‘Talking Economics’ with Tan Tai Yong, Director of Singapore’s Institute for South Asian Studies

Prof. Tan Tai Yong, Director of the Institute for South Asian Studies (ISAS) affiliated to the National University of Singapore, was in Sri Lanka recently together with a delegation from ISAS. They were here to scope out potential partners to work with, and signed a MoU with the IPS to engage in collaborative work. On the sidelines of this, he spoke with Talking Economics editor Anushka Wijesinha on a variety of topics including, the prospects for South Asian countries in a changing Asian and global economic context, the evolving performance of China, regional integration in South Asia, and his perspectives on Sri Lanka’s renewed economic growth opportunity.



Discussing South Asia’s role in an evolving global context characterized by Asian dominance, Professor Tan Tai Yong noted that “India’s impressive growth rate over the last decade will increase the country’s prominence in both regional and world affairs. He went on to say that “India is surrounded by nations which have unique and interesting trajectories that will impact growth in India, and the South Asian region as a whole”. Prof. Tan pointed out that with the end of the long fought civil war in Sri Lanka and the emergence of Bangladesh as the second largest manufacturing base outside of China, several South Asian nations “seem to be taking on a new trajectory”. As a result, the growth of Asia will crucially depend on the political and trade relations of South Asia and India with China and East Asia.


Moving on to the topic of China, Prof. Tan affirmed that China has its share of issues that need to be sorted out. Firstly, he pointed out the issue of the vast disparity between China’s thriving coastal regions and the more interior regions that still require significant development. Secondly, he stressed that China is heavily dependent on its exports and that the crisis in Europe could lead to protectionism and a slowdown in China’s exports, which if not met with a rise in China’s own domestic consumption could cause severe economic problems.


With regard to South Asia, Prof. Tan attributed the lack of regional integration and lackluster intra-regional trade to politics and weak bilateral relations. He looked at the relationship between India and China to emphasize that trade can remain high despite weaker political ties, and stressed that higher intra-regional trade levels would be beneficial to the whole region.


Moving on to the outlook for Sri Lanka, he said, “In a nutshell, lot of promise going forward, the signs are good, young people are interested, but also challenges that need to be faced…” He specifically pointed out that he was impressed with the passion amongst the youth of the country and their desire to resolve the problems facing the nation. However, he pointed out that Sri Lanka does face economic obstacles and needs to make structural changes with regard to education as well as focus on national reconciliation.


Finally, when asked about his views on Sri Lanka’s policy of looking to East Asia for development lessons, Prof. Tan remarked, “Ive always been very skeptical about countries wanting to emulate one particular model of development […] there isn’t one model that suits your particular set of conditions. If I were to say what would be the best approach – I would say pragmatism”. He advocated that Sri Lanka adopt practices that suit Sri Lanka politically, culturally and socially, by extracting and implementing useful elements from different development models.




The video interview is in two parts – see below

Part 1 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kl1IWBL2wGg&feature=g-upl

Part 2 – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZ9LZABA8HI&feature=g-upl

(Note: the audio contains some background noise disturbances)