Nokia Sets Out To Prove It’s Still An Asian Tiger

Nokia’s top guns are assembling for a one-day conference in Singapore, as the handset maker tries to fight off in Asia the same kind of attacks from iPhone and Android it has endured elsewhere.

Nokia (NYSE: NOK) has had some big wins, but also some big misses, in the Asian market. After Europe, China is the company’s second-largest market and, last quarter, grew by 13 percent over the year before.

But the rest of the Asia Pacific region — which is the company’s third largest market — has been in decline.

As it is in the rest of the world, in Asia, Nokia is not only fighting off the legions of Android handset makers and high end products from Apple (NSDQ: AAPL), but also an onslaught from cheap handset makers like ZTE, who are developing devices on Nokia’s own new platform, Windows Phone 7.

Tomorrow, all eyes will be on Singapore, as the company presents its annual Nokia Connection conference, coinciding it with the annual CommunicAsia trade show. The one-day event will feature presentations not only from Stephen Elop, but devices head Mary McDowell; the head of design Marko Ahtisaari; and developer head Marco Argenti. (It is also being livestreamed.)

The event will see Nokia unveiling new products and services — and yes, waving the WP7 flag — to help it better compete in the Southeast Asian and Pacific region, which includes markets as diverse as Indonesia, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand.

This could not have (and probably should have) come sooner. In years past, this is the kind of region where Nokia would have thrived with its low-cost devices — Nokia itself points out the region has more than 870 million inhabitants, 50 percent of whom are under the age of 30, and are “engaged with technology and eager to connect to the internet.” Indeed, the entire Asia Pacific region (which would also include countries like India) represents the third-largest market for the handset maker. But this year’s Q1 revenues of €1.3 billion was also a sizeable drop of 18 percent compared to the same quarter one year ago.

The analysis group Canalys today released figures that it forecasts 106 million mobile devices to ship in the region this year, a rise of nearly 20 percent over 2010. Although it acknowledges Nokia’s problems of late, it also believes the company remains a “formidable” presence in the market.

Meanwhile, Nokia is also doing a bit of PR to try to shore up its profile in another key market, China. Over the weekend, during the Shanghai Film Festival, Nokia announced that it would participate in a new series of digital films being created by one of the country’s largest studios.

In the film project, called Film 7, the China Film Group will be producing seven short films featuring big-name Chinese actors such as Liu Ye, Huang Bo, Zhang Mo. The online portal (NSDQ: SOHU) will distribute the films online and via mobile, and the project is being touted as the country’s biggest investment yet in digital film making: total budgets have not been revealed, except to detail that some 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) will go to promotion and marketing.

For now, that looks like this last part is where Nokia will sit in Film 7. That is, rather than investing in the films to distribute them through its own portal and app store, Nokia is helping fund the production and marketing. It will also use Film 7 as a platform to promote its new range of smartphones, according to Screen Daily.

As with the Singapore event, the Film 7 deal is primarily significant for Nokia in terms of profile building: as of last quarter China was still a growing market for Nokia, although the profit warning that Nokia issued at the end of May noted lowered expectations for China.

All this PR and promotion aside, we’ll only know the real story come results day on July 21.