View from Singapore
George D. Miller
To hear attendees speak, there is no doubt of the economic woes currently being felt in Asia. But their sheer numbers at the second CleanRooms Asia conference and exhibition held in late July in Singapore belied a certain strength-through-diversity that seems to buoy the contamination control field through turbulent economic times.
Both the CleanRooms Asia conference and exhibition were sponsored by this publication in partnership with Times Publishing Group. On the show floor, exhibitors commented on the competitiveness of the Asian market relative to the rest of the world. Suppliers describe it as “price sensitive,” “a lot more competitive over the last 15 years,” and “many more local suppliers now” (and people like to buy locally due to the currency situation). Still others describe selling contamination control products in this part of the world in environmental rather than economic terms: “In construction, it`s the humidity and temperature that are different. At 95 degrees Fahrenheit, 95 percent relative humidity, things rust. Windows sweat. And space is confined here.”
Another observation concerned strategies for building relationships: “Where do you put your money?” one supplier asked. “Do you spend on your distributors, to develop good local reps with good technical knowledge and good contact with customers, or do you fly your own flag?”
Perhaps it begs the question that The Economist magazine asked in its July 25 essay, “What would Confucius say now?” In this article examining Asian values, the authors point out that 20 years ago Confucianism was blamed for much of Asia`s backwardness. Yet in the early `90s, some Asians argued that those same intellectual and social traditions, now subsumed into the concept of Asian values, helped explain East Asia`s economic success.
The article also points out that, broadly defined, Asians make up more than 60 percent of the world`s population. And that much of the debate about Asian values is conducted in or with Singapore, “the youngest, richest, smallest (Brunei aside) and most westernized country in South-East Asia. No other is so dependent on international trade and investment from multinational companies [witness the dozens of barges and cargo ships visible from the Westin hotel that served as conference center].”
Yet “South-East Asia is a remarkably diverse and potentially fractious region,” according to The Economist in spite of any desire for regional cohesion, largely as a result of its makeup: communist states (Vietnam and Laos), a military dictatorship (Myanmar), an “Islamic monarchy” (Brunei), and parliamentary democracies, with Buddhist, Muslim and Christian majorities and Hinduism and Confucianism thrown in.
So it might well be more competitive in Asia now than the rest of the world. And it`s likely to stay that way. But the business opportunity and the region`s contribution to contamination control technology remains.