a trade-free agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The catch is that the agreement excludes China.

There is a bit of competition for the region’s money – the US trade with ASEAN totalled $178bn in 2010 whereas Chinese trade with the region hit almost $300bn in 2011. But both sides have the ambition to push trade past $500bn by the year 2015.

So just how important are the ASEAN nations to the US and to the regional powerhouse China? How are the super powers courting the region and how has it already been courted? And does the rest of Asia need to pick a side?

‘Hong Kong’s resurgence’

Michael Andrew, global chairman of the accounting giant KPMG, who is based in Hong Kong, talks about which direction Asia is taking.

“First of all the ASEAN countries [should] think about ASEAN and there is a lot of work to be done just in better integrating that market and introducing a free trade zone in 2015.

“In terms of economic ties, I don’t think they really care. In fact, I think they’d have bilateral relationships with both the US and China,” says Andrew.  

Hong Kong for a long time was the only go-to location for Western businesses and it seems a lot of entrepreneurs are now heading east using, with Hong Kong being their entry point.

“We’re seeing a growing number of small and medium-size enterprises and even owner entrepreneurs voting with their feet, leaving Europe, leaving North America, coming to Asia but using Hong Kong as the starting point when they first come here,” says Simon Galpin, InvestHK.

“And these are often fairly young entrepreneurs that are starting new businesses, consultancies, restaurants, design firms and using Hong Kong as their entry point.”

‘Cultural partnership’

And in Doha, Qatar, New York’s Tribeca Film Festival comes for the annual film festival as the Gulf state tries to establish a movie business in the desert. 

The Tribeca Film Festival in New York was set up by the celebrated actor Robert De Niro, post 9/11, to get the city’s cultural scene going again.

And the Doha Tribeca Film Festival – the DTFF – started four years ago. It has evolved over the years and found a new home at Doha’s cultural village.

It has gown as well, now screening 87 films this year, the biggest draw-card of which was arguably, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, a film about a Pakistani man in New York at the time of the 9/11 attacks and the way his life is transformed because of that.

The film was funded by the Doha Film Institute (DFI), which runs the festival each year. Counting the Cost spoke to Abdulaziz Bin Khalid al-Khater, the CEO of DFI.

“The festival provides us a platform in order to showcase Arab films which goes back to our original goal which is to promote and develop a sustainable film industry in Qatar, the Gulf, and the wider Middle East and North Africa region,” said al-Khater.

“To that end, we tried to make DTFF the platform on which filmmakers can showcase their films as well as giving them the opportunity to build the connections that they need in order to realise their visions.”