this is the asian century: seven reasons to be optimistic about it
from dominance in the us-china tech war to the end of coronavirus, experts weigh in
nikkei staff writersseptember 30, 2020 06:19 jst
tokyo -- this is not the first asian century. according to the late economic historian angus maddison, asia accounted for more than half of world economic output for 18 of the last 20 centuries. the region's growing clout in the world economy is a "restoration," not a revolution, he said.
it took the massive concentration of capital in the west, the result of the industrial revolution and colonialism, for europe to usurp the center of economic power in the 19th century. and it took two world wars for the u.s. to supplant the latter. today, however, asia's vast population -- more than half the world's inhabitants live there -- is reaching economic predominance once again.
so, what might that look like? in the 18th and 19th centuries, when economic might began to swing in europe's favor, political and cultural influence followed. the same happened when the u.s. surged ahead in the 20th century: political power and cultural influence followed economic production. today, asia is in the same position as the u.s. at the beginning of the 20th century: an economic giant, but a political dwarf.
there are plenty of chances to address that gap, however. global leadership is something of a loose ball at the moment, as the u.s. steadily reneges on many of its expensive commitments to build a "liberal world order." on many issues, from covid-19 vaccines to trade deals to climate change, a vacuum needs filling as washington falters. will asia step into this political leadership gap? and will asian culture become as ubiquitous as european art and fashion, and american music and films in the past 200 years?
this is by no means a given. few asian countries want to see the most likely local candidate for global influence -- china -- dominate their region. asia remains fractured politically, and grows more so with the rise of great-power competition. but europe's disunity in the 19th century did not prevent it being a polestar for the rest of the world.
"one-fifth of the way into the asian century, many of the predictions that an informed observer might have made in 2000 would be correct"
one-fifth of the way into the asian century, many of the predictions that an informed observer might have made in 2000 would be correct. china's fast growth has propelled it to become the world's second-largest economy -- and the u.s. has finally woken up to discover an emerging superpower seeking to displace it. a buoyant middle class has emerged in china, and across a rapidly developing southeast asia. by 2050, the asian development bank estimates, 3 billion asians could have living standards similar to those of europe, and asia could account for over half of global output.
but there are surprises too -- not least of which is this year's global pandemic, which began in china and has come to paralyze the global economy.
now, as we refresh our brand -- today, nikkei asian review becomes nikkei asia -- we take stock of the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the next phase of the asian century.
over 20 experts from a range of backgrounds have generously given us their time to discuss seven key issues, from the pandemic to geopolitics to demography. we have let them speak for themselves.
many challenges facing asia, from vaccines to climate change, require collective action. but rather than joining together, the region is fracturing into rival political, economic and security blocs. is a regionwide arms race and great-power politics inevitable?
yu (tony) pan, research fellow at anbound research center:
power politics is becoming more prominent in today's global affairs. the question is, why? our argument for this is that we believe we are stepping into a "de-globalization" period, which happened during the 1930s as well. as the direct consequence of the current direction is instability, conflict management may be the biggest issue of our time.
the u.s.-china confrontation is not only a matter of geopolitics, but clearly involves identity and ideology issues, the clash between authoritarian and democratic regimes. beijing clearly is not the majority, which means most asian countries will tend to incline toward the u.s. -- and that is bad news for beijing.
with the rise of great-power competition between the u.s. and china, many countries that depend on the u.s. for security and china for trade are having to choose a side. how is the rest of asia reacting to a new era of geopolitical confrontation?
yu (tony) pan:
because most asian countries want to keep the current level of stability, provided by the u.s. after the cold war, if the u.s.-china confrontation goes too far and gives actual risk of a conflict, asian countries will begin to act independently.
japan is the anchor-point of the u.s. alliance system, but when the u.s. and china relationship began to free fall in around 2017 and 2018, then-prime minister shinzo abe of japan began to try to rebuild the sino-japanese relationship. japan doesn't want to be a battleground of the u.s.-china conflict. what abe was trying to do was to make a balance between china and the u.s., and pursue japan's own interests.
the dispute between china and india is mainly an ideology or identity issue, as the relationship was previously in a good trend, and the border area does not represent any material interest. if you gain massive support from nationalist groups like prime minister narenda modi, you certainly cannot concede in a territory dispute, which makes india unwilling to back down from border clashes. the same thing is happening in china right now. the confrontation on the india-china border could last quite a long time.