Skip NavigationMenu

Insights and Analysis

The Critical Issues Affecting Asia

January 22, 2014

By David D. Arnold

Asia Foundation 60th anniversary seriesMore than half of the planet lives in Asia. Six of the 10 largest nations in the world are in the Asia Pacific, and the region is playing an increasingly important role in the global economy, international security, and the world’s collective efforts to advance human development. The dynamism of Asian economies contributed greatly to the global economic recovery, simultaneously lifting more than half a billion people out of poverty. Glittering cities and bustling ports bear testament to the so-called “Asian miracle” that has become the dominant narrative in economic and political analysis of recent years.

A construction site in Kathmandu

More than half of the planet lives in Asia. Six of the 10 largest nations in the world are in the Asia Pacific, and the region is playing an increasingly important role in the global economy, international security, and the world’s collective efforts to advance human development. Photo/Conor Ashleigh

Yet, despite these gains, many Asian countries today confront crucial challenges that will determine whether they continue on a sustainable path to prosperity or fall victim to economic stagnation, social unrest, and political instability. Among these challenges are widening income disparities, persistent poverty, widespread corruption, and growing ethnic and religious conflicts. Add to this list Asia’s vulnerability to natural disasters and climate change, the unequal status of women, and weak legal protections, and the range of potential threats to the region’s future growth and development becomes daunting indeed.

For the past 60 years, The Asia Foundation has been dedicated to Asia’s emergence as a peaceful, prosperous, open, and just region of the world. As we prepare to celebrate our 60th anniversary, we are as committed to helping Asian leaders and institutions meet the challenges they face today as we have been throughout Asia’s post-war history. The long-standing partnerships we have formed and the deep country knowledge and expertise of staff in our 18 country offices represent major assets in helping to tackle the critical issues confronting Asia in the 21st century.

To mark The Asia Foundation’s 60th anniversary, we are not just looking back at the Foundation’s contributions to Asia’s dramatic progress, we are also calling attention to the most critical issues Asia is facing today. In our view, these include:

  • Lack of transparency and accountability in government;
  • Persistent poverty and rising income inequality;
  • Exclusion of women from political and economic life;
  • Ethnic and religious conflicts;
  • Access to justice and human rights; and
  • Disaster management, climate change, and water resource management.

In six special editions of In Asia, beginning today, and in symposia, our social channels, and a culminating report available at the end of 2014 on our website, analysts and experts in and outside of The Asia Foundation will explore these issues and share insights on successful efforts to address them. We invite you to join us in this important conversation.

In today’s inaugural “Critical Issues Facing Asia” edition of In Asia, we explore the lack of transparency and accountability in government. From buying influence to spending public funds on personal interests, corruption is eroding public trust in fragile democratic processes, the rule of law, and public institutions. Mandakini Devasher Surie, senior program officer in our India office, contributes fresh thinking on the country’s long-awaited anti-corruption bill and Delhi’s new chief minister who has vowed to end corruption. Sandra Hamid, our Indonesia representative, offers her insights on how civil society organizations there are focused on fighting against money politics to ensure transparent elections. George Varughese and Sagar Prasai, our country representative and deputy representative in Nepal, argue that civic complacency in political accountability is holding the country back and why a transformation is needed. And Ky Johnson, deputy representative in the Philippines, examines findings from the just-released SWS Survey of Enterprises on Corruption that reveal what business executives think about corruption in the public sector.

Today I am in New Delhi, India, with members of the Foundation’s distinguished Board of Trustees. Our international staff here are supporting local initiatives to promote open, accountable, and inclusive governance, and to facilitate India’s positive engagement in regional and global affairs. While I’m here, I’m reminded of the individuals who formed The Asia Foundation in 1954, who shared strong interests in Asia and distinguished histories of public service. Most importantly, as Michael H. Armacost, chairman of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees has observed, these early founders established The Asia Foundation as a private, nonprofit institution “based on the principle that outside aid would play only a supporting role in the region’s development.”

Ultimately, the critical issues shaping people’s daily life and the future of Asia must be solved by Asian citizens, leaders, and institutions with the vision and capacity to achieve transformative reforms. Our responsibility is to support and assist them in their efforts to continue Asia’s remarkable progress and see it become the peaceful, just, and thriving region the entire world needs it to be.

David D. Arnold is president of The Asia Foundation. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

1 Comment

  1. Dear David

    Its indeed wonderful to hear that you are in India and about your aspirations on TAF’s role.

    TAF has been doing some commendable work on Trafficking in Persons and the Teesta Basin.

    I am sure with the change in guard at Delhi, a whole new strategy would be envisioned.

    I was delighted to undertake an intense donor mapping strategy for TAF around October and November last year during Nick’s tenure. It was an attempt to help TAF realign itself to the new donor scenario and expand its footprint in India and South Asia.

    In the meantime, I have joined a mission driven social consulting firm called Junxion Strategy. Junxion, based out of Vancouver, London and New Delhi is engaged with numerous foundations and companies on helping them become TrustBrands as also reshape themselves through an overall strategy.

    Very close to your office at Jor Bagh, I was wondering if we could request you for a short meeting and help explore delivering on your aspirations in the short to long term.

    Kind regards,


    +91 9311229702

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].


For questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].

The Asia Foundation
465 California St., 9th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94104

Mailing Address:
PO Box 193223
San Francisco, CA 94119-3223

The Latest Across Asia


December 7, 2022

Support Women Forest Defenders

Join us this holiday season to help untapped leaders like Sumini and the Women Forest Defenders battle rampant deforestation in Indonesia.