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    Thailand’s Military Strikes Back: Tail Risks Explained (Asia-Pacific Global Research Group)

    June 6th, 2014  by  Asia-Pacific Global Research Group - Jasper Kim

    An anti-government protester gestures towards anti-riot policemen outside the headquarters of the ruling Puea Thai Party of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in Bangkok
     
    It has been six months since our initial Asia-Pacific Global Research Group report on Thai political unrest and its potential impacts on investing in Thailand. In this blog we continue our analysis of the situations in Thailand and highlight some issues as they became illuminated during the past six months, as well as identifying further potential issues. We think it is helpful to use the concept of tail risk as a framework for the analyses because, as the recent media coverage about Thailand has demonstrated, events unfolding after our report six months ago appeared quite extraordinary, i.e. beyond the concept of normal distribution or acceptable standard deviation. They are, more or less, what portfolio theorists may describe as “fat tails”.
     
    1. The Recap
    In the non-bell curve world that is Thai politics in the past six months, there are at least four fat tails. To recap, as we noted in our initial report, protest politics has rarely been about “playing by the same rule”: In this case, the rule of the game at issue is the current election process, which brought decade-long landslide victories to a party controlled by former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a polarizing figure that the anti-government protesters sought to demolish from Thai political landscape. Thus, the protesters, led by ex-deputy prime minister Suthep Thaugsuban, are seeking “reform measures” to ensure this end before they will participate in any election, the current process of which the protesters perceived as being the “unfair rule” of the game, a view noted by many scholars as too extreme because the turnout rate in the February election shows that Mr. Shinawatra’s party can be beaten at the polls. As every game has an umpire, in Thailand’s case this role has been assumed by the Thai military, albeit somewhat reluctantly because of its long history of intervening in politics with mixed results. As up to the date of our last report (November 30, 2013) there has been no violent incident between the government and protesters, we then concluded that such incidents would have negative impact on both Thai politics and the country’s economy.
     
    2. The Fat Tails: What caused the 2014 coup d’etat?
    This leads us to the first unexpected factor: a series of violent incidents that happened to the anti-government movement, which started with the shooting of student protesters at Ramkhamhaeng University and continued with a series of bombings and shootings that resulted in numerous injuries and death tolls, including the nation-shaking deaths of three children. The second unfortunate event that has unforeseeable consequence is the mismanagement of the rice pledging policy that led to the government default on payments due to farmers participating in the policy. This is perhaps the most fatal blunder by the government because it goes to the heart of how it frame the battle with the protesters: rural populists(the government) vs. the elite establishment(the protesters), i.e. it is rather difficult to claim to fight for farmers while breaching their trust at the same time. Thirdly, the Thai constitutional court has issued a series of “surprising” rulings against the government: a) nullifying the February election that the government had insisted to hold, despite suggestions otherwise from many independent organizations, including the Thai Election Commission, b) rendering unconstitutional the process initiated by the government to pass a bill that was aimed to finance a large-scale infrastructure development project, and c) holding that certain members of the government, including the prime minister Ms. Yingluck Shinawatra, must be removed from office as a result of their abusing of power by interfering with the transfer of a civil servant. Finally, there are signs of imminent clash in the week preceding the coup between the anti-government, who declared to “reach an endgame” in their rally that week, and the pro-government group, who had gathered at the periphery of Bangkok. Rumors about the stockpiling of heavy artilleries abounded during that period (some confirmed much later by press reports of arrests made in connection with the stockpiling in many locations). Following three days of this tense confrontation, the Thai military declared the Martial Law on May 20, and staged the coup on May 22, 2014.
     
    3. How will the capital markets react to these events?
    As we observed in our previous report, amidst deteriorating circumstance, the Thai capital market in the long term has rarely been affected. This view is shared by many investors especially those with extensive long-term exposure to Thai political risks. In the previous blog, we also observed the rise of “protest culture” and the rise in the Thai SET Index over the decade, and concluded that there seems to be no obvious negative correlation between the two. So this time we observe what happened in Thailand during the past six months and arrived at more or less the same conclusion: Investors seemed to get accustomed to Thai political risks and already priced them into their long-term expectation. For instance, while the political situation seemed to worsen every day for the past six months, the SET index had indeed plummeted sharply in January but regained its value to a little above (about 7 points, or .5%) of where it was six months earlier. In addition, although Moody’s has repeatedly warned investors about the escalation of political conflicts that could affect Thailand’s sovereign credit rating, the rating agency also noted in late April 2014 that the conflicts were not at a point “where they would prompt rating downgrades” while identifying Thailand’s core strength as stemming from its monetary policy. On the day of the coup, Standard & Poor cautiously delivered a similarly optimistic but cautious note, affirming the country’s current ratings while expecting Thailand to maintain its “external, fiscal, and monetary strengths in the face of the current political turmoil.” In short, despite a series of bad news, the Thai capital market is still viewed as remarkably resilient, albeit with expected near-term volatility.
     
    4. What are key factors for Thailand investment outlook?
    So, are we closer to business as usual in Thailand? In short, we are closer to it than the last six months. But the real bad news still is, as we noted in the previous blog, the Thai economy’s continuing contraction in real sectors and a series of challenging global factors. To return to stability there are few things to scan for the next time news involving Thailand come up. The first is an election date that all parties/factions can agree upon. The prerequisite to such election is how the Thai military will lead to unite all sides to decide and agree in a peaceful, non-violent fashion. The sooner Thailand can return to democracy, the better for its economy. Secondly, Thailand must find a way to resuscitate its struggling tourism industry. As we noted previously, the industry has been a roaring engine in a generally lumbering economy. That has changed. With tourism declined almost 10% year-on-year in March and almost 2% in April 2014, according to the Macroeconomic Assessment report by the Bank of Thailand, the overall growth outlook will be much weaker this year if the sector remains unfixed. Thirdly, among the officials appointed by the military to oversee economic policy, it is safe to assume that such officials should work to present a united front with the banking and financial regulators to preserve the key strengths that credit rating agencies have found so valuable in Thailand: the fiscal and monetary policy. Finally, as the world started 2014 with several new concerns such as geopolitics, “re-shoring” of capital as well as manufacturing bases, or the faded allure of emerging market investments, Thailand must be domestically equipped before it can tackle and thrive in this ever challenging global environment. Now that the umpire broke his silence, the world is watching where he will lead the second-largest economy in Southeast Asia.
     
     
    Kemavit Bhangananda is a U.S. attorney (licensed by New York Office of Court Administration) based in Bangkok, Thailand, and a former vice president of Lehman Brothers.

     
     
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    Can Koreans Negotiate?: A Walk Through a Non-Negotiated Life

    May 9th, 2014  by  Asia-Pacific Global Research Group - Jasper Kim

    North-Korea-U-N-Sanctions-and-a-Nuclear-Threat-450x337
     
    For those who have tried to “negotiate” with South Koreans, you may have noticed a “Socrates vs. Confucius” gap. This gap starts with a potential gap in mindset in which those who think from a Western mindset (Socratic-based) go head-to-head with those who think from an Asian mindset (Confucian-based). Rather than subjectively placing a judgment value in terms of which system is better, this Asia-Pacific Global Research blog instead takes a more objective approach by giving a glimpse into how the Asian Confucian-based negotiator may negotiate the way he or she does at the bargaining table.
     
    Understanding and stepping into the shoes of the other side is the first step towards a more collaborative interest-based negotiated outcome and solution.
     
    First, let’s take a look at the typical Korean. From day one, it is not uncommon for a Korean to be raised by parents typically (but not always) set in a strict vertically-based structure, in which one dominant parent, usually (but not always) the father, effectively lays down the law of the land in the household. In this structure, the Korean youth is told, not asked, what to do. This goes from small things like what to eat, to bigger ticket items like what to study, who to date, and when to go home. If the Korean child questions what the parent has to say, this is interpreted as a very bad, not good thing. For example, if the young Korean is told to eat everything on his plate for dinner before getting dessert by her parent, a “no” answer will be construed as a potential sign of betrayal against a superior. Such acts is viewed as one of the more shameful acts in Korean society, in which obedience and trust is a virtue, while being branded with a betrayal mark is tantamount to a “scarlet letter” and later societal banishment, known in Korean society as wang-dah. This of course stems from the Confucian influence that still so very much permeates this society in certain areas.
     
    Further, the Korean youth will only exceptionally be asked the question “why?” either by his or her parents, friends, teachers, or working colleagues. This is again based on the Korean social, academic, and working structures sharing one commonality: they are all vertical top-down, command-and-control based operating structures. This is a very important missing factor in terms of why Koreans are not instinctual negotiators.
     
    The Korean as a young person will rarely question a parent. Doing so, may at times lead to harsh ramifications, both verbally and at times physically. The Korean child will also rarely have a chance to negotiate with friends. This is because the Korean friendship structure is primarily also a top-down command-and-control structure based on those with seniority (sunbae) and those who are junior (hubae). The only rare exception to the general rule is with the small band of friends in the same class year (dong-gap). But again, outside of this tiny zone, the friendship structure is vertically-based.
     
    Once the Korean enters school, the Korean student enters yet another vertical structure in which negotiation is seen as near-betrayal and disloyalty. This is because the typical Korean classroom is another vertically-based top-down structure in which the teacher lays down the law of the land, that is the course lecture, in his or her ruling domain (i.e., the classroom). A student usually never dare asks “why?” or even offers a different opinion to the instructor for fear of retorsion (i.e., social backlash in the form of being given the wang-dah banishment treatment), or worse yet, a less-than-exemplary grade from his or her teacher. This links to the hyper-competition in Korean primary schools to enter the so-called elite universities, in which failure to do so, can lead to a “scarlet letter” branding in the form of being a social and economic outcast by future prospective companies and even marriage partners. In other words, the Koreans love and need the brand names in just about everything.
     
    Finally, after graduation, the Korean employee enters yet another vertically-based, question-not structure when entering into a domestic working structure. The top person is the company CEO, who in essence plays the role of strong military general commanding orders to be executed without question by his or her subordinates. If you step into most domestic working environments, it often somewhat resembles a military operation, with field operations led by colonels (team managers, or teem-jang) surrounded by his field officers (jeek-won). Much like in the military, questioning any command, or counter-offering any command, will very likely lead to a wang-dah treatment so harsh that such person may have difficulty finding employment again.
     
    Because of this, negotiation is never seen as a value-added skillset. In fact, for the Koreans, it is usually never a factor because no one applies it. And when it is needed, say in a FTA-type negotiation, it is new and thus viewed as an “all-or-nothing,” “black or white,” “your win is my loss” vertical proposition akin to outright warfare. This mentality is what it is because the Koreans have been living in it all their lives, for better or for worse. The notion of compromise (tah-hyup) is often construed as a weakness, rather than creative problem-solving, which will usually not be viewed favorably by one’s commander-in-chief albeit in the private or public sector here in Korea.
     
    In contrast, the American structure is relatively horizontal and flat, compared to the Korean vertical structure. Strange for the Koreans, many American parents will indirectly, and often unknowingly, begin the informal negotiation training from day one. For example, if the American child is told to eat everything on his or her plate before getting dessert, the child can often negotiate by saying something like “Well, if I eat all my tomatoes, but not the entire salad, can I then eat dessert?” And sometimes, the parent will accept this, not viewing it as a sign of disobedience or disloyalty.
     
    Entering school, the American student will often question if not challenge his or her instructor. Certainly, the question “why?” from student to teacher is not seen as academic disobedience, but often, an academic duty. This is reinforced by a barrage of assignments, which tests such ability to question, such as the requirement to write critical essays. Such tasks require the student to think independently, question authority, and then come to a personal conclusion based on the evidence. In other words, the American student is provided positive reinforcement if he or she can be rational rather than emotional. In Korea, this rational approach is at times seen as a cold, calculating and detached process, counter to their basic instincts.
     
    Finally, entering the workplace, the American enters a structure that is also relatively flat and horizontal. Although some hierarchy and reporting lines exist on paper, in effect, based on the need to maximize value in each fiscal quarter, each employee is expected to be proactive, which includes the acceptance of suggestions to question and improve existing structures and methods. When an American worker is given a task by another team member, asking “why” is not a bad thing. In fact, not asking “why” may be viewed as inappropriate inaction. And forging a solution to problems, which incorporates brainstorming and suggestions from many ranks, is one reason why American corporations seem to claw their way back from a bad corner. Most recently, this was seen in the 1980s and early 1990s when many held the view that the Japanese would dominate the United States economically. But as we know, this turned out not to be the case, and thus emerged a new breed of American companies like Yahoo, Amazon, and Google.
     
    In other words, from day one, the Americans see most (but not all) things as potentially negotiable, in stark contrast to the Koreans. For this reason, yes, Koreans can negotiate, but many can find it unusual and awkward, and as such, do it grudgingly.
     

     
     
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    South Korea’s Macro “Bamboo Ceiling”: And How It Can Be a Social Start-Up Nation (using Socio-Economic Capital Markets)

    April 23rd, 2014  by  Asia-Pacific Global Research Group - Jasper Kim

    Smart Phones and Digital Tablets Exhibition
     
    South Korea may be hitting a macro-level growth “bamboo ceiling.”
     
    Socio-Economic Capital Markets (SECM) have the real potential to create a breakout “social start-up nation” economic platform as a viable “creative economy” ecosystem for South Korea to reach greater growth in the twenty-first century.
     
    Q1: How to boost South Korea’s post-subprime financial crisis economy?
    Q2:How to create a more balanced economic ecosystem–less dependent on manufacturing and more focused on creativity and innovation while closing the gap between the haves and have-nots–to restructure one of Asia’s largest global economy that is still highly dependent on exports.
     
    A: Socio-Economic Capital Markets (“SECM” as a Growth Model for South Korea’s “Second Miracle on the Han River”)
    ➢ Narrowing income disparity
    ➢ Economic growth through social startup SMEs
    ➢ Inclusion of disadvantaged/underrepresented groups
    ➢ Fostering creative economy –second pillar to Korea’s export dominant chaebols
     
    What are Socio-Economic Capital Markets (SECM)?
     
    SECM* =
    (1) SSU-PPPs (Social Start-Up Enterprises and Co-op PPPs);
    (2) SIB-PPP (Social Impact Bond PPPs);
    (3) SIF-PPP (Social Investment Fund PPPs);
    (4) SCMX-PPP (Socio-Capital Market Exchange PPPs);
    (new concept in academic literature; asiapacificglobal.com, Jasper Kim, April 23, 2014)
     
    Why Socio-Economic Capital Markets (SECM)?
     
    (a) The combination of traditional profit-driven business model, social project and Impact Investors
     
    (b) Investing into social projects by creating businesses that are both profitable AND have a positive social impact
     
    This blog will be one in a series, in which each of the four SECM social start-up factors will be analyzed in greater detail.

     
     
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    South Korea’s “Closed Internet”: And Why It Hampers a Creative Economy

    April 12th, 2014  by  Asia-Pacific Global Research Group - Jasper Kim

    digitalpadlock-v1-620x350
     
    South Korea is heralded as the new “future city.” A city one envisions when thinking of a megacity of the future – modern, trendy and tech-savvy. The country is publicly touted as the most wired economies in the world, boasting the highest penetration of broadband internet users in the world. The nation also aspires to incorporate 5G broadband capabilities by 2020, allowing users access to internet speeds 1,000 times faster than the nation’s currently existing 4G network (in which a full movie can be downloaded in mere seconds).
     
    The irony is that South Korea’s blazing “bullet-speed broadband” internet technologies are highly constrained by a “closed internet” ecosystem–in which internet content and its users are subject to often intense scrutiny and intervention. This not only hampers creativity, it also hampers future start-ups.
     
    Instead, South Korea should deregulate, not over-regulate, its internet ecosystem to become a prime example of an “Asian start-up nation” fostering a “Second Miracle on the Han River.”
     
    Consider the following few examples of South Korea’s “closed internet” ecosystem:
     
    – In 2013, Freedom House, an American NGO, ranked South Korea’s internet as only “partly free
     
    – Reporters without Borders has placed South Korea on a list of countries “under surveillance”, alongside Egypt, Thailand and Russia, in its report on “Enemies of the Internet”
     
    – Every week portions of the Korean web are taken down by government censors. In 2013, about 23,000 Korean webpages were deleted, and another 63,000 blocked, at the request of the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC), a nominally independent (but mainly government-appointed) public body
     
    – In 2009, the KCSC made 4,500 requests for deletion.
     
    – Online gaming is banned between midnight and 6am for under-16s (users must input their government-issued ID numbers as proof of the user’s legal age).
     
    – A law dating back to the 1950-53 Korean War forbids South Korean maps from being taken out of the country. Because North and South Korea are technically still at war, the law has been expanded to include electronic mapping data—which means that Google, for instance, cannot process South Korean mapping data on its servers and therefore cannot offer driving directions inside the country.
     
    – In 2010, the UN determined that the KCSC “essentially operates as a censorship body”
     
    The South Korean government has recently placed a policy emphasis on deregulation to foster the nation’s so-called “creative economy” while bolstering SME growth.
     
    Given this, we believe that South Korea would benefit economically as an open civil society in the twenty-first century if it deregulated related internet freedom laws. This would spur innovation and creativity–while signaling that South Korea’s policymakers are invoking a form of “domestic trustpolitik” between the government and the constituency they are designated to serve–the general public.

     
     

     
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    South Korea’s Deregulation Decision: If You Love Creativity, Set the Economy Free [Asia-Pacific Global Research Group]

    March 22nd, 2014  by  Asia-Pacific Global Research Group - Jasper Kim

    3175_2
     
    SEOUL, March 20 (as reported by Yonhap News) — President Park Geun-hye held a nationally televised meeting with regulators and businesses Thursday in a highly symbolic show of determination to undo non-essential regulations she has denounced as “cancer” that’s killing South Korea’s economy.
     
    Park has made deregulation the most important point in her drive to reinvigorate Asia’s fourth-largest economy under her three-year economic innovation plan. The plan calls for raising South Korea’s potential growth rate to around 4 percent and the per capita national income to more than US$30,000 by 2017.
     
    Deregulation is also important in realizing Park’s “creative economy” vision that calls for boosting the economy by turning creative ideas into real businesses through science and technology and information technology.
     
    Park has repeatedly stressed the importance of deregulation and how much she is committed to it, with the language and tone in her appeals growing increasingly stronger in a sign of frustration she feels about the lack of progress and the difficulty getting bureaucrats to remove regulations.
     
    During the meeting, the government reported that it will cut the total number of registered regulations on business activity to 80 percent of the current level by 2016. That translates into the removal of 2,200 regulations and a drop in the total from 15,269 to 13,069.
     
    The government also reported it will adopt Britain’s “regulation cap” system to keep steady the total cost of regulations borne by businesses and the public. The system calls for removing old regulations to make room for new ones. British Ambassador Scott Wightman has also been invited to speak at the meeting about the country’s “regulation cap” system that calls for keeping the total number of regulations steady by making it mandatory to remove old regulations in order to introduce new ones, officials said.
     
    It will first be tested by seven ministries, including the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, starting July, before being expanded across the government starting in January next year.
     
    ASIA-PACIFIC GLOBAL RESEARCH GROUP’S IN-HOUSE VIEW:
     
    We absolutely believe in the principles of principled deregulation for the South Korean economy. This is especially the case in the 21st century, as Asia’s fourth largest economy tries to “free the minds” of its untapped youth and next-generation creative talent. Currently, the economy is overly top-heavy as reflected in an industrial infrastructure that is heavily producer and export-driven. Today, most of South Korea’s GDP is export-dependent. This is good when South Korean exports are in demand by overseas markets, but not so good when such demand falters for endogenous or exogenous factors.
     
    We commend President Park Geun-hye’s latest public efforts to deregulate. Hopefully, such governmental will not turn into another added and ironic regulatory layer in and of itself to get the mission accomplished.
     
    In addition to such government-led deregulatory efforts by the Park administration, why not try an alternative approach?
     
    Why not set out the principles of deregulation in the form of “negative” and “positive” rights?
     
    this would be an elegant, efficient, and effective step forward, without requiring overly burdensome legislative efforts.
     
    To illustrate, during the formation of the U.S. (the world’s oldest democracy), The Declaration of Independence calls for the British government to end the “long train of abuses and usurpations” of “certain unalienable Rights,” specifically “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The authors and signers of the Declaration did not desire for government to provide “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, but rather they expected government to protect their pre-existing rights which were “endowed by their Creator.”
     
    The unalienable rights in the Declaration and many found among the first amendments to the Constitution are considered “negative rights.” A “negative right” restrains other persons or governments by limiting their actions toward or against the right holder. In other words, it enables the right holder to be left alone in certain areas. For example, the right to be secure in one’s home requires that others refrain from trespassing or entering without permission.
     
    On the other hand, many claims of rights emerging since America’s founding, such as rights to healthcare, housing, or standards of living, are considered “positive rights.” These positive rights essentially provide the right holder with a claim against another person or the state for some good, service, or treatment. Thus, a right to housing obligates someone – presumably the state – to provide the right holder with housing, typically via resources obtained from others.
     
    The words “negative” and “positive” reflect the nature of the right itself.
     
    Applying “negative” and “positive” rights, entities in the South Korean marketplace (including SMEs and start-ups) could be protected under both a “negative” right (i.e., freedom from overly burdensome regulatory processes; specifics could be listed instead) as well as certain “positive” rights (e.g., freedom to pursue life, liberty, and happiness through the pursuit of commercial activities; this is just a broad case in which specifics could instead be provided by the state).
     
    After all, everything else being equal, wouldn’t we want to “let a thousand start-ups and new enterprises bloom” in South Korea and elsewhere with less (rather than more) regulation?

     
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