Asia’s Place in 21st Century Global Governance (Part II)
Will Asia emerge not only as the center of economic gravity, but also as a center of genuine global governance?
- There is reason to believe that Asia may emerge not only as the center of economic gravity, but also as a center of genuine global governance.
- A number of tensions and fault-lines between the Asian states hinder the prospect of an Eastern alliance comparable to the Western alliance of the last 60 years.
- In both the Cancún and the subsequent 2005 Hong Kong ministerial, Korean rice farmers engaged in militant demonstrations. One committed suicide in Cancún and one drowned in Hong Kong Harbour.
- The West did not always practice what it preached, but there was nevertheless a reasonably clear "mission statement."
South Korea, India, Indonesia and China — as is the case for the rest of the continent — should share a common interest in trade.
All four are strongly dependent on foreign trade and would suffer considerably in protectionist global market economy. And all four are members of the WTO.
India was actually a signatory member of the GATT, Korea acceded in 1967 and Indonesia joined in 1986 when the country undertook a deep program of economic reform.
China applied for membership of the GATT in 1986 and after 15 years of painstaking negotiations (which were interrupted for a while following the Tiananmen massacre in 1989) it finally acceded to the GATT's succeeding institution, the WTO, in Doha, Qatar, in 2001.
China, India and Indonesia have, at least on the surface, been allies in the arena of the Global South in its campaign versus the North.
In the WTO trade ministerial meeting in Cancún, Mexico, in September 2003 (which was meant to be a half-way mark to concluding the Doha Round) China and India along with Brazil and South Africa, formed what was initially known as the G-22, of which Indonesia was a member. This was supposed to be the group that would confront the North's bullying and unfair tactics and policies.
Korea was not part of the Northern alliance, known as the Quad, comprising Canada, the EU, Japan and the United States. Instead, it joined a smaller grouping, known as the G10, which includes smaller but generally advanced economies, such as Switzerland and Taiwan. They have a common aim in resisting agricultural trade liberalization.
In both the Cancún and the subsequent Hong Kong WTO ministerial meetings in 2005, Korean rice farmers engaged in militant demonstrations. One committed suicide in Cancún and one drowned in Hong Kong Harbour.
However, in spite of their interests and in spite of their undoubted clout, whether for demographic or economic reasons, neither China, nor Indonesia, nor Korea have been especially influential or pro-active in the course of the Doha Round negotiations.
In contrast, India has been hyper-active and highly influential, though generally — or at least such is the perception in Geneva — as an obstructionist. Indeed the consensus view is that the United States in the North and India in the South are the main obstacles to a conclusion of the Doha Round.
Though there has been a possible warming of relations between the two countries on trade following their respective elections, this has as yet had no impact on Doha, nor is it generally expected to.
Western dominance since WWII has resulted in the mission of spreading democracy, respecting human rights, promoting the rule of law domestically and internationally and fostering an open global market economy. The West did not always practice what it preached, but there was nevertheless a reasonably clear "mission statement."
At the moment, it is not clear what the Asian KIICs might share as a common mission, or indeed as common values.
Assuming that the G20 remains the de facto centre of global governance, as the successor to the G7, Korea, India, Indonesia and China will be the key players of the new Asian hemisphere.
As the second decade of the 21st century approaches, however, the scene is reminiscent of a Pirandello play. We know who the actors are, but we (and they!) have no idea what is the script.
There are many scenarios for the future of the planet as globalization and global governance shift to Asia.
One is the "clash of civilizations" concept made famous by the late Samuel Huntington and embraced by a number of opinion leaders in both East and West. That thesis is not, however, the most persuasive.
As has been explained, while the centre of economic gravity may well have shifted to Asia and will continue to do so, there is no perceptible Asian "bloc" emerging — nor an "Eastern" counter version to the "Western" system of global governance.
There is no strong bond uniting the four KIICs. Things look even more tenuous when including the other two Asian players, Japan and Saudi Arabia.
A number of tensions and fault-lines between the Asian states hinder the prospect of an Eastern alliance comparable to the Western alliance of the last 60 years.
Another scenario could be a state of lawless anarchy as the Western system disintegrates without any re-integrating principles or force to replace it.
Yet another scenario, would be that the Asian powers gradually absorb and becomes the main custodians of the "Western" system. The Western system of post-World War II global governance has rested on the principles enunciated in the Atlantic Charter co-signed by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in 1941.
By 1991, as the Soviet system disintegrated and countries pretty much throughout the world, notably in Asia, underwent major reforms, the Atlantic Charter can be said to have become practically universal.
A central thesis in Kishore Mahbubani's book, cited above, is that the West is no longer living up to its own principles, hence, as power shifts to the East, this is in good part due to its implementation of "Western principles." When Greece declined as a state, Hellenism lived on for centuries and spread to many neighboring emerging civilizations, including Rome, Persia and the Arabs.
In a recent article in the Financial Times, Mahbubani and former Massachusetts Governor William Weld further re-enforce the point by asserting that Asia is most likely to be the custodian of the open global market economy and its Atlantic Charter-based governance architecture. After all, as the authors point out: "Asian economies only began to perform well when they accepted and implemented Adam Smith's theories of free-market economics".
This is the most optimistic scenario and possibly the most likely to evolve after a period of turbulence and uncertainty. It will not arise from deep philosophical musings, but from a recognition on the part of Asian leaders that doing so is in their best enlightened self-interests.
But very much depends on other events. While economic power is shifting to Asia and the Asian middle class is rising, there are formidable dark clouds hovering above the silver lining.
Nuclear proliferation in Asia is clearly a big and very real menace. As recent terrorist events in Mumbai and Jakarta, among others, remind us, there is an explosive political element at work. In spite of the rising middle class, there is also a huge amount of poverty. And there is the monumental issue of climate change that hinges on the actions that Asian economies are willing to take.
It is by no means all gloom and doom. There is reason to believe that Asia may emerge not only as the center of economic gravity, but also as a center of genuine global governance.
However it is important to remember that scenarios do not evolve into reality because of some deus ex machine. It is not "things that happen", but people who make things happen.
For the most desirable scenario to become reality, both Atlantic and Pacific thought leaders will need to work very hard to make it happen.
Editor’s Note: Read Part I of this series here.