The 21st Century is the Asian Century


This essay was written in September 2012, and there may be elements in it which have dated already. The main points, however, stand true.

It seems certain that many governments around the world are positive that it is no longer a question of whether it is the Asian century or whether it is not, it seems to them that it is a question of how do we prepare. The Australian Government has commissioned a White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century, due to be released later this year. The United States appears to realise too that the twenty first century is the Asian Century, illustrated in US President Obama’s speech to the Australian Parliament last year (Obama, 2011). The West relies on Asia for almost all of its electronic devices, a reliance that is helping to prevent Asia from going backwards in economic growth.

Questions are raised as Asia grows. China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate, for example, was 3.3 times larger than the US’ in 2011 (Fedec and Sousa, c. 2012). Will traditional alliances between countries remain the same, or will changes be made? Security, too, for many countries is at the front of their minds as Asia spends more and more on their defence forces and nuclear weapons’ programs; possibly soft politics on Asia’s part. Will Asia rise to the top peacefully, or does mild unrest in the region at the moment suggest that it won’t be as pacific as the name of the ocean next to it?

As Asia grows they are looking to expand. Private companies and consortiums are buying foreign farm land in capitalist ventures. Foreign investment in Australia continues to grow, and we question whether we should sit back and let this happen. If we do stop it will we just be getting in the way of progress and the full force of the inevitable Asian Century?

In a speech to the Australian House of Representatives, US President Barack Obama said that “Here among close friends I would like to address the larger purpose of my visit to this region: our efforts to advance security, prosperity and human dignity across the Asia-Pacific. … [In the] United States [we] are turning our attention to the vast potential of the Asia-Pacific region” (2011, p 12847). This suggests that the US looks to possibly exploit what Asia, as it grows, has to offer. Perhaps, too, it suggests that US is the largest debtor nation (CNBC.com, c 2012). It suggests also that the US is still trying to cling to the prosperity and power that it enjoyed during the twentieth century. In April last year, in The Economist newspaper, an editorial appeared suggesting that Mr Obama was trying to maintain America’s economic position so that it could out-compete China and Asia to remain the dominant world power (The Economist, 2011). This all suggests that America is refusing to accept that they’re losing to Asia, but are trying to make out that in fact they do accept shift.

A Western reliance on Asian manufactured electronic goods is starting to benefit the country of origin. The Asian companies that make the electronics that we here in the West all like to have, make astronomical amounts of money. During the global financial crisis most of us would have bought some electronics, and Asia remained strong through this period.

While governments are perhaps in denial of an Asian Century the media is not. In a recent television broadcast of sci-fi classic, the BBC’s Doctor Who, an Indian space agency was featured prominently. In the story, this space agency— obviously made out to be a spoof of the USA’s NASA—had control of missiles to prevent an alien space craft from crashing into earth. This story-line was set in the future, but not a long way off. It can easily be read as a suggestion that the US is no longer going to be the leader in space exploration and space control. In real life

the Indian space agency has been around since the beginning of the Russian-US space-race, but have you heard of it? Has it featured prominently on global media? Did they land on the moon? No. But the allusion to India as a leading power in space in fiction, suggests that their current activities are going to get them there.

In Australia our culture is currently most controlled by the US. Will an increasingly Asian dominated century change that? Elisabeth Tarica has said in the Melbourne Age newspaper that business leaders and academics have long pushed for increased Asian language study (Tarica, 2011). Currently a predominantly monolingual society (Tarica, 2011), a move to a more multilingual society would suggest a move in our cultural influences. The US too seems also to be a mostly single-language speaking nation. If we do move to a multilingual society speaking Asian languages, it suggests that Asia’s cultural influence has gained and surpassed the level of America’s. Speaking an Asian language would be a hallmark of an Asian Century.

The GFC hit the West hard, partly because that’s where it originated. China, and the rest of Asia were less affected by this downturn, which was confined largely to Europe, and their GDP in fact grew in 2009; the US’s GDP did not grow in this same period (Sedghi, 2012). Growth in this area of the world goes to further suggest that the Asian Century is nigh, or has in fact begun. Growth in this difficult period highlights that Asia can, and most likely will perform; that they can grow and that they can become world dominant.

It may be thought that the Asian Century is a return to power, a power that it enjoyed before colonisation. In the 1700s, about sixty per cent of world economic production came from Asia (Irvine, 2012). This figure declined for eighty years, but since 1950, has continued to grow (Australian Government, 2012). This growth continues into the twenty first century, as the West’s world output continues to dwindle. The ability to say that a century belongs to any one nation, or groups of nations has only come about with full exploration of the globe, and a global economy. Centuries ago, when China and Asia were inventing paper and at the forefront of science, the Westerners—those who happen to write most of our history books—didn’t have a clue what was going on in the East. It didn’t matter that the East could well have been outstripping the West, the writers of history of the East didn’t know, so could quite happily say that the West was “the world leader”, something especially easy to say when the West is considered to be the whole world. Even though the West is still writing histories, they can’t really turn a blind eye to what is going on in the East anymore. They have to take notice or risk being called idiots. Now that Asia is coming back as a power, after shutting themselves away for many years from the rest of the world, we can see that they’re a world leader, and can be a world leader. And we can see that they’re becoming a world leader once more.

Traditionally Australia has been an ally to America; the most noted example is the Vietnam War. America started it and Australia joined despite public backlash. Now, however, China is also our friend. If America went to war with China, whose side are we on? If we’re against China we’re against nuclear weapons. If we’re against America we’re against nuclear weapons. We’re in a peculiar pickle if the situation does arise. As Asia becomes the world leader in this, the Asian Century, will they do it peacefully?

As I write Pakistan is witnessing violent protests over a video made in America that mocks the prophet Mohammed. Unrest in this way could lead to violence in Asia—home to a hoard of nuclear weapons. Violence in Asia might mean that America, as it is known to do, goes in to fight an unwinnable war in an attempt to control the place. If they do that we have to choose where we stand; do we do a Switzerland and just defend our borders, or do we side with someone? Presently, there are US troops up in the top end of Australia (Obama, 2011). If a nasty little war breaks out with an Asian country we’ll most likely side with our good friends in America. We will then be up against the dominant world power in this century, a dominant world power with immense defence spending budgets. For example, in 2011 China spent around 92 billion US dollars on defence, and most people know that they have nuclear weapons. The Americans spent around

684 million US dollars in 2009 on defence (Department of Defense US, 2009), but remember, they’re currently fighting in wars. China is not. China is spending money that it has. America is spending money that it doesn’t have. This just suggests that Asia’s military interests all around staple them at the top of the world’s page.

Recently, Cubbie Station—the largest privately owned irrigation property in the Southern Hemisphere—was sold to a consortium, the largest stakeholder in which is Chinese (Swan, 2012). Asia has the resources to expand into other countries, and if other countries are letting them do that then they’re riding down easy street to being world dominant. Not only will they buy Australian Cotton, but they’ll own the land that it is grown on. In a recent self-published magazine, Dick Smith shows us that many of our food companies are foreign owned. Among them are Dairy Farmers, owned by a Japanese company, Sunbeam, owned by the Chinese, and Safcol, owned by the Malaysians (2011). If Asian companies are smart enough to buy our companies and make a profit, helping their local economies, then we’re heading towards an age of Asian control, we’re heading towards and Asian century.

As the West dwindles amid economic uncertainty and continues to rely on Asian electronics to run their consumer lifestyles, the Asians will come out on top. The Chinese, Japanese, Indians; there are the world policy makers of the future. Their increasing control in countries other than their own shows that they will become the ones that the West answers to. The West might struggle to cling to power, but they must concede defeat in the face of a new time. A new time that will have benefits, especially for Asia, but will also have downsides, of which are unavoidable. It is a time of change. The East holds dear that the only constant in the world is change, and it needs to be the West that realises the change is in the direction of the Asian Century. The Asian Century is the twenty first century.


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