My two years in America have made me realize how inept mainstream American news media is in its coverage of Asia – Southeast Asia, in particular.
It really took me by surprise once when I was asked by a fellow college student if Singapore was the country that chopped people’s hands off for stealing.
For Singaporeans, such “surprises” are not uncommon.
In fact, many Americans are not familiar with Asia as a whole, a sentiment shared by Kathleen Sideli, Associate Vice President of the IU Office of Overseas Study.
During an interview, she said many Americans have not realized that many industrialized nations of Asia have surpassed America and Western Europe in terms of modernity.
Singapore can lay claim to being one of such Asian countries: It is Southeast Asia’s leading economy, boasting one of the world’s best education, health care, and public transportation systems. It has a blossoming biotechnology industry and a GDP per capita higher than both America and most states in Western Europe.
It is among the elite industrialized nations.
Yet, out of the four Asian Tigers – a term for the four high-growth economies of the 1980s, including Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and South Korea – Singapore is the nation that suffers the most invisibility.
On the few occasions that I witness news reports about Singapore, the reports conveniently overlooks the city-state’s positive attributes, sensationally portraying the Southeast Asian powerhouse as something of a totalitarian regime.
More often than not, the news tends to stigmatize the country for caning American hooligan Michael Fay and, more famously, banning chewing gum.
When the media focuses its attention on Asia, China, Japan and South Korea often hog the spotlight; regions like Southeast Asia are marginalized.
Countries like Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and especially Vietnam have grown tremendously in the last decade, but their coverage is often subdued in preference for China and India due to their immense scale.
The announcement of Governor Daniels and IU President McRobbie’s trip to Asia to lure Chinese investment to Indiana is a huge byproduct of the media interest in China.
China’s growth has, indeed, been phenomenal. Many in our generation are still trying to grasp the idea of a China that has super-modern cities rivaling New York and London, such as Shanghai, Beijing, Chongqing and Shenzhen.
But I would like to suggest that IU students also consider exploring the possibilities of Southeast Asia.
The region at one point commanded some media attention due to huge economic growth before the 1997 Asian financial crisis, but that attention has almost completely died down due to the media’s focus on China.
However, Southeast Asia still has much promise.
Singapore, whose business language is English, is a wonderful prospect; pharmaceutical production there, which accounts for about 20 percent of Singaporean manufacturing, surged 139.2 percent last month.
Vietnam has been a rising star since it hosted APEC in 2006. Its economy may grow as much as 5.2 percent this year.
Truly, the way most of us form our world view is through the news media. And in many situations, the news media can be subversive when it deems one region over another as more important.
Although it may sometimes be vexing to learn the public conscious and news media of America tend to overlook countries in this region, Southeast Asia should not be ignored.