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3 Economic Trends Shaping Asia’s Future

From deglobalization to the growing digital economy, Nanyang Business School’s Dr Yougesh Khatri explores the major economic trends that could transform Asia in the coming years


Fri Jul 16 2021


After more than 18 months of mass disruptions and rapid changes triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, Asia’s economic landscape has undergone some significant changes.

As lockdown policies came into place throughout the region, supply chains became more localized, many economic activities went virtual, and major industries like tourism were essentially shut down. 

But as Asia begins to recover, how are these changes likely to play out in the long-term? To find out, BusinessBecause reached out to Dr Yougesh Khatri, associate professor and academic director of the Nanyang Fellows MBA program at Nanyang Business School, part of Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. 

Yougesh specializes in macroeconomics and finance, and worked across the public and private sectors as an economist for over 20 years—including a decade at the International Monetary Fund (IMF)—before joining NTU. 

Here are some noteworthy economic trends that Yougesh thinks business leaders in Asia should know.

1. More cautious strategies

According to Yougesh (right), in the coming years Asian economies will face the challenge of the business environment becoming considerably less stable and predictable. 

“The pandemic will likely leave a lasting legacy of elevated uncertainty, profound changes in behaviors, and the rapid acceleration of pre-COVID trends.

“According to the IMF’s April 2021 World Economic Outlook report, global output losses due to the pandemic will be substantial, with global GDP in 2024 expected to be 3% lower than anticipated pre-pandemic,” he adds. 

This economic hit, together with the changing and uncertain business environment, will likely encourage consumers, organizations, and investors to be more cautious.


There is likely to be greater focus on diversification, and increased focus on making supply chains more robust to the impact of potential future shocks, geopolitical divisions, populism, and nationalism on trade—shifting from ‘just in time’ to ‘just in case’ supply chains. 

“It’s very difficult to predict long-term where the opportunities will be,” Yougesh advises future leaders. “So be flexible, continue re-tooling, and be creative.” 

To recognize and take advantage of new business opportunities, managers must develop an adaptable approach to leadership.


2. Deglobalization

Deglobalization (in the narrow sense of declining global trade relative to GDP) is an economic trend that was already emerging before COVID-19 set in, but Yougesh thinks the pandemic has accelerated its progress. 

Lockdowns and travel bans have slowed the flow of goods and people between Asia and the rest of the world, which were coupled by reports of reshoring—the transfer of business operations back to the organization’s country of origin—Yougesh notes.   

“In the long term, deglobalization is a key challenge to Asia’s export-oriented growth model,” he explains. 

“However, many of the domestic and regional pillars of the Asian growth story remain in place, including growing regional trade, urbanization, and a growing middle class.”

Although smaller, more open Asian economies that depend on global trade and tourism have been hit hardest, larger countries like China are quickly adapting.

“China is the first major economy to have achieved a clear V-shaped recovery, mainly through domestic demand,” says Yougesh.

The trend toward deglobalization means that a deep understanding of Asian business practices is becoming increasingly important for professionals who want to succeed in the region. Enrolling in an Asian business school is one way to build this awareness.

In the Nanyang Executive MBA (EMBA), for instance, students can draw on school research into Asia and emerging markets, conducted by organizations including the NTU Asian Business Case Center, and Nanyang Center for Emerging Markets.

3. An exploding digital economy

Yougesh believes that the digital economy—economic activity mediated through information and communication technologies—will play an increasingly important role in stimulating Asia’s economic growth in the coming years.    

Since the coronavirus pandemic forced swathes of Asia’s economy online, this trend has only accelerated over the past 12 months.

“There has been an acceleration of e-everything,” comments Yougesh. “Asia needs new growth models and the digital economy is one obvious direction.” 

According to the 2020 Digital Evolution Index, developed by Tufts University in collaboration with Mastercard, many Asian economies—including Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China—are well-equipped to handle this increased digitalization. 

“We will see much higher levels of working from home, e-commerce, e-learning, e-socializing, and digital trade,” predicts Yougesh.

Business leaders in Asia need a good level of tech-savvy to leverage this rapid development. For this reason, Nanyang’s EMBA exposes students to a range of tech-focused modules in areas such as digital transformation, digital innovation in China, and leading through disruption. 

Participants also have the opportunity to attend classes with Tsinghua University School of Economics and Management (Tsinghua SEM) in Beijing. The school is well-known as a tech-focused, research-intensive university, helping drive the rapid digitalization that China is experiencing as one of the world's most advanced digital ecosystems.

Another international study trip sees EMBA students heading to the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley), in the heart of Silicon Valley, to better understand how tech is harnessed in strategic decision-making in the West. 

Exposure to tech hubs in both Asia and North America ensures EMBA students emerge with a global understanding of how to leverage tech in today's digital and tech-dependent business landscape.

In the face of all these rapid changes and uncertainties, business leaders require a ferocious dexterity to keep up with this innovation. 

BB Insights explores the latest research and trends from the business school classroom, drawing on the expertise of world-leading professors to inspire and inform current and future leaders 

Main image used under this license 

Student Reviews

Nanyang Business School




Good campus life and extra-curricular activities

This is a great place to learn and interact with more like-minded people. The campus is something that stands out to me. The infrastructure is great and the university is very well-built. There is lots to do on the high campus, from a large number of eating joints to the numerous clubs and sports activities. I also quite like Singapore as a country, as there is so much to do around not very far from campus. The educational facilities are extremely good, there are lots of opportunities to take on research projects and do industrial projects, which I really enjoy. The only thing I dislike about NTU is that the number of international students is really low and I would like to see a larger international intake in the future. Definitely recommend for the amazing educational facilities and on-campus social life.




An international campus that provided diverse choices for students

It's a beautiful campus with a high degree of internationality, providing diverse choices for students in terms of research opportunities and career consultation. Also, scholars are knowledgable and very inspiring, and are good at motivating the thinking of students.




Great University

In overall, the university has met my expectations with its wonderful lectures and research staff. However, there are some issues with the administrative side, i.e. administration may give you different answers on the same question. Also, the university’s website often provides outdated information and it takes time to get what you need; perhaps there is not enough people for managing it.




Good resources

I would recommend. Good resources for research. Knowledgeable professors and instructors. Conducive environment for studying and doing assignments. Helpful staff and faculty. Food options are good. An overall good place to study.




On Campus

inefficient communication and lack of transparency

The administrative team at the university is slow to respond and is often inadequate in their responses and solutions. The uni is also unclear and resistant to explain their actions and motivations when carrying out policies or when questioned




On Campus

Formative experience for success

NTU prioritizes giving students ample time for independent research. The academic schedule consists of 6–7 weeks of study, followed by a week without classes, allowing students to catch up on any material they may have missed. This is succeeded by another 6–7 weeks of study, culminating in a week dedicated to final exam preparation and exams. The curriculum is designed to be student-friendly, minimizing burdens such as excessive assignments, projects, exams, quizzes, and attendance requirements. This approach affords students the freedom to pursue personal interests and self-development. In my experience, each of the four courses I took had a comparable workload, typically comprising 2 assignments, 3 easy labs, 2–3 quizzes (some without), and 1 final exam. In contrast, comparable courses at other universities often entail significantly heavier workloads, including 3 homework assignments, 5 projects, 5–6 pop-up quizzes, mandatory attendance, 2 midterms, and 1 final exam. Moreover, each project typically demands 3–4 days of work. It is hard work, but it pays off.




On Campus

Academic atmosphere

Nanyang Technological University offers a vibrant academic atmosphere that fosters innovation and excellence. The strong emphasis on research and practical learning equips students with real-world skills. Positives include access to state-of-the-art facilities, collaborative projects, and a diverse student body. However, the competitive environment can be intense, leading to high stress levels. NTU's academic atmosphere encourages growth but requires resilience to thrive.




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Diverse professors

As a student at Nanyang Technological University, I have been extremely impressed with the quality of education I have received. The professors are knowledgeable, approachable, and passionate about their subjects, which makes learning engaging and enjoyable. The teaching styles vary from lecture-based to interactive discussions and group projects, providing a well-rounded learning experience. The use of technology in the classrooms also enhances our understanding of the course material. One of the things I love about NTU is the diversity on campus. Not only are there students from all over the world, but the professors also come from various backgrounds, making the learning environment truly global. English is the main language spoken on campus, which makes it easy for international students to feel at home. In terms of examinations and coursework, the workload can be challenging at times, but the support from professors and classmates makes it manageable. The exams are fair and assess our understanding of the material effectively.




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Video lectures

As a student at Nanyang Technological University, I am extremely impressed with the transportation options available on campus. The buses and shuttles make it easy to get around the huge campus. The beautifully landscaped garden campus adds a peaceful and scenic vibe to studying. The facilities, from the state-of-the-art labs to the comfortable study spaces, are top-notch. The video lectures are a convenient and effective way to supplement classroom learning.