TOKYO -- A panel of Asian entrepreneurs expressed cautious relief Friday about the Thai military coup, saying political stability is fundamental for business.
One of the panelists in Tokyo to attend the 20th International Conference on The Future of Asia was Simon Shen, CEO of Taiwan's New Kinpo Group, which has significant i
nvestment in Thailand. "(The coup) may not be the best thing to have occurred, but it is a better solution. It is important not to create more risk in the country." Shen's company makes 3-D printers and storage devices.
On the second and final day of the conference, the entrepreneurs from Vietnam, China, Taiwan and Thailand discussed what kind of political system was best for business and innovation.
"Americans always say that democracy is the best system. But some countries are not ready for democracy yet," Shen said. He noted that China's success over the past 20 years was related to quick decision-making under its single-party system.
Supamas Trivisvavet, managing director of Thailand's CK Power Public, agreed that stability takes priority over politics when it comes to business. "Representative democracy might be what we aspire to, but it means that you have to involve many people," she said. "When you have that kind of system, you have conflicts. The issue is how you settle the differences. If you want to be a real democracy, you have to wait and hear out everyone. But business cannot wait."
As for the political situation in her home country of Thailand, Trivisvavet said it "might be unstable, but business continues as usual. We have strong fundamentals, and business will survive this situation." She added that all her companies' power plants were running as scheduled. "As an investor, we cannot make ourselves political. We have to be neutral and work with all parties regardless of their ideology so as to survive for decades."
Another panelist was Nguyen Bao Hoang, managing general partner at IDG Ventures Vietnam. He grew up in the U.S. but returned to his ancestral home 13 years ago to launch a business. "From our experience, what is important is a peaceful, stable government that respects the rule of law and is willing to address any problems that arise."
While acknowledging that the Vietnamese political system was not perfect, he said business issues he has had with the government have been resolved in a satisfactory and timely manner. "On balance, our experience has been very positive," he said. "There are many degrees and flavors of democracy."
Xuan Qiwu, chairman of China's IAT Automobile Technology, said his country's single-party rule was not necessarily bad for business. "Democracy is appropriate for countries like Japan and the U.S., which have high and even incomes," he said. "But for countries like China and the Arab states, (where there is) significant inequality, it may not be the best system. Stability is the main concern for the Communist Party, and it is trying to narrow the income gap by bringing in investment from overseas and using the tax they pay for the poor."
The panelists also talked about ways to enhance innovation in their countries. Hoang pointed out that "Vietnam is still a young market, but what we have is a lot of hunger and drive. I hope that this leads to true innovation, like what is coming out of China." He said education is the key factor underpinning innovation.
Trivisvavet said traditional education was not enough and that countries should expand education related to technology, IT and social media. "My 2-year-old child can search YouTube on an iPhone, which was unthinkable in our time," she said.
Shen expressed his concern that entrepreneurship was shrinking in Taiwan. "The current generation is less willing to take risks because we have such large companies," he said. "The birthrate is low, so it is difficult for people to get together and innovate. I told my company that we are not just a Taiwanese company; We need to unify talented people from other countries."