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The Future. Redefined.

• Published on 12 Nov. 2011 • Category : nyforum

Michael Oreskes, a senior editor at the Associated Press, spends most of his time on the shores of the Atlantic but at APEC’s opening session today he said that being on the Pacific was a big relief. “The mood is so much better here.”

It was only partly a joke. In Europe and the US the euro crisis dominates, but at APEC the conversation is all about growth. PwC had conducted a survey of 300 CEOs before the APEC summit and their concerns reflected this change. Most of the CEOs thought APEC countries would be the main drivers of growth in the next three to five years, said Dennis Nally, PwC’s chairman.

As the balance of power shifts slowly east, the eyes of many are on China. Singapore’s premier, Lee Hsien Loong, said that China’s more local focus differs from that of the US. America is a hyperpower, its influence spread across regions. “I believe that America understands what a big stake it has in Asia. But you have interests all over the world,” he told Oreskes.

Internally China is facing problems of its own – a heated real estate market,disparities between rich and poor and massive urbanization. Its politicians are trying to move forward while ensuring that things don’t falls apart, but they are keeping an eye on the big picture. “Their preoccupation will in the first instance be their domestic concerns,” said Lee, pointing out that China is a force for good in the Asia-Pacific. “But at the same time the external part is more and more important.”

In terms of policy Lee said that a Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership between ten countries in this region was an important trade innovation. China is not part of this group. “I’m sure it’s something they are watching and thinking about,” he said. “Their volume of trade has been growing enormously.”

The panel addressed some of the issues that cause tension between west and east. John Lechleiter of Eli Lilly & Co. said intellectual property theft was a big problem. “I think we have to continue to urge that IP standards in China and with all our major trading partners be raised to the highest level. We have 19 million jobs in the US that depend on IP protection.”

Immigration policy was also touched on. Lechleiter sees problems in the US system: he thinks non-citizens who complete graduate degrees in math and science should automatically receive green-cards. China presents different obstacles (including that of language) but Lee said that the dynamism of cities like Shanghai and Beijing were making them increasingly attractive to foreign talent.

As change continues, it must come about calmly so that relationships between east and west do not sour. “Every country has its political pressures to accommodate and that’s one of the risks,” Lee explained. “The potential is that you have an emergence of new and constructive powers.” If the balance shifts in a stable way it is win-win — a tough act to pull off but it is possible.

But perhaps most interesting of all was Lee’s answer to the question “what advice would you give a talented young college graduate under 25 years of age?” Lee would start his career in America, ideally in Silicon Valley, to get the spirit of innovation before spending time in China and then India to understand the cultures. Talent will still find its way to America.

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