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The Serendipity That Is Asia

Parag Khanna drives home the novel concept of Asia-Nomics, which involves several things: migration, absorption of these cultures, reinvention of the Silk Route, market integration, etc.

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The title of the book The Future Is Asian can make the reader feel that this is another tome that looks into how Asia is going to dominate the economic stage based on various economic projections. This is what was done by several investment banks and analysts who had coined the term BRICS. Author Parag Khanna does not quite get into any economic numbers but takes us through a story that shows how Asia has become the dominant continent in the 21st Century which is refreshing. The 19th belong to Europe while the 20th clearly went to America. But now the focus has shifted to Asia and this is what the book is all about.

It would be hard to contest the views put forward by Khanna though at times they may be exaggerated given that there has tended to be a good degree of cross pollination between Asia and the other countries in not just the economic field but also culture, social mores, travel and so on. This is but natural as globalisation spreads and countries get closer to one another. This holds true also for Africa to a large extent.

The story of Asia is not really new because if one goes back a few centuries, everything resided in this continent and the author takes us through some familiar historical facts. In a way, it may be called the resurrection of the continent, which may have lost its identity along the way as the industrial evolution, flourished in Britain before the hegemony of the US and the dollar took over especially post World War II.

Asia, the author points out, is not really a homogenous territory and spreads across half the globe covering parts of Russia through Japan, South East Asia, Australia and into what is called the Middle East which is actually West Asia. These nations are not even culturally similar and have varied religious biases and political systems. Yet one can see Asia across all continents. He relates how we can see not just products and people but also cultures flowing seamlessly to the Americas and Europe. Africa too has become  a hotspot given not just the natural resources, which were the driver to begin with, but also trading and investment opportunities.

Khanna also highlights how the current political trends of ‘America First’ or Brexit have actually made Asia more attractive as countries like China in particular followed by South Korea, India, Singapore, Hong Kong, etc., have managed to leverage opportunities that opened up.  Trading blocs and economic pressure groups have developed in this area and intra-Asian trade has helped decouple the global growth process from the West.

The so-called Asianisation that followed Europeanisation and Americanisation has at its centre piece the movement towards creating capitalist systems with a different flavour where the state works along with industry to ensure that the greed of the economic system is kept in check. This form of capitalism is probably what even the West is talking of as unbridled ‘animal instincts’ and ‘self-interest’, which spelt trouble for countries. The quest to learn English and adapt to technological advancement has also helped these countries reach where they are today.

The author drives home the novel concept of Asia-Nomics, which involves several things: migration, absorption of these cultures, reinvention of the Silk Route, market integration, etc. There is domination of Asians in all spheres that ranges from Bollywood to countries having the highest number of millionaires. But clearly foreign investment seeks these markets as there are limits to growth in their domestic economies. A large growing population in Asia, which  has the prerequisites to join the global mainstream, has provided landscape for absorption of such investment in return for human resource migration. This transition is two ways as there is enough evidence to show that Asian investments in other countries has also been increasing while people from Europe and America’s are exploring Asian countries for not just work and investment but also as tourist destinations.

Can we really take pride in such domination of Asia? The answer is probably no because this entire phase has not been planned by the nations and with the exception of trade blocs, all other developments have happened through serendipity. Asians have taken in the western qualities required for growth with determination to transform themselves into where they are today, which makes them attractive to the same nations that grew on account of these nations.

China surely is a dominant country everywhere and in the middle of several economic and political controversies but other nations in the continent have also chipped along to elevate the importance of this region.

The author has well captured this transformation and reinforces the view that in a way this evolution had sharp parallels in the past. He does believe that this domination will last for some time to come. But taking off from where Khanna ends, it may be interesting for the reader to conjecture if the next phase, which may not be a century but probably a decade or two away, can see the return of Europe or America back to a position of dominance. Or the wild card entry could be Africa, which certainly does not seem to be anywhere close to even creating a stir in the current state of development and polity. But one can never be too sure.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Madan Sabnavis

Sabnavis is chief economist, CARE Ratinigs and author, more recently of Economics of India: How to Fool all People for all Times

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