Globalist Analysis

Asia’s Place in 21st Century Global Governance (Part I)

Can Asian countries come together effectively in the international arena?

Read Part II here.

Takeaways


  • Indonesia, India and China feature among the most corrupt nations, according to Transparency International. Korea is in a different league, though among OECD countries it ranks as one of the most corrupt.
  • The South Korean government is investing $40 billion over a four year period with a view to creating 960,000 "green jobs."
  • Managing diversity has been a huge challenge for India and Indonesia, and both have met it reasonably successfully, albeit with some dangerous flash-points.
  • The four economies differ considerably. Korea is a member of the rich nations' club, the OECD. China, India and Indonesia are low income countries with huge (and generally poor) rural sectors.
  • In the words of Kishore Mahbubani, we are witnessing the rise of "the new Asian hemisphere," which implies "an irresistible shift of global power to the East."

The global center of economic gravity has been moving steadily towards Asia for the last three decades, a trend intensified by the current crisis.

In the words of Kishore Mahbubani, we are witnessing the rise of "the new Asian hemisphere," which implies "an irresistible shift of global power to the East."

Asia's rise has brought into question the current global institutional framework and highlighted the imperative of reform. There is little sense, however, of what more Asia-oriented global governance would look like. Insights might be gleaned from the recently established G20, especially as it is likely to replace the G7/G8.

Current full membership of the G20 includes: five Europeans (France, Germany, Italy, the UK and the European Commission; two Eurasian nations (Russia and Turkey); five from the Americas (Canada, US, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina); one African (South Africa); one Oceanic (Australia); and six Asians (Japan, Korea, India, Indonesia, China and Saudi Arabia).

For the purposes of this article, Japan can be put to one side. Despite recent doldrums, it remains a formidable economic entity — but it is also an established 20th century power and not an emerging 21st century power. Though geographically in the "far East," it has been a close ally of the West for over a century.

All of Japan's alliances have been with Western nations — Britain from 1902 to 1922, Germany and Italy during World War II, and the United States since World War II.

At the other Asian extreme, its "far West," Saudi Arabia, can also be put aside. Saudi identity is mainly as an Arab nation. Though in recent years there has been a growing Asian-Arab investment arc, Saudi Arabia is otherwise not actively engaged in Asian affairs.

This leaves us with Korea, India, Indonesia and China (the KIICs) as arguably the forerunners of what a future, more Asian system of global governance could look like.

What can one say about the KIICs?

Three (China, India and Indonesia) are geographically and demographically huge, together comprising over 40% of humanity. By force of sheer size, they would seem to deserve a place at the global table. Korea, on the other hand, is a medium-sized nation with a population of 48 million.

All four are successful economies. Korea, Indonesia and China are among the 13 economies identified by the United Nations Commission on Growth as having maintained an average annual GDP growth rate of 7% for 25 years or more since 1950.

Though India has been a comparative laggard — with high growth having only been generated since its reforms in the early 1990s — on the present course it should be joining this august group in the next few years.

The four economies differ considerably. Korea is an advanced/high income economy as classified by the IMF and World Bank, and is a member of the rich nations' club, the OECD. China, India and Indonesia are low income countries with huge (and generally poor) rural sectors.

China is emerging as both the world's largest trading and manufacturing nation, totally dwarfing India and Indonesia. India is a global leader in information technology. Korea is one of the world's leading trading nations, and is an important source of inward investment in all three countries.

In cultural/religious terms, Korea is predominantly Buddhist, albeit with one of Asia's largest Christian minorities (30%). India is predominantly Hindu, with a strong Muslim minority (over 10% of the population) and other religious communities.

Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim nation, but with roughly 15% of the population comprised of religious minorities, including Christians, Buddhists and Hindus. Lastly, China is "Confucianist-Communist," but with important religious minorities that experience diverse degrees of suppression.

Ethnically, Korea is a quite homogenous nation, and China is predominantly Han-Chinese at 92% of the population. However, both India and Indonesia are among the most heterogeneous countries on the planet.

Managing diversity has been a huge challenge for both nations and both have met it reasonably successfully, albeit with some dangerous flash-points.

Politically, India has been a democracy since independence in 1947. Both Korea and Indonesia have democratized peacefully from military dictatorships: Korea since the late 1980s, and Indonesia since the late 1990s.

Along with Saudi Arabia, Indonesia is the only predominantly Muslim country on the G20. It is also one of the infinitesimally few predominantly Muslim countries that is democratic.

China is what is termed a "Market-Leninist" state, combining an open market economy with a closed Leninist form of political dictatorship. There are hardly any vestiges of Marxism, let alone Maoism, in China — under the previous president, Jiang Zemin, even bourgeois entrepreneurs were brought into the Communist Party.

In all four countries (as well as in the other two Asian G20 members, Japan and Saudi Arabia) the death penalty is permitted. According to Amnesty International, in 2008 China, Saudi Arabia and the United States accounted for the highest number of global executions.

Indonesia, India and China feature among the most corrupt nations, according to Transparency International. Korea is in a different league, though among OECD countries it ranks as one of the most corrupt (but less so than Italy!).

China, India and Indonesia are heavy emitters of greenhouse gases and are recalcitrant on climate change issues. They are more likely to delay than accelerate the agenda. Korea, on the other hand, appears proactively engaged in meeting the next great challenge of its development.

Not only is it investing heavily in multiple new engines of "qualitative" (welfare enhancing) and sustainable (low carbon) growth, but it also has a very ambitious and commendable green agenda, known as the "Green New Deal". Climate change mitigation and sustainability are the top priorities of its current five-year plan. The government is investing $40 billion over a four year period with a view to creating 960,000 "green jobs."

This is a region of the world with numerous geopolitical fault-lines. Both India and China are nuclear powers, with the former having not yet signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). South Korea lives under the constant menace of North Korea and has a strong American military presence.

All four have border issues with one or several of their neighbors that could deteriorate into acute tension or indeed outright conflict, depending on the circumstances.

For instance, India has been at war with two of its neighbors, Pakistan and China. For China, there is the Taiwan question. And then there is one of the most dangerous situations: The simmering dispute between China and Japan over what the former calls the Diaoyutai Islands and the latter the Senkaku. This territory is claimed by both and prized by both for its energy resources.

In terms of relations between the four: Korea was historically a "vassal state" of China, and they share a number of cultural affinities, notably Confucianism.

South Korea has significant and close economic ties with China, infinitely more so than the North. But in the geopolitical game, North Korea remains an ally of China. Korea has traditionally had no ties with India or Indonesia, nor does it have any particular cultural affinities with either.

India and China have had relations over the millennia, though in recent decades there has been a good deal of rivalry and mutual suspicion between the two. Cross-border trade and investments, however, are booming, and there are attempts at building a sturdier bilateral political relationship.

Ties between Jakarta and Beijing have been quite distant. In fact, for several decades, not only were there no diplomatic relations between Jakarta and Beijing, but Chinese imports were forbidden — as was anything that carried Chinese written text. However, there is a small (3.5% of the population) but economically powerful Chinese minority in Indonesia.

India was a big influence historically on Indonesia, though it waned long ago. In the 1950s their respective heads of government, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sukarno, were active in the creation of the non-aligned movement. Today both nations are closely, even if informally, allied to the United States.

Editors Note: This is the first of a two-part series. Read Part II here.

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About Jean-Pierre Lehmann

Jean-Pierre Lehmann (1946-2017) was emeritus professor of international political economy at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, and a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. [Switzerland]

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