January 20, 2006

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Singapore Buys Thailand

Price Tag: US$1.77 billion. By far the largest deal in Thai history.

Ho Ching, the formidable wife of Singapore's Prime Minister, is apparently set to announce the purchase Monday of a controlling interest in Shin Corp, the company built up and effectively created by Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Billionaire Thaksin had been accused of conflict of interest as being Thailand's richest man (or one of) and also running the country.

So up steps Ho Ching. Much more important than her being the wife of Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong is her being the helmswoman of Temasek Holding, the holding company of Singapore Inc., which has about US$80 billion of assets under management - at least. The sheer scale of the transaction has driven up the Baht against the US dollar. It also gives Singapore control of Thailand's largest mobile operator, not to mention all of its satellite networks and an airline.

Before World War I, the countries of Europe were united by the bloodlines of their monarchs. It seems in 21st century Asia, they are united by the private equity funds of their de facto national flagship holding companies.

Breathtaking stuff. But who can argue with economic interdependence being the best way forward for ASEAN? It particularly crucial for Singapore, which must define for itself the hinterland in which it will be the paramount provider of capital and services, and indeed, its identity for the 21st century (especially in the face of the China opportunity/threat). This audacious deal surely highlights Singapore's intentions to be a major regional economic power. Let's see if Singapore's people can also step up to the role with regional entrepreneurial horizons - and whether its other neighbors, like Malaysia and Indonesia, can ever become comfortable with Singapore.

To me, the big winner is Thailand - well past the '97 crisis, secure in its China relationship to the north, with ever-growing links with Singapore and other regional neighbors, and one of the most open, cosmopolitan economies in Southeast Asia. Malaysia may be miffed and feel short-circuited, though, to be sure - let's hope Thaksin does more and not less, to assuage his own Muslims and those across the border.

posted by HK Dave on 01.20.06 at 03:57 PM in the East Asia politics category.


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Wow, compelling mega deal!

posted by: Shay on 01.22.06 at 06:20 AM [permalink]

maybe that's why Thaksin spent his New Year in Singapore despite the government's promotion to persuade Thais to stay in country during holidays.

he might have been ironing out the details....

posted by: jackson on 01.23.06 at 02:51 PM [permalink]

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