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Agile Region Looks Set to Be First to Emerge from Covid Crisis



Curtis S. Chin is a former US Ambassador to the Asian Development Bank, the inaugural Asia Fellow of the Milken Institute, and managing director of advisory firm RiverPeak Group, LLC.

First to suffer the health and economic consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, the Asia Pacific region also remains on target, as 2021 begins, to include some of the first countries to recover. This is good news for would-be investors and expats looking to return to what has long been the most dynamic economic region in the world.

Mainland China was the first major economy to see a return to growth after putting in place some of the world’s most stringent lockdowns. By September 2020, with the Covid-19 crisis having had a devastating impact on international air connectivity, China boasted the first four of the top five “most connected” cities — Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, and Chengdu, followed by Chicago — according to the International Air Transport Association. Incidentally, London, the world’s most connected city in September 2019, saw a 67% decline in connectivity and had fallen to 8th position

The prospects are also looking relatively bright for several other Asia-Pacific destinations where governments did not resort to the heavy-handed controls implemented by Beijing. A November 2020 Bloomberg analysis and ranking of the best places to be in the coronavirus era — namely, where the virus has been handled most effectively, with the least disruption to business and society — included New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Australia, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Thailand among its top 15 “Covid resilient” economies of more than USD 200 billion.

In the same rankings, however, India and the Philippines were among those economies that fared considerably worse, echoing the disparity that underscores the unequal challenges faced by governments across the region and the discrepancy in resources available to them as they struggle to balance health and economic concerns. Vigilance remains essential across Asia and around the globe, including surrounding ‘lockdown fatigue’ that could well lead to another wave of infections and extended restrictions on mobility. Yet the drive and innovativeness that contributed to the growth of numerous Asian economies in recent decades also augurs well for the future, as nations now explore safe ‘travel bubbles’ and ‘travel corridors’ and introduce new long-term visa programs for investors.

One clear innovator is the key travel and transit hub of Singapore, which in November 2020 announced a new work visa for foreign executives of technology firms, a sector the low-tax international business hub hopes will power future economic growth.

In the same month, speaking at TravelRevive — an event in Singapore described as the first international trade show to be held physically in Asia Pacific since the coronavirus outbreak — Singaporean Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing stated that whoever could ensure visitors’ health (and) security in a faster and better way would gain a competitive advantage. Chan added that Singapore recognizes it has scope to establish itself as a safe, secure meeting place for business amid Covid-19 and the dynamic city state has every intention of being among the leading lights in the area.

Creativity and competitiveness paired with a willingness to embrace innovation and adapt new technologies could well lead to large parts of Asia Pacific being both first in and first out of these difficult times.


Chang, Rachel, Hong, Jinshan, and Varley, Kevin. “The Covid Resilience Ranking: The Best and Worst Places to Be in the Coronavirus Era.” Bloomberg, November 24, 2020.

International Air Transport Association, IATA. “International Air Connectivity Crisis Threatens Global Economic Recovery.” IATA, November 25, 2020.

Lin, Chen, and Geddie, John. “Singapore Looks to Woo Global Tech Executives with Special Visa.” Reuters, November 12, 2020.

Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) gGmbH. “China’s Economic Recovery Picks Up Pace.” MERICS, October 23, 2020.

Yun Ting, Choo. Singapore Has Scope To Be a Safe, Secure Meeting Place for Businesses amid Covid-19: Chan Chun Sing.” Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co., The Straits Times, November 25, 2020.

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