Rivals: Misconceiving Asia

Asia-300x272 Achin Vanaik in For Liberation:

The mass of recent literature on the ‘rise of Asia’ largely focuses on the implications of this development for the West. [1] It rarely stops to consider the impact on inter-relations between the Asian states themselves. In Rivals, ex-Economist editor Bill Emmott attempts to correct this by examining the cases of China, India and Japan, and argues that the interaction between the three will decisively influence the shape of the coming world order. As he points out, their triple coexistence as major powers represents a historical novelty. In 1820, when China and India between them accounted for almost half of world output, Japan remained a relative backwater, its modernizing drive of the Meiji period lying decades in the future; by the 1930s, when Japan had become a full-fledged industrial and military power, China was impoverished and riven by warlordism, while India groaned under the British yoke. The headlong economic development of the prc and steady growth in India over the past decades suggest that the two Asian giants will join Japan among the top five national economies in the world.

Yet this very process is creating ‘disruptive transformations’ that will profoundly alter the economies, societies and polities of the states in question, Emmott argues, potentially raising new tensions between the three. Rising prosperity has brought commensurate expansion of Chinese and Indian global ambitions. The coming years will see intensifying competition over resources and markets, not least in the battle for Burmese oil and gas fields. In addition, Emmott sees an incipient arms race developing, in a region littered with potential flashpoints. As well as territorial disputes—over Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh in the case of China and India, and over the Senkaku and other islands in the case of China and Japan—there are further sources of tension in Tibet, Taiwan, the Korean peninsula, Pakistan and Kashmir, which the deteriorating world economic outlook will likely only heighten. Emmott proposes a ‘plausible pessimistic’ scenario: China’s bubble-prone economy enters a deep recession, accompanied by rising social protests; the ccp tightens its grip with increased recourse to nationalism, amplifying regional tensions through displays of truculence. With Japan too bolstering its military, Taiwan might become the cause of a ‘short, exploratory exchange of fire’ that could also draw in the us.