INTRICACIES OF ASIAN MEDIA; LOOK TO ASIA FOR ECONOMIC REVOLUTION, NAISBITT SAYS

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A little over a decade ago, John Naisbitt's Megatrends became a megabestseller, getting praise as a worthy successor to such future-scanning works as Alvin Toffler's Future Shock. Accessible and provocative, Megatrends provided a vocabulary and a conceptual framework for discussions of the changes transforming U.S. society.

In his new Megatrends Asia: The Eight Asian Megatrends That Are Changing the World, the focus moves to the tectonic shifts in the Far East, because, he argues, "What is happening in Asia is the most development in the world today. Nothing else even comes close, not only for the Asians but for the entire planet. The modernization of Asia will forever reshape the world as we move toward the next millennium."

Mr. Naisbitt's interest in Asia can be traced to 1967, when he spent a year as an economic development adviser to Thailand. He travels to the region up to six times a year. While writing his book, he has been "based in the modern, beautiful city of Kuala Lumpur and where, from my office, I have been watching the world's tallest building go up."

Megatrends Asia will be published by Nicholas Brealey Publishing, London, and available in Asia Nov. 1 and the UK and U.S. in January in major bookstores or from the publisher. A German translation will be ready Nov. 1; Chinese and Spanish translations will follow. The trend-tracker elaborated on the ideas in his book in an exclusive interview with Advertising Age International.

On the role of the Chinese diaspora in the new Asia

"The big untold story is the extent to which the overseas Chinese run the economies all over Southeast Asia.

"If you counted the Chinese outside of the mainland as a country-just the overseas Chinese and not including the mainland-as a borderless economy, it would be the third largest economy in the world.

"There is some racial animosity, particularly in Indonesia, but people understand that the overseas Chinese are the greatest entrepreneurs in the world.

"If you want to do business in Asia, the most important thing to do is to get an overseas Chinese partner, no matter where you are."

On the role of overseas Chinese in mainland China

"The overseas Chinese have more invested in China than anyone else, but their relationship with the Chinese government is mostly non-existent; they ignore the government in China. The unspoken agreement is that Beijing pretends to rule and the people pretend to be ruled.

"Considerations about China and overseas Chinese now drive decision-making in Asia as China becomes central to the region, but it is the overseas Chinese network, not China, that will dominate the region."

On the declining role of Japan

"The Japanese economy is not growing, and their economic power and importance is on a long, downward slide.

"Japan is still a huge player, but it is in big trouble. What is happening is a consequence of the social contract in Japan. All companies in Japan are overstuffed with layers and layers of people. All the elevators in Japan, for example, are run by elevator operators who push the button for you.

"Japan also is getting older faster than any other country in the world, and they are in political chaos.

"These things are beginning to catch up with Japan right now. The dilemma is that what they have to do economically is almost impossible politically. There is a certain level of awareness in Japan of the problems, but it is very hard to do anything about them."

On the changing Asian attitude toward the West

"There has been something of an `Asianization of Asia' taking place in recent years, a growing Asian consciousness, even a kind of assertiveness that represents a change from the `West is best' attitude that has been prevalent for nearly 400 years. The dynamism of the economies is contributing to this, and when Macau becomes a part of China in 1999, it will be the first time in 400 years that every inch of Asian soil will be managed and run by Asians; and a final chapter of Western dominance will have been written.

"Peking changed its name to Beijing. Saigon became Ho Chi Ming City. Burma became Myanmar. Bombay was recently renamed Mumbai, and not many people in the West have taken notice. These are symbolic changes, and we will have more of them.

"The old Asia was divided by culture, language, political ideology, religious philosophies and geography. The new Asia, forged by economic integration, technology-especially telecommunications-travel, and mobility of people, will increasingly look like one coherent region."

On Asia's growing middle class

"The economic progress in Asia is creating the largest middle class in the world. Within five years or less, more than half of Asian households will be able to buy an array of consumer goods-refrigerators, television sets, washing machines, computers, cosmetics, etc.-and as many as half a billion will be what the West understands as middle class. This is a market roughly the size of the U.S. and Europe combined."

On Malaysia's role in Asia

"Malaysia's ethnic, linguistic and cultural diversity creates a stimulating environment. English is widely spoken, and Malaysians are comfortable with Chinese, Indian and Malay cultures, which makes it a convenient gateway to Asia's-and soon the world's-three largest markets: China to the north, India to the west and Indonesia to the south.

"Malaysia's economy has grown more than 8% a year for eight consecutive years; it now is the largest exporter of computer chips in the world, and its GDP [gross domestic product] per capita is now the same as South Korea's. It is part of the next wave-Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia-and they are being funded by the first wave: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and Korea.

"Those four tigers are funding the next four tigers, and this is mostly through the [resident ethnic] Chinese communities."

On the importance of an international perspective

"I now think of myself as a globalist. The globalization of just about everything means that you cannot really understand any of the parts unless you understand the whole.

"For example, there no longer is such thing as the U.S. economy, and we are so interlaced with so many other economies that in order to understand what is going on in the United States and what might happen in the U.S., you really have to look at all parts of the world."

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