In recent years, the term “Asian century” has created a lot of buzz among geopolitical circles. From think tanks to eminent global trend analysts, everyone is forecasting the rise of the east. So what exactly is an Asian century? In a nutshell, “Asian Century” depicts the economic and political dominance of Asia, predominantly India and China, in the 21st century. Historically, it’s nothing new. India and China were once the two largest economic and cultural powerhouses in the world. It is the past couple of centuries that saw the augmentation of the west at the cost of the east. China was humiliated by Western countries and Japan, following a century of humiliation. India, on the other hand, became a colony of Britain and other western powers for around 200 years.
After bearing invasions, loot, and humiliation, India and China are still the rising economies. And that’s the reason why the concept of the Asian century is the talk of the town. In this regard, Deng Xiaoping said when he met Rajiv Gandhi in 1988: “Unless China and India are developed, there will be no Asian Century. No genuine Asia-Pacific Century or Asian Century can come until China, India, and other neighbouring countries are developed. But not everything is rainbows and sunshine. The Asian century is very far ahead. In this article, we’re going to talk about the emergence and challenges of an Asian century.”
EMERGENCE OF THE ASIAN CENTURY
Asia, the world’s largest continent, is home to 4.7 billion people, or 59.76% of the entire global population. Today, Asia is the centre of geopolitical and geoeconomic affairs. Looking at the global economic trajectory, the centre of gravity of economic activities in the 1980s was the mid-Atlantic. By 2008, the centre of gravity had shifted towards the east of Helsinki. And now it is said that by 2050, it will be shifted between India and China. Even today, 3 out of the 5 largest economies in the world lie in Asia. And by 2030, China and India are set to become the first and third largest economies in the world, respectively. This economic trend, coupled with the decline of the west, has propelled the notion that we are entering an “Asian Century”.
GLOBAL ECONOMIC OUTLOOK BY 2030
The two major pillars of the Asian century will be India and China, with India currently being the fastest-growing economy and China the manufacturing hub. They will be supplemented by other emerging economies like Vietnam, Indonesia, and Bangladesh. In fact, according to global bank Standard Chartered, by 2030, the world’s 10 biggest economies will be made up largely of today’s current emerging markets. The driving force behind the rise of Asian countries is going to be their rising population of middle-class consumers. Asia, home to more than half of the world’s population, will soon house half of its middle class.
As incomes and living standards rise, so too does the demand for upscale goods and services. In terms of purchasing power parity (PPP) , China has already surpassed the US. India on the other hand stands at third position, is also breathing down the U.S.’s neck. Japan stands at 4th position in terms of PPP. Indonesia, too is predicted to become the world’s sixth-largest economy in PPP terms by 2023.
Also Read, Pakistan Narrative War Against India.
CHALLENGES TO THE ASIAN CENTURY
Asia is plagued with territorial disputes. Unlike the west, where every country has well-delineated borders and is recognised for its territorial sovereignty, Asia falls behind. These territorial disputes are considered the major roadblock to the realisation of an Asian century. Economic prosperity can only manifest in a peaceful and stable environment, and without stability, Asia could never rise. Many analysts argue that it is these border conflicts that give the US an opportunity to maintain its influence in the region. Playing on this vulnerability, the US succeeds in roping many Asian countries into its fold and thus maintaining its hegemony. It’s a classic “divide and rule” policy of the west. But the US is not the only one to blame for it; China is also the major reason for a divided Asia. China’s expansionist policy is what hinders Asia’s true potential.
INDIAN PM CRITICISING CHINA’S EXPANSIONIST MINDSET
China shares borders with 14 countries and has territorial disputes with all of them. These countries include India, Nepal, Bhutan, Vietnam, Brunei, the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, Laos, and Myanmar. It’s fair to say China is the single largest root cause for all territorial disputes in Asia. Even the Indian PM criticised China for its expansionist mindset after the deadly Galwan border clash in 2020. In the Galwan clash, China lost around 40 soldiers and India lost 20 of its bravehearts. Before this, China had a Doklam dispute with India and Bhutan in 2017. China even lost a territorial dispute against the Philippines in the ICJ regarding the South China Sea. China is also engaged in a dispute with Japan regarding Senkaku Island, where China frequently sends its ships to challenge Japan’s rightful claim.
It is because of China’s hegemonic designs that smaller countries have had to depend on the US for their protection. This also causes a deep trust deficit, which is detrimental to a united Asia. And a divided Asia is favourable to western dominance. Today, it’s the need of the hour for Asia to resolve its disputes, respect each other’s sovereignty, and strive for prosperity. And this could only happen with an integrated approach coupled with a high degree of trust and cooperation.
Apart from territorial disputes, Asia is also a hotbed of nuclear conflict. Asia is home to four nuclear-armed nations: India, China, Pakistan, and North Korea. Among these four countries, only India and China follow a “no first use” policy. Pakistan and North Korea, on the other hand, are irresponsible and rogue in nature. Pakistan and North Korea both attained nuclear power illegally by stealing nuclear technology from other countries. A.Q. Khan, the father of Pakistan’s nuclear program, stole nuclear technology and was called the merchant of menace. He was even arrested on charges of selling nuclear technology to other countries. Even today, President Biden calls Pakistan the most dangerous country due to its irresponsible and unreliable nature regarding nukes. Pakistani leaders have time and again made unwarranted decisions about using nukes against India.
Moreover, the biggest fear of the world is terrorists nurtured and sheltered by Pakistan getting hold of nuclear technology. It’s no secret that the Pakistani establishment has been in bed with various terrorist outfits around the world. Another headache for Asian stability is North Korea. Like Pakistan, North Korea has time and again threatened its neighbors, Japan and South Korea, with the use of nukes. North Korea is used by China as a proxy to keep Japan and South Korea in check. China also played a crucial role in arming North Korea by supplying critical nuclear technology. Recently, North Korea tested its nuclear ballistic missile, which went over Japanese territory, causing a panic situation in Tokyo. Now it’s a no-brainer; there can be no integrated economic initiative that could kick off in such a suffocating nuclear-armed environment. Such an atmosphere keeps every country on its toes, thus barring economic progress.
In conclusion, it is clear that Asia will increase its economic influence, but this will largely be an individual growth rather than a regional one. Furthermore, it appears unlikely that Asia will experience an Asian century in the future given the continent’s internal faultlines. On the other hand, if Asia is to realise its “century,” China must abandon its expansionist mindset and be a revisionist. Along with American influence, internal conflicts among Asian nations and a lack of cooperation and trust between China and India are impeding Asia’s rise to global domination. It is still unclear, though, if Asia genuinely wants to enter its “century” or maintain the status quo.