Opinion

The future is Asian

The future is Asian

Among observers of modern geopolitics, the biggest question is who will be the world’s superpowers in this century. There are those who believe that the United States will remain the dominant power while others foresee that China will be the next superpower. Many geopolitical analysts think that there will be a multipolar political world with two superpowers – China and the US.

In his latest book, published in 2019, THE FUTURE IS ASIAN: Commerce, Conflict and Culture in the 21st Century, the author Parag Khanna offers an entirely new perspective that makes this book a must reading. It was clearly written for a Western audience; but, even Asians should read this book since it goes against conventional thinking. Here is how the publishers describe the book.

“The Asian Century is even bigger than you think. Far greater than just China, the new Asian system taking shape is a multi-civilizational order spanning Saudi Arabia to Japan, Russia to Australia, Turkey to Indonesia – linking five billion people through trade, finance, infrastructure and diplomatic networks that together represent 40 percent of global GDP. China has taken the lead in building the new Silk Road across Asia but it will not lead it alone. Rather, Asia is rapidly running to the centuries old patterns of commerce, conflicts and cultural exchange that thrived long before European colonialism and American dominance. Asians will determine their own future – and as they collectively determine their own future – and as they collectively assert their interests around the world, they will determine ours as well. 

If the 19th century featured the Europeanization of the world and the 20th century its Americanization, then the 21st century is the time of Asianization. From investment portfolios and trade wars to Hollywood movies and university admissions, no aspect of life is immune from Asianization. With America’s tech sector dependent on Asian talent and politicians praising Asia’s glittering cities and efficient governments, Asia is permanently in our nation’s (i.e. United States) consciousness. We know this will be the Asian century. Now we finally have an accurate picture of what it will look like.”

The book is divided into ten chapters as follows:

1. A History of the World: An Asian View; 

2. Lessons of Asian History-for Asia and the World;

3. The Return of Greater Asia;

4. Asia-nomics;

5. Asians in the Americas and Americans in Asia;

6. Why Europe loves Asia but Not (Yet) Asians;

7. The Return of Afroeurasia;

8. The New Pacific Partnership; 

9. Asia’s Technocratic Future;

10. Asia Goes Global: The Fusion of Civilizations

One of the interesting parts is the segment about China’s role in Asia. According to Khanna: “The most consequential misunderstanding permeating Western thought about Asia is being overly China-centric...But neither the world as a whole nor Asia as a region is headed towards a Chinese ‘ianxia’ or harmonious global system guided by Chinese Confucian principles.” He points out that while it is true China may be the most powerful Asian country, the reality is that China has only less than one third of Asia’s population, less than half of its GDP, about half of its outbound investments and less than half of its inbound investments. In fact, India will soon surpass China’s population and in Southeasat Asia, Japan’s infrastructure investment is larger than China’s investment especially in countries like the Philippines. 

In fact, according to Khanna, China has not been able to develop any deep, long-term loyalties in Asia despite spending $50 billion between 2000 and 2016 on infrastructure and humanitarian projects across Asia. Just as Europeans will not accept the term “US-led West,” neither will Asians accept a “China-led Asia.”

Most countries, especially former colonies, are aware of the potential disadvantages of Chinese neo-mercantilism. “One by one, many countries are pushing back and renegotiating Chinese projects and debts. In fact, there is an ongoing infrastructure race with other Asian countries – Japan, India, South Korea, Australia – making major investments.” Ultimately, Chinese position will be not of an Asian or global hegemon but rather of the eastern anchor of the Asian – and Eurasian – megasystem.” It will even have to compete with Japan for this position. 

In the chapter on Asia-nomics, Khanna begins by saying that the two views that China will either devour the world or is on the brink of collapse are both wrong. The first wave of modern Asian economic growth began with Japan and South Korea, followed by greater China, Taiwan and Hong Kong first then the mainland. Asia is now at the beginning of the third wave with economic growth propelled by India and Southeast Asia. 

While poverty remains a widespread problem, Asia is taking advantage of late development or “late mover advantage”: Mobile phones come before landlines, digital banking before ATMs, cloud computing before desktops, electronic payments before toll booths and no ID cards to biometric IDs and digital tax collection. Digitalization has allowed underdeveloped Asian nations to leapfrog the traditional ladderof an economy moving through different stages – agriculture, manufacturing, services. 

The New World may have been dominated by Western civilization; but, the human civilization was born in Asia. The Old World was dominated by Asian civilizations – Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Persia, India, China and Japan. If the future of the world is Asian, perhaps this is not a new chapter in our global history. 

Creative writing classes for kids and teens

Young Writers’ Hangout on July 20 (1:30 pm-3pm; stand-alone sessions) at Fully Booked BGC. For details and registration, email [email protected].

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