Getting Asia on the Global Stage
Why must Asians demand that global institutions be more open to their participation, ideas and leadership?
February 28, 2011
In the face of the global crisis, Asians have continued to focus on efforts at the national and regional levels, giving these more attention than global institutions. By and large, Asians have been regionalists — rather than globalists looking for global solutions to global problems.
This preference is shaped in considerable part because they have not found global institutions effective or responsive to their needs.
In the Asian crisis, the IMF was seen by Asians as unhelpful and indeed counterproductive. Thus, the crisis of 1997 sparked Asian regionalism as Asians sought a way of dealing with globalization and problems resulting from their interdependencies.
Even as global institutions, such as the IMF, institute reform that enhances Asia’s role, Asians have continued to focus more on their own regional processes. The crisis that began in 2008 has fanned intra-Asian efforts to bring the region closer together to cooperate for regional fixes to the global mess.
In pushing forward with the G20, a key issue is how this will relate to the region. Asian participation has undoubtedly gained from the G20. Only Japan was a member of the G7.
In the G20, the Asians include China, Indonesia, South Korea and India — as well as Australia and a rotating seat for the ASEAN chair. Yet, while significant numbers of Asians are represented in the G20, the organization has no established mechanism to link it to regional institutions in Asia.
Would Japan accept Chinese leadership? While China’s economy has overtaken Japan’s, the latter remains much richer per capita and has an array of global companies with sophisticated organizations and technology. And while India’s economy is approximately one quarter of China’s, it aspires to be an equal.
Such questions will resonate as Asians start to ponder global questions such as the alternatives to the U.S. dollar, with the contest between the Japanese yen and the Chinese yuan and the possible alternative of a common Asian currency. Similar contests would apply to any number of questions among the G20 and its Asian cohort.
The questions of economics that need to be dealt with are not purely rational. They are inherently political, part of the geoeconomics of power that applies to globalization in Asia. To focus on power in Asia will also probably sharpen differences. Rivalries among the Asian members of the G20 will simmer and could boil over.
In this, the United States — as the country that led the building of the post-World War II and post-Cold War world — has a key role to play. More than any other country, the United States can and has served as a mentor and lead partner for Asians.
For Asia to think and begin to act more globally, the links between Asia and the United States must be strengthened. The United States has already reached out to Japan, in the post-World War II period, to build up its former enemy and pave the way for its reentry into the global community and emergence as one of the world’s largest economies.
Similar mentorship can also be seen in the American relationship with China. It was the United States, for strategic reasons, that reached out to China during the Cold War and switched recognition from Taiwan to the mainland.
This paved the way for Beijing to be in the UN Security Council as a permanent member, the only Asian country with that prestige and power. It was the United States that, albeit with tough conditions, ushered China into the WTO.
And it has been American consumption of Chinese and Asian products that in the pre-crisis period backed so much of the region’s export-driven growth and industrialization.
The United States is once again taking the role of mentor in articulating the expectation that China’s rise be coupled with a role as a responsible stakeholder in the global system.
But rather than pushing ahead with the idea of a G2 focusing only on China, the United States needs to reach out to others in Asia — individually with India and Japan and also to the rest of the region collectively — encouraging and enabling these countries to come up to the global level.
In this, Asian regionalism can play a role in helping bottom-up processes for global governance to supplement the top-down tendencies of the G20.
The U.S. effort to reach out to ASEAN, begun in the first year of the Obama Administration with the inaugural U.S.-ASEAN Summit, is a first step. So are the efforts to reach out to Asia even more broadly through APEC and the East Asia Summit.
The Asian regionalism that is rising can be influenced by the United States to be more cognizant of global concerns. Thus, even as Asia-alone processes continue, these are less likely to go off in an exceptionalist direction, rejecting universal values and norms.
Asian countries’ relationship with the United States will instead broaden out their perspectives so that they too can be stakeholders in the global system from which they have benefited.
In the wake of the crisis, even as the world economy remains uncertain ahead, Asia’s rise seems to have been strengthened. Getting Asians on the global stage will therefore become more and more necessary in the management of global issues.
The G20 — and the greater number of Asians involved in that group of large and powerful countries — is only a beginning. Asian regional processes must also be tapped and allowed to link up to the global community.
Only then can Asia’s rise be matched with global needs and challenges and Asians find and fill their place on the global stage.
Rather than accepting being talked down to, as they experienced with the IMF and others in the 1997-98 crisis, Asians must insist on a larger say and stake in these institutions. Asia must act as global.
Asian regionalism can play a role in helping bottom-up processes for global governance to supplement the top-down tendencies of the G20.
For Asia to think and begin to act more globally, the links between Asia and the United States must be strengthened.
It was the United States, for strategic reasons, that reached out to China during the Cold War.
The United States needs to reach out to others in Asia — individually with India and Japan and also to the rest of the region.
Simon S. C. Tay
Chairman, Singapore Institute of International Affairs Simon S. C. Tay is chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, a leading independent think tank in Asia. He is also associate professor of international law at the National University of Singapore, at both the Faculty of Law and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. […]