Kerry Brown, Asian Review of Books/UPI Asia Online - 05/09/2008
Over the last few years, people have trotted out the platitude that the 21st Century will belong to China. Bill Emmott, former editor of The Economist, and someone who has been based in many countries in the region, and knows them intimately, rightly points out that when you simply say that the Asia region will have a profound impact on the course of the coming century, you are coming much nearer to the likely truth. There are problems, which he rightly discusses early in his energetically written book, about what the word Asia actually means. Originally used by the Ancient Greeks about anywhere east of the Mediterranean, it now embraces an area that contains about a half of the world´s population, and extends over its two most populous countries, India and China, and the second and third largest economies, Japan and China. A sense of Asian identity within these countries is almost impossible to pin down. One of the key problems Emmott identifies is that Japanese, Chinese and Indians think of themselves primarily in terms of nationality. With the vastly different political models, cultures and economies, a sense of regional integration is a grand aspiration, and at best a long way off. Maybe it is simply impossible.
Emmott looks at the dynamics of the relationship between India, China and Japan. This is a novel combination. Plenty of ink has been spilled on China and India, and India and Japan, but linking the three together is far less common. Doing so comes up with some startling comparisons. Japan, despite years in the doldrums, is still a larger economy than India and China combined. India, with a GDP of USD 1 trillion, will take decades to catch up with China, and shows real weaknesses in education and alleviation of poverty. China is hidebound by the lack of transparency of its one party system, despite its careering economy.
Does Japan offer a development model to these two aspiring super power newcomers? Certainly, its evolution into a democracy where one party exercises de facto complete political control is attractive to China. And its shift from being a low end manufacturing for exports under Post war Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida towards being a technology and brand leader is exactly the thing both India and China are aiming for. But how much can they learn from Japan´s battles with reforming its internal bureaucratic system, and the painful transformation of its once mighty construction and heavy engineering industries? And does a model for a country of 120 million people, who, after all, had been amongst the earliest in the region to embrace industrialisation and modernity in the late 19th century really carry across to two hugely more populous, larger, and less easy to manage and control countries?
To say there are issues between these three is a big understatement. One Japanese interviewee in Emmott´s book simply declares that Chinese and Japanese relations have always been characterised by one thing, for centuries -- mutual hate! India, with its experience of colonialism, may well have embraced China as a Third World partner in the 1950s, but that honeymoon was rudely shattered by the wars in the early 1960s over border territory between the two, issues that remain outstanding and unresolved to this day. Pakistan, the ultimate destabiliser, North Korea, and Taiwan, all add plenty of potential flashpoints. Each one Emmott looks at, and assesses the likelihood of conflict over. He also looks at the other smaller but no less contentious issues of islands in the South China Seas.
As he admits, the benign scenario will see that, by 2020, India, Japan and China will, between them, be the world´s largest market, the largest economic entity, and a force for global prosperity and good. The worst case scenario is that any of the many flashpoints above will set them against each other, and drag in some of the many, and deep, historical animosities and resentments that they hold against each other, escalating into regional, and possible global, conflict. His conclusion though, is quietly optimistic. There have never been stronger and better links between each of these countries, and they have never been more deeply integrated into the global economy. At a time of deepening gloom and daily predictions of breakdown and turmoil, this book shows that, at least for three of the world´s major powers, a few simple steps like allowing some of them a stronger role in the UN and G8, and reforming the architecture of global multilateral forum, would go a long way to ensuring that we reach 2020 with the benign scenario, rather than find we get dragged there exhausted and in turmoil.
Kerry Brown is Associate Fellow, Chatham House, and author of Struggling Giant: China in the 21st Century (Anthem Press).
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