In this second instalment of the Q&A with FT’s Asia editor, Robin Harding, we’re asking: what’s next for the FT's Asia network? How are current global affairs impacting Asia? And what are the next big themes for the region?
Robin’s work has taken him from a career in finance to journalism and is now responsible for all the editorial operations from Australia to Afghanistan, China, Japan, India, Korea, and Southeast Asia.
You can read part one of this Q&A series here.
What are the current topics and main points of focus for you and the team?
Robin Harding: At this moment, the biggest news story globally is obviously about Russia and Ukraine. How these news stories play out are considerably relevant to our region. Also India’s and China’s attitude towards conflict is of great interest and importance. It has a whole set of knock on effects for commodity prices, which affects economies in our region and even sanctions affect business in our region. Even though Asia isn’t at the centre of this story, it’s a big one for us to report on day to day right now.
Another big topic is Covid. The rest of the world is largely leaving Coronavirus behind as a story, but in Asia it's different. In particular, China is still pursuing zero Covid and is still enacting some of the most severe lockdown restrictions. We’re also looking at the implications of this on the supply chain, businesses and the economy.
There are several other large stories we’re covering at the moment. We’re reporting on the US and China trading standoff, which affects the whole region.
Also, there’s the big business stories around the semiconductor shortage and technology exports and controls which are having a big business impact. We’re discussing Softbank in Japan, which is a huge technology investor globally. We’re looking at property in China, and Evergrande is the company that has become symbolic of that, but it's a huge corporate and economic story.
It's an Asian cultural phenomenon which is going global and we’re going to see much more of that. So finding and reporting on these trends is really fascinating for our global audience.
Another area I’m really interested in is the emergence of Asian companies, ideas, trends, products, which go on to influence the global market. For example, We’ve written about the Shein Chinese fast fashion company. More recently, we’ve written about Webtoons in South Korea, which is a comic created in a digital native format — it’s huge in South Korea. In China, Webtoons is growing very fast and is starting to become a content source for creating dramas for Netflix and Amazon.
What do you think sets the FT’s Asia network apart from its competitors? Are there insights we offer that readers can’t get elsewhere?
RH: The FT’s Asia network is unique in its combination of quality, depth and genuine commitment to covering Asia as a place in itself, and not as an exotic foreign location to be written about for a wandering audience at home.
We have great journalists who have the time and the mandate to step back and say: what’s going on here? How can we understand this? How can we interpret it? How can we explain it?
With the FT, you get an organisation which is absolutely committed to covering Asia on its own merits. We're interested in Asia because it's interesting in Asia. It has to be interesting globally, of course, but not because a reader in London must find this interesting and it must be made to meet their tastes.
In the coming year, what do you predict will be the next big themes and news topics for Asia?
RH: Predictions can be quite foolish as if you’d asked me this at the beginning of the year, I wouldn't have told you that the region would be dealing with the fallout from a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
However, what I do think is that readers will see more Asian correspondents getting into more depth in topics surrounding business and finance in China. Readers will see us having a laser-like focus on the biggest geopolitical, economic developments and the emergence of globally important products and ideas from Asia.
Increasingly, China’s so important in the automotive industry, such as in areas like driverless cars, so there’s going to be so much innovation coming out of Asia — it’s the most dynamic region in the world.
In your experience, what kind of readers or sectors would value you and your team’s work the most?
RH: Many people find our coverage valuable but the core FT reader is a financial reader. I don’t think people in finance need it explained to them why a sophisticated understanding of the news is important to them — they already know why.
Readers know that the backdrop of dealings to the US and China is going to affect whether deals can get done and reading about companies is how they’re going to find ideas and people to pitch to. There’s always something readers can learn from what others are doing, that they can bring to their own business.
People working in business, policy, central banking, in governments will benefit hugely from knowing what’s happening in other countries as well as their own.
With our work, I’m hugely interested in new ideas coming out of Asia and readers around the world are going to want to think about these ideas and then present their own versions of them, in their own markets. It’s about hearing about other people’s creativity and what’s new — that’s what the news is, it’s what’s new.
By knowing what’s new, it allows you to do something new yourself and that spurs new ideas again and again. To stay competitive in the modern world you have to be doing something new and offering something different. So immersing yourself in what the FT has to offer will help anyone who is in a knowledge-based and competitive arena.
What is the best way for subscribers to keep up with you and the team’s journalism?
RH: I would certainly recommend setting up myFT. On myFT, subscribers can follow tags like Asia Pacific, China economy, Chinese politics & policies, and US-China relations. We even have Special Reports dedicated to the high-growth companies in Asia-Pacific. Also on myFT, subscribers with particular interests can follow some of our great journalists.
We try to curate some of our best outputs on the homepage too. So certainly if you're in Asia, and you're reading the FT during the Asian day, then you will see my team's curation of the global FT content.
Can you name a few of the voices in the FT's Asia Network?
RH: That’s a hard question to answer as there are so many wonderful journalists in the team. What I’d say is, look out for their bylines in articles and many of them can be followed on twitter too, so everyone can keep up with the great reporting that they’re all doing.
All of our journalists in Asia are superb and worth following their work — there are no weak links.
I will mention a few colleagues who write columns. Leo Lewis is the Asia business editor and writes brilliant columns about Japanese business and Asian businesses more broadly. Tom Mitchell is the FT’s Beijing bureau chief and James Kynge is the global China editor — they’re both superb economists on China so it's well worth keeping an eye out for their work. Also, I write an Asia column once a month so that’s worth checking out too.
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