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World Bank: Thriving Asian Economies Should Work to Sustain Growth

The World Bank says Asian nations have fully recovered from the 1997 economic crisis and are thriving. However, the agency warns that widening income gaps could threaten the region's growth and stability. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Beijing.

The World Bank says Asia's recovery over the past decade has been impressive, with the region's combined economic output doubling in the period after the 1997 crisis to more than $5 trillion. That is 10 percent of the world's gross domestic product.

The strongest performer has been China, with burgeoning exports and hefty investment pushing its annual growth to more than 10 percent in each of the past four years.

Speaking through a video conference from Tokyo, the World Bank's lead economist for East Asia and the Pacific, Milan Brahmbhatt, said one big challenge now is for newly prosperous nations such as China to sustain growth beyond the boom years.

"On the one hand, China of course has been enjoying extremely rapid growth. But, that has been accompanied by an accumulation of stresses, and a certain amount of imbalances that could affect China's onward development if they're left unchecked," said Brahmbhatt. "The environmental stresses are the most apparent."

East Asia has made great strides in reducing poverty. In its half-year report on the Asian economy, the World Bank notes individual income levels in the region skyrocketed an average of 75 percent, surpassing growth seen during the boom years before the 1997 crisis.

However, Brahmbhatt says many East Asians are not benefiting from the growth and income inequality has been widening in several economies in the region.

"This matters because high inequality can lead to more social and political conflict," he said. "It can have adverse impacts on growth. And, therefore, policies to promote wider and more equal access to higher education, for example, would not only help to underpin the next phase of growth, but would also help to ensure that growth is more equitably shared."

World Bank officials say stronger credit markets and greater access to bank loans for the poor could help more people take advantage of the opportunities that growing economies provide.

In the case of China, bank officials on Thursday said ending long standing restrictions on internal migration would help more rural residents improve their living standards.

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