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Southeast Asia Is Worth a Look

Southeast Asia is dynamic, diverse and on track for growth. A region full of contrasts, shaped by straits, rice cultivation and diverse species, enlivened by entrepreneurs and dynamic economies. Its crucial themes for the future will be mobility, food, energy and sustainability. It is worth a closer look. Join us.

An essay by Claus Möhlenkamp, Chief Executive Officer, Freudenberg Sealing Technologies:

Arabs called Southeast Asia “the lands below the winds.” That is because their ships could only sail to it at certain times of the year. The Chinese considered it wild, uncivilized, and fly-infested. Europeans used names like Far India, East India, and Indochina, suggesting that it literally lay between India and China. While Southeast Asia has not been totally ignored over the centuries, it has long been out of the spotlight. That is still true, but the circumstances are different today. Without a doubt, there is economic news from Southeast Asia that is attracting attention, and some of the region’s countries qualify as “up-and-coming” markets or “forerunners of the next boom.” But the bottom line is that Southeast Asia does not always get the attention it deserves.

Looking to the future: Singapore is considered a tech-savvy city-state. By the end of the decade, it wants to be a fully digitalized “smart nation.” 
© AdobeStock/Jo Panuwat D

Its significance merely from a statistical standpoint sometimes falls off the radar. About 9 percent of the world’s population lives in Southeast Asia – 670 million people. Its economies have grown by an average of 5 percent annually over the past two decades. There are 10 countries in the region, and nearly every one of them is home to a relatively young, striving, and digitally savvy population. In the six countries with the largest economies, 68 percent of the population is of working age. Nearly all the countries are seeing continued strong expansions of their middle classes, which have special consumer interests, improved access to education, and an optimistic entrepreneurial spirit.

Southeast Asia is a region worth focusing on. Companies are giving it more attention. They are coming to the realization that the region is diverse, distinct, and full of contrasts. With its 275 million people, Indonesia ranks as the world’s fourth-largest country by population, putting it in sharp contrast with the region’s smaller states like Brunei (400,000 inhabitants) or Singapore (5 million). The latter two countries happen to be the most prosperous in the region. Singapore is a technology-savvy state that has surpassed many European nations in digitalization. Its educated populace earns a median income of about US $4,800 per month, compared to the minimum wage of US $90 per month in Laos. The polar opposites of wealth and poverty extend into individual countries, where the urban middle-class in metropolises like Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, and Manila live modern lives seemingly light years away from those of rice farmers, crab fishermen and wage laborers beyond the major cities.


Young, optimistic entrepreneurs are forming startups and are self-confident enough to compete with global brands.

So far, the region has been able to capitalize on these contradictions. It is developing its own dynamics. Young entrepreneurs with an optimistic streak are launching startups and are self-confident enough to compete with global brands. This, in turn, stimulates growing consumerism. At the same time, production costs are low in many of the region’s countries. Thailand has become an automotive center, and technology companies are eagerly eyeing Indonesia’s huge consumer market. The Philippines has built the region’s largest wind farm, and a Vietnamese businesswoman envisions a path to success with advanced electric cars. In the latest edition of ESSENTIAL, we feature these and other stories from Southeast Asia because we are taking a close look at the region ourselves.

Much traveled: Today a significant share of global trade passes through the seas and straits of Southeast Asia. © iStock/taikrixe

It is a region under pressure to respond to different challenges with forward-looking solutions. Climate change will especially have an impact on Southeast Asia. Drought and flooding threaten agriculture, which is essential to feed these densely populated countries. Their proximity to oceans means that typhoons are a constant threat. And nearly all the large metropolises are in river deltas or on coasts. Rising sea levels would be devastating for the region. Southeast Asia also faces the challenge of finding new paths to sustainability – whether they involve energy, food or manufacturing. A number of these countries have already recognized this.

At Freudenberg Sealing Technologies, we have a strong interest in staying close to all of these developments. We are convinced that we have the appropriate solutions for them in our portfolio. Sustainability, energy, food, and mobility – all these challenges demand high-quality products. Products that are often unseen from the outside yet perform crucial tasks. That is one reason why we know what it means to take a close look. Join us as we take a detailed, precise look at Southeast Asia, a pulsating, dynamic and diverse region.

This article originally appeared in ESSENTIAL, Freudenberg Sealing Technologies’ corporate magazine that covers trends, industries and new ideas. To read more stories like this, click here.

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