Yoichi Funabashi. Foreign Affairs. Volume 72, Issue 5, November/December 1993.
Asia has at long last started to define itself. Asian consciousness and identity are coming vigorously to life. Western nations are increasingly impressed by the economic power and political gravity of the region. But Asia’s success in the far-ranging and relative terms of global competition should not obscure those forces, in internal and absolute terms, now authoring a cohesive Asian worldview. The emerging Asian worldview is not one of imperialist pretensions, ideological fervor, totalitarian paranoia or superpower hubris—those ideas are viewed as retrogressive approaches that fractured the region for most of this century. The Asian consciousness is animated by workaday pragmatism, the social awakening of a flourishing middle class and the moxie of technocrats, although still tinged perhaps by anticolonialist resentment, racism and indifference to civil liberties.
This new Asian identity has social, cultural, economic and political implications. After decades of reserve on the international stage, Japan is now poised to assume a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, which would raise its diplomatic profile and influence. Efforts by Indonesian President Suharto to sustain and rejuvenate a post-Cold War version of the Nonaligned Movement bespeak a regional confidence and desire for autonomy. So does the conflict between Asia and the Western nations at the U.N. convention on human rights this year in Vienna. It made some participants, like Singapore Foreign Minister Wong Kan Sen, realize the extent of their Asianness for the first time. A few Asian nations, including Japan and Korea, supported the stand for universal rights taken by the United States and European countries, but India and the Philippines, two Asian democracies, were among those who argued that human rights must be considered in the context of the right to economic and social development. Charges of human-rights violations presented by other countries, they argued, were attempts to intervene in their domestic affairs. Most Asian political leaders maintain that the most desirable mode of democratization emerges spontaneously from economic growth, which sparks political consciousness among a middle class.
The Elusiveness of Unity
Whenever unity seemed ascendant in the Asian world, history intervened. The splendors of 13th-century Asia recounted by Marco Polo were destroyed when they were plundered and exploited by Western colonial powers. In the 20th century the fleeting dream of “Asia as One” entertained by the Japanese expansionists was shattered by the Allied victory in 1945. At Bandung, Indonesia, soon after the end of World War II, a framework for solidarity among the nations of Africa and Asia was created, but the union, based on reactionary anticolonialism and anti-imperialism, was frail, as the China-India border clashes in the early 1960s illustrated. In 1964 China became a nuclear power. The passing of Nehru, champion of peace and harmony in Asia, sounded the death knell for solidarity among the have-nots. The same year Japan joined the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, solidifying its alliance not only with the West but with he nations of the North. Whatever semblance of unity Asia might once have had was destroyed.
In the decades since, Asia has been little more than a geographic concept. In the U.N. bureaucracy, the definition of Asia (or rather the lack of definition) can be seen in the composition of the Asian Group, which includes nations from Yemen to Papua New Guinea to Mongolia. Japan, which once dreamed of being the leader of Asia, was passed over in favor of Bangladesh in the 1978 election of nonpermanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Almost all the nations of Asia voted for Bangladesh.
During the Cold War, the wars waged by proxy on behalf of the United States, the Soviet Union, and China on the Korean Peninsula, in Vietnam, and in Cambodia tore Asia apart. Nominally regional organizations such as the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization and the Asian and Pacific Council, both now terminated, gave more attention to Cold War ideology than to Asian unity. Since the end of the Cold War, some political commentators have suggested that Asia is being rediscovered or “re-Asianized.” On the contrary, the spirit of these times is predominantly affirmative and forward thinking, not reactionary or nostalgic. The region is not being “re-Asianized;” it is being Asianized.
Some call attention to the remarkable economic development in the “chopstick area”—Japan, China, Korea and Vietnam—dubbing it a “common civilizational area” and seeing it as the basis for future regional development. Singaporean Minister for Information and the Arts George Yeo has remarked, “In an era of ‘soft’ nationalism, this shared emotion facilitates political and economic cooperation.” Yeo believes that a distinctively Asian civilization, which carries on the traditions not only of Confucianism, but Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism, is being born.
The economic vitality and interdependence now forming in the region have given Asia confidence. The days when the United States sneezed and Asia caught cold are over. Now, as Malaysian Vice Minister of Trade Chua Jui Meng boasts, even a higher fever in America will not make Asia cough. Interest is growing in Asian models of economic development. Several tenets of international organization exemplified by the Asian Development Bank are now seen as distinctive to the Asian region: economic development premised on political stability; emphasis on education, infrastructure, agriculture light industry and exports; and democratization muffled and deferred to suit the progress of economic development. Philosophical and theoretical fameworks are forming around these models.
In the private sector, models are rapidly being developed of ” “Asian multinational corporations,” which use Japanese quality-control, management style and technology. At a factory in the suburbs of New Delhi, the Japanese automaker Suzuki and the Indian government have launched a joint venture to manufacture a car, the Maruti, for the mass market. Unlike workers at other New Delhi factories, the entirely Indian workforce, from the factory manager to the janitors, wear matching uniforms and lunch together in a huge dining hall seating 2,000, a common scene in Japan. Asian corporate culture is starting to exert its equalizing effects.
Meanwhile, the cultural links between the middle classes of various Asian countries are strengthening through the power of electronic communications technology. Asia, which lacks a common heritage of aristocratic classes and culture, has increasingly become a hotbed of middle-class globalism. The Hong Kong-based Star Television Network was quick to create an Asia-wide entertainment network. On its broadcasts, top-selling Thai or Japanese singers croon the hit songs of Hong Kong and Guangdong. Under pressure from StarTV, Indian Public Television has fought back by broadcasting Japan’s hit drama series, “Oshin,” now shown in 30 countries, most of them in Asia. A Japanese children’s cartoon whose popularity is now exploding in Vietnam is “Doraemon,” about a group of contemporary children and their robot playmate. It is an optimistic, amusing portrayal of unassuming, middle-class children entranced and befuddled by futuristic technology. Pirate editions of the cartoon book have been best-sellers in Vietnam and Thailand.
Self-discovery in Asia has historically occurred in the process of continuing the European-American challenge, and a similar psychological dynamic seems to be at work today. The EC’s steps toward a single-market “fortress,” and U.S. steps toward a “North American Greater Co-prosperity Sphere,” have caused concern among Asian nations. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s call to form an exclusive East Asian Economic Caucus is not so much a strategic concept as the crystallization of Asia’s defensive stance against these moves in other parts of the world. Moreover, the defensive origin of his concept means that it will survive—regardless of its name, rationale or value in strategic bargaining and negotiations.
Yet regional awareness in Asia does not derive from reactive a attitudes. Asia’s “Asianization” is paradoxically the result of the globalization of its economy and media. As Asian nations phase out the special relationships they have had with former colonial powers and integrate with the global economy, they are starting to see neighboring countries as trading partners, providers of investment opportunities and competitors. Australia’s moves to dissociate from Europe and join Asia were motivated in part by Britain’s joining the EC and the fading of the Anglo-Saxon protective presence in Asia after the fall of Saigon, but a more fundamental motive is that 70 percent of Australian ports go to Asia and the Pacific. The value of Australia’s exports to the ASEAN nations alone exceeds its exports to either the United States or the EC. This is not a result of Australian regional policy, but of the vigor of the Asian economy.
China, which received a shot in the arm in the 1970s from its neighbors’ rapid economic growth, shifted radically toward internal economic reform and liberalization in the 1980S. Its engagement in the world economy has produced a borderless network of Chinese merchants in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asia. The Chinese Economic Area, consisting of China, Hong Kong and. Taiwan, now boasts a trade volume surpassed only by the United States, Japan, Germany, France and Britain. The CEA is not based on a regional agreement; its expansion is prompted solely by the market. Struggling to adjust to the unexpected opening of the Chinese economy and the decline of its oil revenues, Indonesia has already liberalized terms for overseas investment. Socialist China’s shift to a market economy has encouraged Vietnam to follow suit, and the walls dividing ideological and political systems in Asia are gradually coming down, albeit in a different way than in Europe and Eurasia.
Fending for Themselves
The new regional consciousness in Asia also stems from changes in traditional security attitudes and frameworks. Since 1990 diplomatic ties have been established between Russia and South Korea, and China and South Korea, and China has entered into diplomatic relations with Indonesia, Singapore and Vietnam. India has strengthened ties with Southeast Asia. Japan now funds financial assistance to Russia. The civil war ended in Cambodia and nation-building efforts have begun. The sit of the Japanese emperor Akihito to China in the fall of 1992 would not have been possible without this newly created political and diplomatic context. All these new developments indicate a near-unanimity among Asian countries on the eventual disengagement of the U.S. military from the region.
Asian countries are now more readily consulting each other and discussing political and security issues. They deal realistically, not ideological: with these new international circumstances. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations Post-Ministerial Conference is now sponsoring a multilateral forum for dialogue on regional security, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, though still a fragile forum for exchange of opinion, could develop into a substructure for promoting economic cooperation as well as political deliberation.
Asian security cannot be considered separately from the regional economy. Most Asian nations are former colonies or protectorates, and their independence was gained through economic and societal development. They have a strong tendency to think of security not simply in military terms but as a synthesis of military, economic, technological and social strengths. This tendency will grow further with the perception now evolving that economic and technological power will become increasingly important. The new view of security is also encouraged by Japan’s emergence as a global civilian power. Following Japan’s footsteps, South Korea and Taiwan are emerging foreign-aid donors, and Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand are likely to contribute by the end of the century. Each of these nations will use economic, technological and developmental assistance as diplomatic tools to strengthen their own security and buttress regional security.
The growing self-confidence of Asian nations has brought with it the desire to expand their political influence abroad. Peace in Cambodia, as a result of the U.N. Transitional Authority’s settling refugees, election monitoring and supporting the formation of the new Cambodian government generated widespread belief that ‘Asia can solve its problems not only in the economic realm but also in politics and security. Cambodia, remarked former Indonesian foreign minister Mochtar Kusuma-Atmadja, demonstrated that Asia’s problems should be solved by Asians. Commitments by the United States and France, as permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, were crucial in the Cambodian peace process, so this sort of remark must be taken partly as a regional pep talk. Nevertheless, there is a feeling among Southeast Asian nations that interference by the big powers was the root of Cambodia’s troubles. Asian nations are developing an awareness of their identities as regional players, a change they are eagerly pursuing.
Success and Envy
A hate-filled conflict between ethnic and religious groups like those found in the Balkans and the Caucasus has thus far been avoided in Asia. The lid long kept on similar emotions and power relations by ideological control under the Cold War system has somehow been held in place by economic growth, but it is not the miracle cure for all maladies. In some areas economic growth has actually weakened the cohesion of Asian societies.
Over the last two years in India, policies promoting economic liberalization have undermined the delicate balance of social forces long maintained by the caste system and secularism. In China, the prosperity brought to coast areas by rapid economic growth is leaving the inland provinces further and further behind. In Indonesia, economic growth has promoted a “politics of envy” as its Chinese population flourishes by building on its traditional commercial base and exploiting the indigenous pribumi people. Government attempts to use the Muslim element to counter this opposition could upset the delicate balance between religion and the state.
The political and social structures of these three giant developing countries are vulnerable to identity crises of this kind. Within each there are dangers of population explosion, environmental destruction and mass exodus of refugees. Tensions may also heighten between the Confucian, Hindu and Japanese civilization spheres, as political scientist Samuel Huntington suggested earlier this year in his article, ” “The Clash of Civilizations.” This might mean a struggle between Japan and China over control of the Korean Peninsula and Indochina (especially Vietnam). Cultural strains might also spark confrontation between India and China over hegemony in Tibet and Myanmar.
Is Realpolitik Inevitable?
Perhaps more ominous is the possibility of geopolitical struggles between such maritime nations as Japan, Indonesia, Australia and the Philippines on the one hand, and China and Central Asia on the other. Should China fail in its pursuit of national prosperity through coastal development, a Chinese “Monroe Doctrine” could regain momentum, with China building a coastal “Great Wall” closed to maritime Asia and splitting the region.
On the other hand, should China succeed in its coastal development and decide to use Hong Kong, soon to revert to Chinese sovereignty, as a base for military advance to the South China Sea and then to the Pacific and Indian Oceans, tensions would inevitably emerge between China and maritime Asian nations. China is expected to become a net oil importer next year and to depend on the Mideast for oil for a fairly long time. Concern for the protection of its sea lanes for oil transportation would be a natural outgrowth of this dependence. This could make China realize the importance of cooperating with other countries and cultivating economic interdependence. China could also, of course, revert to unilateralism and build a blue-water naval capability. In the latter case, maritime nations’ resistance to China would surface. Those nations may also contemplate plans for joint development at, say, the Makassar Strait off Indonesia, as an alternative to the Strait of Malacca between Malaysia and Sumatra.
Even if such an apocalyptic scenario does not develop, Asia’s growth into a cohesive community depends on whether or not Japan, the United States; and China can cooperate on an equal footing. Triangular relationships, by their nature, reduce international relations to a zero-sum game: any of the three powers is apt to suspect the other two of colluding to augment their bargaining power. A triangle made up of China, with its despotic government and closed economy, Japan, with its ambiguous policy decision-making process, and the United States, with its tradition of playing China and Japan against each other could be a dangerous one (reminiscent of the “Three Kingdoms” of ancient China, which were constantly at each other’s throats). The fact that the nature of power differs among the three makes it more difficult for each to understand the other’s intentions and capabilities,
Whether a can play a constructive role in building a post-Cold War economic order depends on whether it can further strengthen the multilateral, free and nondiscriminatory international trade system and open market economy. Japan’s responsibility in this endeavor is considerable. It must reform its exclusive economic and social structure and revise the political and administrative system that has sustained it.
Accomplishing that would strengthen the economic and trade ties among Asian nations that lead to deepened global interdependence and facilitate worldwide economic development and growth. Japan’s longtime obsession with an East-versus-West view of the world, and the definitions that worldview subsumes, will gradually fade with integration into the world economy. If Japan does not change, Asia may find itself a prisoner of Tokyo’s economic hegemony or caught in a web of economic collusion between Japan and China.
Another urgent task is to bring China into the GATT and familiarize it with international rules. Failing to do so could allow the Chinese economic sphere in South China and Southeast Asia to grow into an increasingly exclusive “backyard” of the Chinese economy, a potential breeding ground for discord between Japan and China over economic interests in the region. China must not be isolated. It must be incorporated into a multilateral security framework.
The Importance of Being Asian
The asianization of Asia—increased intra-Asian ties and cooperation—can strengthen the new world order. The region’s dynamic growth, emerging middle class, gradual democratization, self-help discipline, open regionalism, self-confidence and healthy optimism can all be positive factors in shaping the new world order.
Yet Asia should not be complacent. Asia should not delude itself into thinking that its identity can be developed solely in regional terms, its economy sustained in a regional bloc, and its political ambitions fulfilled in regional integration alone. Asia’s particularist approach to human-rights issues, which seems to solidify Asian countries against the West, may well hamper Asia from building itself into a community with civic spirit beyond its national borders. Asia should work to reinforce the United Nations and ensure cooperation with Europe, Eurasia and the rest of the world. In particular, Asia should appreciate the United States and welcome its role of stabilizing the global economy and international security. By building a community that includes the United States, Asia can ensure its position and self-recognition in the world. Ultimately, the Asianization of Asia will occur when Chinese and Indo-Chinese civilizations combine with Japanese and American ones. The result may be an Asia-Pacific civilization—a new breed of cross-fertilized civilization.
Signs that encourage cooperation with Asian endeavors and promote engagement, in the region’s multilateral framework are emerging in the United States as well. This participation is an urgent priority. In the 1970′ the United States reshaped its strategy toward the Soviet Union by playing the China card (normalization of relations with Being), and in the 1980s it beat the Soviet Union in the arms race using the Japan card (“Japan money”). In the 1990s, it will no doubt be the Asia card—economic stability and market growth—that assures success in the revitalization of the U.S. economy.
However, Asia will no longer put up with being treated simply as a card; it will now demand respect as a player. Its success stories are likely to inspire and provide the voice for original, distinctly Asian ideas on a host of issues: human rights; the debate over democracy versus economic development; the relationship of corporate enterprises to the state, individuals to society, and society to the state; security in the new world order and in the region. The question facing the United States is whether it will be able to understand these ideas dispassionately and coexist in harmony with Asian nations.
After the Cold War, history, geography, society and culture a are becoming instrumental forces in the evolution of international politics. Past U.S. attempts to understand Asia have focused on ideology, military power and markets. From now on Americans must seek to grasp many more diverse facets of this region in order to cultivate constructive ties. The United States so far has not taken an isolationist stance toward Asia. As Richard Rovere and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., point out in their 1951 classic, The General and the President: And the Future of American Foreign Policy, “Among oceans, the Pacific has always been the favorite of American isolationists. This is true for the simple reason that the Pacific is not the Atlantic. Isolationism is opposed to the introduction of “Asian ideas” because scarcely anyone has tried to introduce them.” This situation may change, for Asia has finally become willing and able to articulate distinctively Asian ideas.”