Thursday, May 8, 2008

Rivals: Asians Against Asians Or Asian Union?

Bill Emmott, a former editor of The Economist and a longtime Asia-watcher, says in his recently published book "Rivals" that China will continue its remarkable rise for years to come. But he thinks that a modernizing India and a resurgent Japan could end up jostling for supremacy in Asia, pitting "Asians against Asians." A balance-of-power politics could evolve resembling Europe's in the 19th century.

Talking about the Bush administration's growing ties with India, Emmott says the US recognize the fact that while Al-Qaeda and its cohorts pose the biggest short-term and perhaps medium-term challenge to America, in the long term it is the expected shift in the world’s economic and political balance towards Asia that promises to have the greatest significance.

Economists at Goldman Sachs estimate that if China continues with pro-growth policies and manages its economy reasonably well, it could overtake the United States as the world’s biggest economy by 2020. By 2050 India might also have overtaken the United States if it pursues vigorous economic reforms in this decade and beyond. India, at present the world’s 11th-largest economy, has long been thought of as a laggard compared with China: good at information technology and outsourcing but incapable of the sort of manufacturing that has powered China’s economic emergence.

Even if the dates and figures in forecasts such as Goldman’s are wrong, Asia is going to get richer and stronger, probably for a long time to come. The reason why Tibet and Tata come into the picture is that the rise of Asia is not just going to pit Asia against the West. It is going to pit Asians against Asians. This is the first time in history when there have been three powerful countries in Asia at the same time: China, India and Japan. That might not matter if they liked each other or were somehow naturally compatible. But they do not and are not. Far from it, in fact.

An array of disputes, historical bitternesses and regional flashpoints weigh down on all three countries. Conflict is not inevitable but nor is it inconceivable. If it were to occur – over Taiwan, say, or the Korean peninsula or Tibet or Pakistan – it would not simply be an intra-Asian affair. The outside world would be drawn in.

Such a conflict could break out suddenly. Last month’s unrest in Tibet has shown just how volatile China can be – and how easily one of those flashpoints could cause international tension.

If the Asians can manage their relations peacefully, it will not only help China make a successful transition to the world's great superpower, but a strong Indian performance might succeed in lifting people out of poverty throughout the whole subcontinent, including Pakistan and Bangladesh. The self-confidence that such an outcome would foster would make it easier for the three main powers to work together and, with the rest of Asia, to create a true single economy along the lines of the European Union.

What cannot be in dispute is that the outcome matters enormously. The catastrophic decisions that European nations made a century ago are still within our folk memory. The world still lives with the consequences of the First World War. We have to hope that Asia, now in some ways at a similar stage of development, manages to cope with its tensions better than Europe did.

Times Online
Wall Street Journal
The Independent

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