The world has for long held the West as the quintessential midpoint of its entire attention. Terms like ‘Westernisation’ are used synonymously with modernisation so as to depict a country’s advancement whatever that be with regard to the West. However, it’s high time to view the world from Asian point of view, and to be able to do so, decades of purposefully cultivated bias against Asia needs to be done away with.
Asia has become a system – one that is bound together not only by geography but also by the forces of diplomacy and war – whose components need not look outside for trade and investment, but only within. Be that as it may, unlike with Europe, the case with Asia has been different – in that the former has always been hailed as a ‘system’, while the latter has never been. 500 years of colonialism and then decades of being shadowed by the Cold War’s clouds left Asia fragmented, and shifted the world’s attention to Europe. But not any longer. Asian countries trade and invest more in one another than in Europe or North America for that matter, and have surpassed all other regions in production and export, and import and consumption.
Asia is now home to several of the world’s largest economies, most of the world’s foreign exchange reserves, many of the largest banks, several of world’s leading industrial companies, a lion’s share of the world’s biggest armies, ten times as many people as Europe and twelve times as many as North America. It accounts for 60 percent of the world’s population which, no matter how huge, will find Asia contributing more to it than the rest of the regions put together.
The strength of Asia is such that it contains half of the world’s largest countries by land area, including Russia, China, India, and Kazakhstan. As per a renowned scholar of geography Harm de Blij, Asia is a megaregion stretching from the Sea of Japan to the Red Sea; majority of the world’s 20 most populous countries, including China, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Japan, the Philippines, and Vietnam; and some of the wealthiest countries in the world on a per capita income basis, such as Qatar and Singapore.
Issues such as trade, infrastructure and capital flows are no longer dealt via the involvement of an entity outside of Asia. Diplomatic bodies have been established that coordinate, govern and regulate all such issues. One example is the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) that has 97 members. Another is the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) that if finalised will emerge as the free-trade area of global significance both with regards to GDP and trade volume.
Asian states now know how to manipulate U.S. arms sale to Saudi Arabia, India and Japan, which much to its content have incremented rapidly, but what remains obscure to it is that such high percentage of defence spending only means that it will sooner or later be pushed out of the region (as we see China do) – or to the minimum, dependence over it will by and large be curtailed (as we see happening in the case of South Korea).
The U.S. for the Asians no longer remains a hegemonic entity, but one that only provides services. As already stated, the merging together of Asia as a system means that it no longer relies upon the U.S. for the provision of security, capital and technology. Consequently, the countries it is home to have taken it upon themselves to provide these services to each other.
The dependency of U.S. corporate markets on Asia has only been skyrocketing over the past few years from Amazon to Apple to myriad others. The expansion of energy supplies from the Arctic, Russia, Central Asia and Africa is taking place. These states are now investing in more ‘alternative and renewable energy sources such as natural gas, nuclear power, solar power, wind power, and biomass’ than before. And despite the U.S. dollar still being the world’s main reserve currency, Asian states have set about carrying through more trade than ever in their own currencies, ‘as well as shedding some of their dollar reserves’.
Known as the equivalent of the United Nations, the World Bank and the Marshall Plan put together, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is the biggest diplomatic project of the 21st century. There’s however a slight difference: the BRI was conceived in Asia, launched therein and will be led by its people.
The economic zone of Asia now represents 50 percent of global GDP spreading from the Arabian Peninsula and Turkey in the west to Japan and New Zealand in the east, and from Russia in the north to Australia in the south. Furthermore, it amounts for two-thirds of global economic growth. The middle-class consumption growth between 2015 and 2030 is estimated to be $30 trillion, to which Asia will contribute $29 trillion. Only $1 trillion is expected to be rendered by the Western economies of today.
Samuel Huntington in his Clash of Civilizations contending the unrivalled diversity of Asia wrote that ‘most of the world’s central zones are Asian – Hindu, Buddhist, Sinic, Islamic, and Japanese – and much of the Orthodox realm is as well’.
In short, the ‘Asianization of Asia’ has now become the talk of the room.
But here lies the crux of the main problem. The most substantial misinterpretation filling the Western thought about Asia is it being exaggeratedly ‘China-centric’. The fact that China’s debt is mounting, its demographics becoming overly perturbing and foreign competition incrementing ever so hastily delineates that China has its own problems to worry about. On top of that, global attention now seems to shift towards the ‘younger and collectively more populous Asian subregions, whose markets are far more open than China’s to Western goods’.
Asia is more than just ‘China plus’ – in that China only has one-third of Asia’s population, less than half of its GDP, about half of its outward investment, and less than half of its inward investment.
The analyses put forth by some of the most prominent Western authors have been rather ahistorical for the reason that therein China hasn’t only been described as the centre of the Asian universe, but also as the linchpin of the future of the global system. The fact, however, is that the rise of Asia predates China, as it is not only a single nation’s story, but that of reciprocally buttressing bonds. The biggest story in the world today is not the rise of China, but that of the entire Asia as a whole.
When we think about Asia and its economy, all that our talks blanket is China and its rapid economic growth. What we snub is that the Asian economic miracle set about with Japan immediately after WWII. Its industrialisation and modernisation propelled it to become the world’s second-largest economy in just around two decades. With this commenced stage 1. Stage 2 however was the inspiration that the ‘tiger economies’ – South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore – drew from Japan, the latter being the first in the region to take the lead.
Napoleon once mouthed about China: “Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.” It undeniably has woken up, but not all by its own. Around 40 years ago when the process set about, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea were the largest non-state investors in China, that – conjoined later by the latter – being the region’s most important capital exporters, helped elevate the developing Asian countries with respect to infrastructure, industry and technology.
Amid such circumstances, for Pakistan not to limit its reach – whether that be diplomatic or with regards to trade – to China has become inevitable. China has its own problems to deal with. The ongoing U.S.-China trade war, it is being said, ‘may get worse before it gets better’. This doesn’t mean that China will be drained of its entire resources and dynamism in the region owing to the trade war, but it does mean that it will not be able to pay as much attention to its neighbour as it has done ever so kindly in the past. Pakistan’s ‘China-first economic model’ needs myriad alterations. Pakistan and China may be ‘iron friends’, but regardless of it, the former needs to broaden its horizon.
As per an encyclopaedic National Human Development Report (NHDR) brought forth by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) back in May this year, Pakistan presently has the largest population of youth ever transcribed in its entire history of 70 years. It is the second-youngest country in South Asia, only after Afghanistan. In short, we are potentially the country that can provide the world with the workforce to help transform it. The role that China played in the last generation, could be ours in the next provided that we don’t let this unrivalled asset go to waste. But for this purpose, we need to find markets for our youth. Singapore and Hong Kong are two such examples that hold immense potential. Japan too owing to all the technological advancement both possesses and offers myriad opportunities.
These countries are strengthening their bonds with India, and if we are to beat our neighbour at its game, we need to shift our attention to the former. It will be but naivety not to consider India as a technologically advanced country. Resultantly, the onus is on us to ascertain that we do whatever is in our capacity to at least match it, if not overhaul it.
Iran is another option Pakistan should pay heed to. The fact that it’s rich in oil makes it all the more inevitable for us to strengthen our ties with it. The recent visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan is a reassuring sign that the future might have positive things in store for us pertaining to Pak-Iran relations.
That said, the order of today has become very multipolar and multicivilizational, and to not give ear to it or to turn back from it can never be in our interest. ‘Asianization’ does provide us with countless opportunities, but not without challenges. How will the current wave of geopolitical, economic, technological and social renovations be dealt with in Asia? Will mixed capitalism, social conservatism, and technocratic governance remain a magic formula, elevating those societies that have not yet adopted it? How will the Western and other such powers that have been undermining Asia for decades, respond to its rapid rise and growth? These are some of the challenging questions that loom large, but it is said that with challenges, come opportunities, and we have to be ready for them before we’re caught napping.
The writer is a Research Officer at Emerging Policymakers’ Institute (EPI), an Islamabad based youth-led think tank.
E-mail: [email protected]
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