By Erhard Crome
[This article published on Jan 6, 2020 is translated from the German on the Internet, Zukunft Asien | Linksnet.de.]
The shift of the center of gravity of the world economy to Asia in the 21st century is the defining process of the development of international relations. Strictly speaking, it is not only about the erosion of the power of the USA, but about the decline of the West as a whole. EU-Europe is part of it. The political scientist Parag Khanna said more than ten years ago that there were three imperial centers in the world: the USA, China and the EU. The further development in the world depends on how they succeed in binding the other parts of the world to themselves, in creating zones of influence and in dominating them permanently (Parag Khanna: The Struggle for the Second World). This is just another form of the idea that in the world of today there is a "concert of powers". Here, at least Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa would have to be added, which also exert influence more or less emphatically in their respective regions.
At that time, Khanna lived in the USA. He has since moved to Singapore, which he sees as the "unofficial capital of Asia" that "epitomizes Asia's potential." His theme now is the "Asian future" of the world. In his view, the rise of Asia is not identical to Chinese domination. For example, Russians and Australians should stop thinking of themselves as "white Asians" just because they are "descended from European ethnic groups." Asia stretches from the Mediterranean and Red Seas across two-thirds of the greater Eurasian continent to the Pacific Ocean - it includes 53 countries and has 4.5 billion inhabitants, of whom only 1.4 billion are Chinese. Nevertheless, Khanna dates "the cornerstone of an Asian-led world order" to 2017, when leaders of 68 countries from Asia, Europe and Africa - representing two-thirds of the world's population and half of the world's GDP - met for the first summit of the China-inspired Belt and Road Initiative. This summit he calls "the launch of the largest coordinated infrastructural investment plan in human history," comparable only to the creation of the United Nations and the Marshall Plan after World War II. But neither the world as a whole nor Asia was drifting toward Chinese domination, he said.
Historically, China - unlike the European powers - was not a colonial power. And the Belt and Road Initiative, he said, is not aimed at China dominating Asia, but at China being rooted in Asia and wanting to reduce its dependence on non-Asian suppliers. Crucial to the current intellectual-political situation in the world are the contrasting experiences of the past decades. Western elites see their political, economic and social values challenged. These include: "the failure of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the mismatch between the financial economy and the real economy, the inability to integrate Russia and Turkey into the West, and democratic societies hijacked by populists."
"American Generation Y has grown up with a war on terror, declining middle incomes, increasing racial conflict, indiscriminate gun violence, and political demagoguery. European youth are struggling with economic austerity policies, high unemployment, and politicians who are out of touch with their citizens." In Asia, by contrast, billions of people "who have grown up in the last two decades have experienced [...] geopolitical stability, rapidly rising prosperity, and swelling national pride. The world they know has nothing to do with Western dominance, but with Asian supremacy.
"This means that without a power center, without a compacted pan-continental treaty network, without a unified culture and without shared values, Asia has become a system of countries "linked not only geographically but also by forces of diplomacy, conflict, and trade." Its members "are all sovereign and independent, but at the same time strongly interdependent in economic and security matters." It "is formed by alliances, institutions, infrastructure, trade, investment, culture, and other patterns."
The "combination of economic growth, geopolitical stability, and technocratic pragmatism [has] given rise to Asia's own ideas about world order." Asia's "major powers have maintained stable relations with each other despite historical tensions. "The role of the United States, then, should be viewed against this backdrop. Its elites still think Asia is just waiting for them to tell them what to do. "But from an Asian perspective, the past decades have been marked by George W. Bush's incompetence, Barack Obama's half-hearted measures and Donald Trump's unpredictability." The U.S. has failed to develop a comprehensive strategy toward Asia. An "Indo-Pacific maritime strategy" is seen as an antidote to China's Belt and Road Initiative, but this ignores Asian realities.
"For all their differences, Asian countries have recognized that their shared geography represents a far more enduring reality than the unreliable promises of the United States. The lesson is that the United States is a Pacific power with a strong presence in the Asian seas, but it is not an Asian power. "Khanna's conclusion from this assessment of the situation is therefore that "the further one looks into the future, the more clearly Asia appears as what it has been for most of its history: a multipolar region with myriad self-conscious cultures that are evolving largely independently of Western policies while coexisting constructively." A West with self-confidence and vitality "would not impede Asia's resurgence" but would promote mutual cooperation. However, this would also require the external policies of the EU and Germany to be fact-based, interest-driven, and pragmatic, and to finally refrain from the lecturing occidental "values" claptrap. A "global society" is emerging, but it must not be morally oriented "to the views of an absolutely unrepresentative group": "Western, educated, industrialized, and rich democracies." "Europe derived great power and huge profits from colonizing Asia, Asia has grown amazingly because of American and European outsourcing, and now the United States and Europe are propped up by infusions of Asian investment and talent. This is the true nature of the global system, not multipolar competition." Anyone who wants to understand the world today should read this book very carefully.
Parag Khanna: Our Asian Future, Rowohlt Verlag, Berlin 2019, 494 pages, 24.00 euros.
International Asian Future Asia Belt on Road Initiative China Parag Khanna
Erhard Crome, born 1951, Dr. rer. pol. habil.; consultant for peace and European policy at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation;editorial member of the journal Berliner Debatte Initial.