|While the US and Europe waste their time and energies tilting at al-qaeda windmills, the Asian powerhouse forges ahead....|
Globalist: The roar of a new Asia is on the global horizon
Roger Cohen International Herald Tribune
Wednesday, April 13, 2005
HONG KONG The war on terror has obscured the fundamental strategic shift of the past decade: the emergence of China and India as rapidly growing powers that have thrown off their complexes, patched up their own relations, embarked on a buying spree and made talk of the Asian century persuasive.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to speak of the countries' re-emergence. In 1820, China accounted for about 30 percent of the global economy and India about 15 percent. The United States then weighed in with less than 2 percent. But by the 1950s, America was dominant and China and India accounted for only about 4 percent each of world economic activity.
Today, the two Asian countries' share of that activity has risen to close to 20 percent between them, and the graph points sharply upward. Indians are looking east for economic opportunity. Intra-Asian trade is growing much faster than trans-Pacific trade and Japan now exports more to China than to the United States.
The numbers turn the head. In China, 250 million to 400 million people have been lifted out of poverty as the economy has opened. India and China account for about 40 percent of the world's working-age population. China is talking of quadrupling the size of its economy by 2020; it could have the world's largest by 2030.
"Things have changed forever," said John Thornton, a former president of Goldman Sachs and now professor of global leadership at Tsinghua University in Beijing.
Yes, they have. While America took on Iraq, and Europe mulled its constitution, and France debated the 35-hour week, Asia has been booming, driven by growth rates in two giant countries that would make Europeans swoon. Asia hums while America worries and Europe sleeps.
But the Asian party is not all sunshine - and the shadows are not merely those of the widening gaps between rich and poor or the environmental depredations in China that send a yellow smog wafting through the genteel residences of Hong Kong's Peak district.
No, the deepest shadow is that of regional insecurity. Taiwan, North Korea, rising nationalisms, disputed histories and contested islands form a heady brew. The danger looming over Asia reflects the failure to match rapid economic growth with the growth of regional institutions to ensure the stability on which the money-making is based.
Indeed, a senior American official in Seoul argued that the region's only true multilateral institution is the U.S. military, with its large bases in Japan and South Korea and its strong relationships with many of the region's armed forces.
That is an exaggeration. It also tends to gloss over the fact that uncertainty about the security "architecture" the region should embrace results in part from America's hesitation about how to respond to the rise of India and China and its neglect of Asian issues other than fighting terrorism.
There is a broad sense in Asia that APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), the 21-member trade organization of which the United States is part, has been allowed to drift by the Bush administration or been seen only as a means to get messages across about fighting Islamic radicals in Indonesia.
Concern is also spreading that America tends to see Asia with what Yu Xintian, a professor at the Shanghai Institute for International Relations, called a "zero-sum or cold war mentality," one that seeks to play one power off against another and is wary of regional alliances that exclude the United States.
In response, Asians have set in motion the creation of an embryonic equivalent to the European Union, the East Asian Community (EAC), whose birth would be symbolized by the first East Asia summit meeting in Kuala Lumpur in December.
The EAC would seek to build on the achievements of Asean, which comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, by adding the economic giants China, Japan and South Korea and bolstering cooperation in the economic and security spheres.
But the composition and very idea of the EAC, the first broad Asian regional grouping encompassing China that would exclude the United States, is controversial. "It's a mistake," said Richard Holbrooke, a former United States ambassador to the United Nations. "Exclude America and you damage relations across the Pacific."
Of course, America's concern that the EAC would soon become China's plaything would be eased if the Malaysia summit meeting included invitations to Australia, New Zealand and India. The former two countries are firm American allies; the latter is seen as a counterweight to China.
U.S. allies including Japan, supported by Indonesia, are pressing for these countries to attend the summit meeting that will birth the EAC, but the issue is not resolved. "We don't want the United States to see the new architecture as exclusionary or tailor-made for China," said Marty Natalegawa, the Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman.
Other countries, however, including Malaysia, see the likes of Australia as U.S. Trojan horses. They want Australia to first sign the Asean nonaggression treaty, but that might conflict with Australia's U.S. defense pact. China, as ever, is playing its cards carefully, while supporting the EAC idea. "America should welcome a peaceful and prosperous East Asia community," Yu said.
Yu is right. The train has left the station as far as the building of an overdue East Asian Community is concerned. Institutions seldom hurt and sometimes help.
Any organization that bolsters Asian dialogue when the growth of China and India are so unsettling and the threats to regional security are so acute should be welcomed in Washington. America will be troubled by the EAC, as it has been at times by the EU, but a more cohesive Asia at peace is in its interests.
At the same time, the nascent EAC should be inclusive. One thing about India, Australia and New Zealand is they will balance China. Another thing is that they are all democracies. The EU has served to spread democracy. Over decades, an EAC including these countries may even do the same.