City & Business: A great day for the merchants of doom

The turmoil in Asian markets will come as a relief to some observers straining to see signs of disquiet in the financial world. I expect to see plenty of doom and gloom market stories emerge in the media this week, and who knows? This time the markets might actually believe them and deliver the crash we have been anticipating for the last 12 months.

Of particular interest will be the behaviour of the Hong Kong markets and currency, both of which have been seen as safe havens amid stormy waters, but have instabilities of their own to contend with - particularly the Hong Kong dollar's peg to the US dollar, which currency speculators have often dreamt of breaking only to be defeated by deep-rooted confidence.

But does the Asian crisis, precipitated by some of the region's economies trying to run before they could walk, and fuelled by the current holder of the world foot-in-mouth award, Malaysia's prime minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, really matter to Britain? More importantly, will the world end if you do not read the "whither the ringgitt?" op-ed piece that is bound to appear in this week's financial press?

The answer, sadly, is that the ringgitt, and indeed all the other curiosities of East Asia's economies, including the irrepressible Dr. Mohamad, matter more to you and me now than they ever did.

Never mind the fact that our pensions, and indeed some of our active investments are linked to the health of Asia's stock markets. A lot of British jobs now ride on export contracts to Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

In the long term this is no bad thing, considering that the region will eventually fulfill its promise as a world economic power comparable to that of the EU. If British exporters and capital goods manufacturers were not involved, we would be demanding to know why. But the price of this commitment will inevitably be the scaling back of those business links in the short term, and therefore a short-term hit on some UK businesses' profits. If we are to play the long-term game, it is an acceptable price.

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