Erle Frayne D. Argonza
It’s now past 8 p.m. as I write this piece inside my studio apartment, and my writing is currently accompanied by chill music from Brazil. For this piece let me toss the query: how Asian could the Arab gulf states be?
To begin my reflections, let me share to you a portion of my family history. My mother, a dietician/health professional, decidedly joined the fray of the ‘gulf state fever’ in the early 80s by seeking work in Saudi Arabia’s hospitals. For four (4) years did she work in the kingdom that is so endeared to many overseas Filipinos like her, until she departed for a new destination (USA where she retired).
When she started working there, her purses began to balloon quickly just as Arabia’s oil pumps were gushing out colossal petrodollars like limitless boons from heaven. She gleefully told us of the fat overtime pays she and her staff received, thus enabling her to send us in the Philippines—then a depression-struck ‘sick man of Asia’—quanta of dinars to quaff our thirst for back-up money.
That was the trend, until around 1984 when patterns suddenly changed. Mother began to complain of working overtime with no extra (overtime) compensation, and until 1986 when she quit Arabia for America no more extra boons came via the overtime pay. Something awefully wrong was going on in the gulf states and not just in Saudi Arabia, this was for sure.
The gulf states as a whole comprised a region that was considerably a growth driver of the global economy for a time until approximately the mid-1980s. At that time, it had so much petrodollars stashed in Western banks and investment houses that it needed for its internal growth, but such growth was choked up by fluctuations in the oil demand globally.
Before long, Asia’s ‘dragons’ and ‘tiger economies’ caught up with the gulf states. As the former kept surging upwards, the latter fluctuated between stagnation and paltry growth. India and emerging markets of Asia were recently added to the list of growth drivers of the world, while the gulf states are mired in a rather delusional self-image of growth driver that is more a thing of the past.
The word ‘Asia’ today has become synonymous with ‘growth driver’. But let it be clarified that the gulf states just don’t fit well into this growth category. For sure, their diversification of dynamic sectors from oil to manufacturing, infrastructures and services have paid quite fatly for them but only for them and not for the planet as a whole.
The gulf states are now quite prepared for the eventuality of drying up of its oil reserves. They are likewise in sync with the rise of mega-cities that the dragons, tigers and emerging markets have began snowballing, capped by prestige projects of towering buildings notably the Taipei 101 and Petronas towers, with Burj Dubai leading the way for the former. But the same states’ return to the halcyon days of being a global driver is simply a thing of the past.
Dubai is a case in point of a mega-city that is too over-ambitious in its goal to become the financial center of Asia. It embarked on gigantic projects totaling past the $3 Trillion mark from circa 2005 through 2015, aimed at eventually shoring up its new image as a financial center. As the giant commercial complexes were done, the greater problem was who would be their end-users? Without end-users, no pay-ups for expenses used to fund the projects will accrue to the coffers.
Honestly, I will still need to be convinced that gulf states are truly Asian in their growth propulsion. I see more of the hands of Euro-oligarchs such as George Soros & cronies in building those gigantic projects there, with the Arab investors serving as mere junior partners if not dummies in a growth game with dubious motives.
Gulf states are playing the game of the ‘virtual economy’ or ‘casino economy’ and that is far from being Asian. In contrast, the dragons, tigers and emerging markets are engaged in the ‘real economy’ of manufacturing, infrastructures, agriculture, and transport industries, backed by solid science & technology innovations, rendering them the label of ‘truly’ Asian.
If there is any urgent message I’d send to the said Arab state, it is this one: dis-engage willfully from the encumbrances with Europe’s financier oligarchy, reverse ‘virtual economy’ policies, and move back to the ‘real economy’. With that probably and hopefully the same region will regain its former esteemed image as a growth driver of the global economy, a true Asian region indeed.
[Philippines, 21 July 2010]
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