Asia’s top finance officials name their biggest fears

  • Asia is watching U.S.-China negotiations closely for signs of mutual concessions that can help avert a tariff war.
  • Any hit to China from a trade war is widely expected to affect the economic giant's trading partners.
  • Changes in U.S. monetary policy are another source of uncertainty for Asia.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the plenary session at the G20 Summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany.
Mikhail Svetlov | Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the plenary session at the G20 Summit on July 7, 2017 in Hamburg, Germany.

Trade tensions between the United States and China and the normalization of U.S. interest rates are the top concerns for developing Asia, government officials from across the region told CNBC this week.

As U.S. and Chinese officials meet for trade talks in Beijing, Asia is watching negotiations closely for signs of mutual concessions that can help avert a tariff war.

While retaliatory duties between the world's two largest economies are a global worry, they are especially alarming for Asia — a region where economic prosperity has been synonymous with exports and open markets.

Any hit to China from a trade war is widely expected to affect the economic giant's trading partners.

Speaking to CNBC at the Asian Development Bank's annual gathering in Manila this week, Philippine Secretary of Finance Carlos Dominguez said "the potential trade war that is occurring, that might occur," was his primary risk. "And also the ideas in some Western states that trade is not an engine for growth… That is a very big threat to us."

Vongsey Vissoth, secretary of state at Cambodia's Ministry of Economy and Finance, said that if China's economy was to slow down, his country would certainly be impacted.

"China is a source of investment for Cambodia, it's also a source of tourism," he said. "So, if something happens to China, it will happen to Cambodia also."

President Donald Trump's tariffs on Beijing could have a spillover effect on Southeast Asia since the region is a significant contributor to Chinese exports that are headed stateside.

Trade fears aside, "the other thing that worries us is the normalization process… that might create a few shocks," Dominguez said, referring to the U.S. Federal Reserve's interest rate hikes. "It is a disruptive factor," but one that the Philippine economy is fully prepared for, he said.

Indonesian Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati echoed those views. How Asian economies will adjust to the new normal — i.e. higher interest rates in the world's largest economy — will have a significant domino effect on global markets, she said Friday.

Changes in U.S. monetary policy are a constant source of uncertainty but Indonesia's economy — Southeast Asia's largest — is prepared to handle any changes with minimal disruption, she said. The Indonesian government is also reducing the budget deficit to ensure it has fiscal space to respond to any shocks, she added.