ADB warnings a bit melodramatic

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 April, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 April, 1995, 12:00am

FOR years incredulous Westerners have been looking at the Asian economies, and asking, 'How long can this keep going on?' Prediction of imminent end to the miracle of the dragons has always proved premature, but here it comes again.

This time it is the turn of the Asian Development Bank (ADB), which warns that the super days may soon be over, to be followed by the merely good.

At least the ADB does not believe that Asia's economies are going to drop off the cliff like those of Mexico and some other Latin American states - a view which is by now preaching to the converted in this region.

The ADB's forecasts are of a modest flattening of the growth curves of Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan. A fall in the combined gross domestic product from 7.4 per cent last year to seven per cent this year and 6.7 per cent next is hardly the big crunch. It will still leave the four as world leaders in growth.

The ADB's forecast is hardly surprising. No economy, or economic region, can keep growing at well above the world average forever, and the slow-down can come faster than expected, rendering myopic fears of an upheaval in the global economic pattern unfounded.

Not too long ago Japan's per capita income was expected to have overtaken that of the United States by the 1980s, and its gross national product to have been bigger than America's by early in the next century.

That is what becomes of putting rulers on existing lines and extending them. As Japan has found out, the forecasts do not coincide with reality.

Japan's growth rate fell away dramatically, and now those targets are expected to take decades more to fulfil.

But then the caravan may well move on once more. The ADB's chief economist suggested in Singapore that the South Asian nations would begin to gather momentum, as the industrialisation process in East Asia matured.

But for this region that maturity still seems as far away as middle age does to someone who has yet to leave their teens, even if the first blush of youth may have faded.