Recasting Governance in Asia

Governance--the way in which decisions that affect the public interest are made--has emerged as a key factor in determining a country's pace of development. Successful governance brings purposeful change. Failure is punished by unrest, disaffection, and stagnation. On April 18th, a conference in Bangkok will dissect the prospects for improved governance in Asia.

Today's Asian policymakers confront a very different environment from that faced by their predecessors fifty years ago. Asia's population has more than doubled since 1950, with most of that growth coming in its poorest countries. The political systems of these countries were tailored to small, static, rural populations. Now these societies must cope not only with vast urban centers, but also with the very different talents and demands of urbanized people.

The global economy has changed dramatically, too. Increased flows of goods, money, and knowledge around the world mean that foreign organizations and individuals become more influential, making it increasingly difficult for national governments manage their countries by themselves. For example, international bodies such as the WTO have changed the framework within which economic decisions are taken.

Local economic change has been equally dramatic. In parts of Asia, living standards have skyrocketed. Foreign investment from within and outside the region has altered the structure of domestic economies. Old models of economic growth, however, such as export orientation and selective use of import restrictions that worked well for East Asia in the last century, are less feasible under today's global trade rules.