The projection of the Asian Century is rooted in the dominance of diverse culture, sundry politics and widespread economy of Asian States. Credence in a future Asian Century is embedded in the rise of Global South. If we examine the current trends and indicators of power transformation, multi-polarity seems to be unfolding its crests. The transformation of 21st century into the Asian century will mirror the transfiguration of the 20th century into the American century.
The rise of Asian States and power diffusion from West to South are indicators of the reconfiguration of the 21st Century. The gross domestic product (GDP) of the South, which represented about 20 percent of world GDP between the early 1970s and the late 1990s, doubled to about 40 percent by 2012, with China alone responsible for 12 percent of global GDP. The share of the South in global GDP is expected to reach 55 percent by 2025, according to the World Bank’s Global Development Horizon report of 2013.
Intriguingly, upon inquiry into the dynamics of the Rising South and the Asian Century, we find that the North is no more in position to be called the Center of the World. In the international arena of global trade, the developed North which is G7, and the Western Giants do not hold the position that they’ve held in these previous decades. Meanwhile, in the wake of global transformation, several Southern countries including not only China but also Brazil, India, Russia, South Africa, and Turkey have shifted and become central to the global trade network. China will now provide the ladder for greater development through configuring its own models like Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), Asian Development Bank, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and BRICS.
The emerging Geo-Strategic and Geo-Economic scenarios will profoundly impact the Asian Century. Taking into account the geographical proximities of Asia, it is hard to generalize the Asian structure like we do the European Union or the United States of America. There are also no common Asian values which could harness and yoke the states of Asia. Moreover, the slackening grip of Russia on Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan has resulted in their improved relations with China. This will encourage the development of the New Silk Road.
India is the world’s biggest democracy, while Indonesia is the third biggest democracy in the world and Asia’s second biggest. Unfortunately, India which is posed by several authors to be the Asian Tiger has South-North divides. The gap does not concern just one factor but is about the unequal distribution of resources between the two poles. The affluent of India are living in the Northern parts and 54% of the concentrated wealth of India is in their hand. While the South Indian economy is based on remittances which comes from the Middle East. This nexus between north and south can aggravate simmering social, economic and political tensions. The biggest democracy in Asia is entrenched with such disreputable issues and it could snub regional growth as well. Asian governments can help nip this spreading disparity by producing enhanced circumstances for the private sector to take the lead on economic growth, continuing to stimulate economic broadening, and by spending on social services, healthcare and education, and transportation networks that will present more opportunities to more people.
The move towards Asian Century necessitates that the stakeholders take a fresh look at their roles in addressing the hotbeds of conflict and providing an impulse for inter-regional harmony parallel to economic growth. There is no doubt about drastic positive changes in Asian economies, but glorifying it by terming it the rise of the Asian Century might defy reality. These strong economies can indeed build up the giant bloc and replace the center of the world but they need to be equipped with inter-regional harmony, convergence of interests, and strategic partnerships with respect to lowest proximity among states to ensure regional security complex. Asian states lack in communication; they need a forum for dialogue and cross-fertilization. Moreover, Asians should study their reciprocal histories, cultures, literature and socio-economic dynamics in order to replace the vacuum left by the Northern Bloc towards the centre of the world. Western scholars strive to globalize western education as Samuel P. Huntington said in “Clash of Civilization”. Asian states need to globalize eastern education. Most Ph.D. Scholars enrolled in American Universities are Asians and if they return to Asian states, it could bring gradual change in eastern education.
Furthermore, in case the biggest democracy of the world (India) and the second largest economy in the world (China) become economic dynamos, they will not be in the position to dominate global politics the way the United States did in the 20th century. The core reason is the shortage of resources in Asia as compared to resources available to the US in the 20th Century. According to recent HDI index, the graph of World’s population hit seven billion and it will touch the height of 10 billion in midcentury which will eventually be the predicament of the Asian Century Mantra. Asian political leaders must reject the western consumption-driven model of economic growth. In its place, they must create economies where the use of resources is constrained via true evaluation of environmental externalities.
In retrospect, from the beginning of recorded history, Asia has held the cards to economic dominance. In 1820, the continent was dealing about 60% of total global output. This was followed by two centuries of economic decline once the western industrial revolution filled the vacuum. Hence calling this century the Asian Century is wrong; it is actually the “Return of the Asian Century”. We are in the transition phase where the world is shifting from mono-civilization to multi-civilization. Asia’s challenges remain arduous, and its future prosperity, however inevitable it might seem, must be earned. Wise moves and right policy decisions on part of the continental economies could indeed hold the cards in our favor and make this the Asian century, but this is not unsusceptible to interference.
is a lecturer at the Muslim Youth University. He has done his M.Phil from the National Defence University, Islamabad. Ousama writes on contemporary issues related to foreign policy and security.