Europe South Asia Asia Pacific Americas Middle East Africa BBC Homepage World Service Education

Front Page



UK Politics







Talking Point
On Air
Low Graphics

Saturday, April 4, 1998 Published at 15:11 GMT 16:11 UK

Asian crisis could still push world into recession

Could the Asian crisis still plunge the world into another great depression?

BBC economics correspondent, James Morgan, looks at whether much of the world has become complacent about what's been going on in East Asia:

At the end of last year there were many who feared that the crisis in East Asia could herald a global wave of deflation and ultimately depression.
[ image: Wall Street has seen record highs]
Wall Street has seen record highs
There was even the mirage of a western stock market crash in late October. But those markets recovered and have scaled new heights ever since.

As a result there were some who argued the Asian crisis could not have come at a better time: just as it looked as though the United States in particular was beginning to risk some kind of inflationary boom, along came a useful influence to act as a depressant.

As a result it was not necessary to raise interest rates in the United States, and the steady boom continued in the English-speaking world while continental Europe maintained an equally steady economic recovery.

Japan proves the exception

[ image: Investors queue for cash after the collapse of Yamaichi Securities]
Investors queue for cash after the collapse of Yamaichi Securities
All the signs of Japanese recovery that seemed to be apparent in nine months have petered out. A succession of reflationary packages have come to nothing, banks are in crisis and the financial system is unable to help revive the stagnant economy.

Nobody will borrow and few want to lend while consumers save as much as they can. Those who argue that the West is complacent have to use Japan rather than the financial crisis in East and Southeast Asia to support their arguments that the world could face disaster.

Japan dwarfs the economies of South Korea and Asean but is itself a victim of the fallout of their crisis.

Today it sells less to its neighbours, faces more competition from them and will lose some money as a result of its banks having made large loans to now bankrupt companies in the region.

Nightmare scenario

The disaster scenario is that this will cause a further downward twist in the Japanese deflationary spiral and trigger a major stock market collapse. That will ruin the banks because another large chunk of their assets will be wiped out.

What happens next is open to question. The world could survive a Japanese crash but maybe not if it triggers further reactions, first in China and the rest of the region and then in emerging economies around the world.

If that happens then the extraordinary valuations now seen in western stock markets will really appear extraordinary - and then there could be a global financial market collapse.

This outlook is not impossible but depends on many things going wrong together. There is a law of human nature which states that if anything can go wrong it will, but not one that insists that everything collapses together. Governments, even the Japanese, still have the time to make rational decisions.

Those decisions in Japan mean taking some risks - a major tax cut to revive consumer spending is one of them. Japan faces a problem here because its budget deficit is relatively large today and increasing it still further may seem dangerous.

But the real problem for Japan is how to increase public spending in such a way that it acts as a real boost. In the past the government has always spent money uselessly - on roads that go nowhere, on concreting the bottoms of rivers and building harbours without boats. There would be a disaster if future policy followed the past. But it need not be.

Advanced options | Search tips

Back to top | BBC News Home | BBC Homepage |

In this section

Confident conclusion to summit

EU to send business missions to Asia

Clinton urges Japan to 'be bold'

Protesters target Asem over refugees' plight

Asem 2: Guide to the issues

China's role in Asem

How Asem trust fund will work

Clampdown on child sex tourism

From Despatches
Knocking at the door

Japan - a positive force in Asia?

Asian crisis could still push world into recession

China human rights concerns raised with EU