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Evolving Disputes, Expanding Options
Edited by Truong T. Tran, John B. Welfield and Thuy T. Le
John B. Welfield and Le Thuy Trang
Interstate conflict, in the view of one-third of the global decision-makers and experts assembled to compile the World Economic Forum 2015 Global Risks Report, was the most probable serious danger facing the East Asia-Pacific region over the coming decade.1 A Pew Research Center global opinion poll conducted in the spring of 2014 found that people in eight of the 11 Asian countries surveyed expressed fears about possible military conflict over territorial disputes involving the People’s Republic of China and its neighbors. In China itself, more than six in every ten citizens expressed similar concerns. Two-thirds of Americans in 2014 also feared that intensifying territorial disputes between China and its neighbors could spark an armed conflict.2 Although the World Economic Forum 2017 Global Risks Report considered such conflict as a decreasing risk in terms of likelihood and impact,3 majorities in China, Japan and several other East Asian nations remained concerned about territorial tensions and the strategic drama being played out between the United States and China on land and at sea across the region had begun to fuel fears that the “Pacific century” might be shattered by a new Pacific war.4 For better or for worse, Southeast Asia, the region which has given birth to the most vigorous efforts to construct a regional security architecture designed to ensure long-term peace and stability in Asia and the wider Pacific Basin, is today confronted by a series of intractable problems that may well constitute the greatest tests it has faced since the end of the Cold War. Much has been said about the significance of the South China Sea for the security and development of the Indo-Pacific. This sea offers the shortest route from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian Ocean. About half of the world’s commerce, half of global liquefied natural gas and a third of global crude oil transit through this body of water each year.5 Two-fifths of the world’s tuna are born in the South China Sea, contributing to a multibillion-dollar fisheries industry.6 These statistics, oft-cited, are just a few indicators of the South China Sea’s importance to the region and the world at large. A durable regional security system that can deliver lasting stability and prosperity for the Indo-Pacific cannot be constructed in the absence of a smoothly functioning regional maritime order in this critical area. Yet this body of water, blessed with so many valuable resources and crisscrossed by a network of vital sea-lanes, has become the home to some of the most intractable territorial disputes in Asia and a stage for intensifying great power strategic competition. The longstanding territorial and maritime disputes simmering in the South China Sea and the machinations of great powers have been slowing down the momentum for regional cooperation and frustrating attempts to forge a robust and mutually beneficial security architecture. There is also another troubling dimension of very great significance. While the tempo of regional cooperation has slackened, the rate at which the South China Sea marine environment is deteriorating has accelerated. Forty percent of the South China Sea’s fish stocks have already been exhausted and, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, most fish resources in the western part of the South China Sea have been exploited or overexploited.7 Meanwhile, 70 percent of the South China Sea’s coral reefs are reported to be in poor or only fair condition.8 Put simply, while the challenges to the South China Sea marine environment are growing, the capacity of regional mechanisms to effectively address those challenges has been undermined or severely constrained.
Inho Song examines aging as a structural factor affecting housing prices. His long-term price model, using a model of demographic structure by age group, simulates the trend of housing prices, assuming that Korea’s housing market may experience aging similar to Japan’s over the next 20 years. Results show a downturn from 2019 (annualized growth rates of –1 to –2 percent) in real housing prices, but a rise in nominal ones (by an annual average 0.4 percent), even with effects of population aging. Results are consistent with the lifecycle hypothesis and overlapping generation models, in that aging has a direct impact on asset prices. Korea’s housing market has not yet experienced the aging effects that Japan’s has. Inflation in housing prices will be the factor deciding whether population aging effects on the housing market in Korea will be similar to those in Japan.
Jerry Schiff and Ikuo Saito
Recent global economic stagnation has stimulated debate about the role of fiscal policy in supporting growth, notably through infrastructure spending. Japan’s experience during its “Lost Decades” provides insights on maximizing the impact of fiscal policy during downturns. First, while Japan provided early and effective fiscal stimulus, later fiscal policy was conducted in a “stop-and-go” and often pro-cyclical manner. Second, a shift in spending away from infrastructure toward transfers reduced the overall fiscal multiplier. Third, a decline in the efficiency of public investment—partly reflecting weaknesses in fiscal institutions—also reduced the impact of fiscal policy. Fourth, the concurrent dramatic shift in demographics reduced potential growth and limited fiscal space, so that fiscal policy was fighting against a strong tide. Avoiding similar problems can help countries design effective fiscal policy responses in the current economic environment.
There is little agreement about deflation as a problem for economic growth and financial stability. Economists may question it as a transitory phenomenon or whether monetary policy can solve it without more serious risks. Historical experience generally confirms that it should be a central-bank priority and does not solve itself. Once deflation is under way, monetary policy can return inflation to positive target levels. If that is not achieved, banks need to do more. If doing more threatens financial stability, macroprudential tools are appropriate. If a central bank runs out of government securities to buy or worries about liquidity in the government bond market, there are other assets to buy. If it worries about purchasing other assets, a helicopter drop of money is an option. If that drop targets productive public infrastructure investments, they not only can proceed without increasing public debt but also can actually reduce it.
Exploring the Causes and Remedies of Japanization
Edited by Dongchul Cho, Takatoshi Ito and Andrew Mason
Kyu-Chul Jung examines how Korea’s export market today resembles Japan’s since the 1990s and faces increasing competition from China. In the 1990s Japan lost export market shares as Korea began to catch up, but China began to catch up with Korea in the late 2000s. The old strategy of exporting the same goods as advanced countries is not sustainable. With its limited resources, Korea needs to concentrate on exports where it has a comparative advantage, to undertake structural reforms (dealing with insolvent enterprises and improving labor-market flexibility) and to develop new export markets. Korea needs to focus on core capabilities, so that China and other latecomers cannot easily emulate Korea’s technology and market strategy.
Mitsuhiro Fukao examines Japan’s zombie banks since the early 1990s. The causality of these severely undercapitalized banks runs as follows: increasing loan losses from bankrupting borrowers weaken banks’ capital base; undercapitalized banks start to hide losses and provide evergreening loans to loss-making firms; and undercapitalized banks as well as firms continue to operate with deposit taking by zombie banks under forbearance of regulators. The most important factor during Japan’s worst financial crisis (1997–2003) was the loss of confidence in the accounting and auditing system. Unreliable financial statements resulted in a vicious cycle of credit contraction and impeded the functioning of the market economy. Close relationships among bankers, regulators and accountants impeded quick resolution by allowing nonviable banks to hide loan losses. Complex debtor-creditor relationships among related companies make it difficult to ascertain the scale of the bad-loan problem. The most adverse effect is the increased risk of financial crisis.