Asianization

ILLUSTRATION BY STUDIO TIPI

Parag Khanna is the author of The Future Is Asian, from which this essay is adapted.

Forecasts of Asia’s rise to global preeminence go back two centuries to Napoleon’s alleged quip about China: “Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world.”

Nearly a century ago, in 1924, the German general Karl Haushofer predicted a coming “Pacific Age.” But Asia is much more than the countries of the Pacific Rim. Geographically, Asia stretches from the Mediterranean and Red seas across two-thirds of the Eurasian continent to the Pacific Ocean, encompassing 53 countries and nearly five billion people – only 1.5 billion of whom are Chinese. The Asian century will thus begin when Asia crystallizes into a whole greater than the sum of its many parts. That process is now under way.

When we look back from 2100 at the date on which the cornerstone of an Asian-led world order began, it will be 2017. In May of that year, 68 countries representing two-thirds of the world’s population and half its GDP gathered in Beijing for the first Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) summit. This gathering of Asian, European and African leaders symbolized the launch of the largest co-ordinated infrastructure-investment plan in human history. Collectively, the assembled governments pledged to spend trillions of dollars in the coming decade to connect the world’s largest population centres in a constellation of commerce and cultural exchange – a new Silk Road era.

The Belt and Road Initiative is the most significant diplomatic project of the 21st century, the equivalent of the mid-20th-century founding of the United Nations and World Bank plus the Marshall Plan all rolled into one. The crucial difference: BRI was conceived in Asia and launched in Asia and will be led by Asians.

Over the past four decades, Asians have gained the greatest share of total global economic growth and Westerners, especially middle-class industrial workers, the least – a trend driven by the rise of manufacturing in Asia. Billions of Asians growing up in the past two decades have experienced geopolitical stability, rapidly expanding prosperity and surging national pride. The world they know is one not of Western dominance but of Asian ascendance.

Asians once again see themselves as the center of the world – and its future. The Asian economic zone – from the Arabian Peninsula and Turkey in the west to Japan and New Zealand in the east, and from Russia in the north to Australia in the south – now represents 50 per cent of global GDP and two-thirds of global economic growth. Of the estimated $30-trillion in middle-class consumption growth estimated between 2015 and 2030, only $1-trillion is expected to come from today’s Western economies. Most of the rest will come from Asia. Asia produces and exports, as well as imports and consumes, more goods than any other region, and Asians trade and invest more with one another than they do with Europe or North America. Asia has several of the world’s largest economies, most of the world’s foreign-exchange reserves, many of the largest banks and industrial and technology companies and most of the world’s biggest armies. Asia also accounts for 60 per cent of the world’s population. It has 10 times as many people as Europe and 12 times as many people as North America. As the world population climbs toward a plateau of around 10 billion people, Asia will forever be home to more people than the rest of the world combined. They are now speaking. Prepare to see the world from the Asian point of view.

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