Started6 years ago
What prospects are there for a bona fide Asia-Pacific Community in the next decade or two?
The prospects of an Asia-Pacific Community are rather dim in the next decade or two. Heterogeneity in terms of geography, historical experience, religion and culture and governance, among others characterize the region. Suspicion rather than trust define the interaction among nations in the region. Unsettled territorial claims, complicated by artificial boundaries which were a legacy of colonialism, and contestation over resources have often brought nations in the region in to loggerheads. The region is characterized by conflict rather than by cooperation. The areas where cooperation or positive interaction –trade to give an example – does take place are rather limited.
Though the region has shown its hospitability to concepts such as cooperative security and multilateralism, institutionalization of the same has either been slow or in some cases produced dysfunctional structures. In many cases sensitivity involving sovereignty and non-interference norms continue to stifle cooperative initiatives.
On the positive side, the Asia-Pacific region would experience substantial strides in trade and growing interdependence with institutions like the East Asia Summit, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership featuring more nations of the region joining these initiatives with a growing trade and commerce. However, in terms of political-sovereignty disputes and resources contention, the region would remain plagued by conflicts that would be intractable. In summation, the Asia-Pacific would be a region of high economic growth, economic interdependence, high-octane arms race, yet the aspirations of political integration would be slim.
Asia’s Strategic Triangle
Asia’s destiny will be shaped by China, India and Japan whose strategic footprint will cover the world. Armed conflict between the Asian giants would perturb world order while mutually advantageous cooperation could provide much-needed ballast for global prosperity. China and India come together in the BRICS grouping and have led the way in bringing to fruit the idea of a new development bank and a China-dominated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. India and Japan, building on carefully cultivated personal relations among Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe, are actively exploring avenues for fruitful collaboration.
As the dominant political and economic power in Asia–Pacific, how China develops domestically and behaves internationally are among the two most critical questions for the future. Because of the sweeping expansion of its comprehensive national power, China has seen an exponential increase in its weight in the global economy, in Asian and global power balances, and in regional and global governance institutions. US President Barack Obama’s Asia “pivot, announced while he was in Australia three years ago,” was in truth a China pivot. Since then, while US attention has been diverted to Europe and the Middle East, Japan, Russia and the Southeast Asian countries have been busy reorganizing their foreign policies around the central principle of a rising China.
If China is able to sustain its course for another decade or two, its rise will alter the architecture of the international system in profound ways, some of which could prove deeply unsettling. But it is neither a status quo economic power like Japan which resisted the geopolitical shift from the G8 to the G20; nor a fully revisionist power like India in that Beijing jealously guards its privileged permanent position in the UN Security Council against the claims of both Japan and India. As this suggests, a significant coalescence of interests among all three of China, India and Japan is unlikely over the next couple of decades. There are as many interest and values dividing them as uniting them, and so they are unlikely to lead any major movement towards unifying Asia as a voice and bloc in world affairs. Indeed the lack of an overarching architecture of political dialogue and security consultation will likely ensure that the Western powers will continue to play them off against one another for the foreseeable future.
Asia in Asia-Pacific
There is no dearth of arguments that the twenty-first century clearly belongs to Asia. As Japan continues to be significant, sustained economic growth and technological advancements are helping two Asian states – China and India- to gain the great power status though the nature and the pace of the same varies. If the trend continues, it would reverse hundreds of years of dominance of Europe and North America in world affairs.
The emergence of Asia would encompass several dimensions in terms of growing economies, maturing political orders and a fast growing middle class. Equipped with better education and training, this class would provide a competitive workforce for the industry, soldiers for the military and leadership for the state.
However the ascendance of Asia is not going to be without challenges – given the inherent inadequacies in the organic capacity of the regional states to deal with the adverse consequences of demographic transformation and to ensure equity. Moreover, the challenges of internal conflicts and terrorism could erode the capacity of the regional states to provide such public goods as human rights and human security. This in turn could test not only the regime legitimacy and survivability of the states in the domestic context, but also their engagement with the broader international community.
Asians have managed to compress into 50 years the industrial revolution that the West took 200 years to accomplish. China and India now spearhead this growth in the region. Economic expansion of the Asian giants also provides large opportunities for other economies in the region. Asians have become less dependent on agriculture and extractive enterprises shifting to manufacturing and services. Fastest-growing consumer markets, expansion of business activity beyond borders and greater scientific and technological advancement have now made Asia the focus or driver of international economic dynamism.
A buoyant economy also provides strong incentives to countries like China and India to modernize their armed forces not only to replace obsolete equipment but also to acquire force projection capabilities.
However, the conditions necessary to maintain this high economic growth might not last indefinitely. This could happen due to changes in demographic patterns or by other socio-political and cultural challenges. A massive growth of population and imbalances in the same in terms of age and sex would have impact on demand for resources including energy, social security such as old-age pension and health care and access to clean water sources, among others.
In many countries, the prevailing system is not geared to meet the changing condition of an aging population. Many countries follow an “anti-aging remuneration policy” in employment in order to create employment for the young. The countries with high aging population would need to move away from the traditional labor based industrial development to “brain service industries,” but this is not happening at the right pace.
Besides, a high rate of economic growth has not necessarily been ensuring high income for all. In fact, even with massive growth in the economy and an overall improvement in the living standards, the per capita income in most countries in Asia do not compare to those of the Western countries. Despite declining real food prices and expanding world trade, there would be little improvement in food security for the poor in many countries of the region. Thus, countries in the region would still be dealing with issues of equity in income and development.
At present, the region ranks very high in terms of propensity for both intra-state and inter-state conflicts. Internal conflicts could make multi-ethnic societies essentially fragile, leading to social disintegration. Terrorism and internal conflicts could also significantly increase the security costs associated with international commerce, encourage restrictive border control policies, and adversely affect trade patterns and financial markets in growing economies.