Asia | World Order, Diplomacy and Governance | Book Reviews

china : india : asia : asianisation

[Parag Khanna, The Future is Asian. Simon & Schuster. New York, 2019. 433 p.]

review / Emili J. Blasco

The Future is AsianParag Khanna's book can be greeted with suspicion from entrance because of the apparent axiomatic character of his degree scroll. However, the blunt assertion on the cover is softened when one begins to read the pages inside. The thesis of the work is that the world is in a process of asianisationnot of chinisationMoreover, this process is presented as another coat of paint on the planet, not as a colour that will be clearly predominant or definitive.

It is possible that the discussion over whether the US is in decline and will be replaced by China as the pre-eminent superpower obscures other parallel developments. Those watching Beijing's rise in the world order, writes Khanna, "have often been paralysed by two views: either China will devour the world or it is on the verge of collapse. Neither is correct. "The future is Asian, even for China," he asserts.

Khanna believes that the world is moving towards a multipolar order, which is also the case in Asia, even if China's size often dazzles.

The author's Indian background and also his time living in the United States may have influenced this judgement, but he offers figures to support his words. Of the 5 billion people living in Asia, 3.5 billion are non-Chinese (70%): China thus has only a third of Asia's population; it also accounts for slightly less than half of Asia's GDP. Other data: half of outward investment from the continent is non-Chinese, and more than half of outward investment goes to Asian countries other than China. Asia is therefore "more than China plus".

It is not just a question of size, but of wills. "A China-led Asia is no more acceptable to most Asians than the notion of a US-led West is to Europeans," says Khanna. He rejects the idea that, because of China's power, Asia is heading towards a kind of tributary system like the one ruled in other centuries from Beijing. He points out that such a system did not extend beyond the Far East and was based primarily on trade.

The author reassures those who fear Chinese expansionism: "China has never been an indestructible superpower presiding over all of Asia like a colossus". He warns that while Europe's geographical characteristics have historically led many countries to fear the hegemony of a single power, Asia's geography makes it "inherently multipolar", as natural barriers absorb friction. Indeed, clashes between China and India, China and Vietnam or India and Pakistan have ended in stalemates. "Whereas in Europe wars have occurred when there is a convergence in power between rivals, in Asia wars have occurred when there is a perceived advantage over rivals. So the more powerful China's neighbours like Japan, India or Russia are, the less likely they are to conflict with each other.

For Khanna, Asia will always be a region of distinct and autonomous civilisations, especially now that we are witnessing a revival of old empires. Asia's geopolitical future will not be led by the US or China: "Japan, South Korea, India, Russia, Indonesia, Australia, Iran and Saudi Arabia will never come together under a hegemonic umbrella or unite into a single pole of power".

There will not be, then, a Chineseisation of the world, according to the author, and the Asianisation that is taking place - a shift of the world's weight towards the Indo-Pacific - need not be seen as a threat to those who live elsewhere. Just as there was a Europeanisation of the world in the 19th century, and an Americanisation in the 20th century, we are witnessing an Asianisation in the 21st century. Khanna sees this as "the most recent substratum of sedimentation in the geology of global civilisation", and as a "layer" it does not imply that the world Withdrawal to what came before. "Being more Asian does not necessarily mean being less American or European," he says.

The book analyses the weight and fit of different Asian countries on the continent. Of Russia, he argues that it is strategically closer to China today than at any time since its communist pact in the 1950s. Khanna believes that geography leads to this understanding, as it invites Canada to maintain good relations with the United States; he predicts that climate change will further open up the lands of Siberia, which will integrate them more with the rest of the Asian continent.

As for India and China's relationship, Khanna believes that both countries will have to accept each other as powers more normally. For example, despite India's reluctance towards China's Silk Road and India's own regional connectivity projects, in the end the two countries' preferred corridors will "overlap and even reinforce each other", ensuring that products from inland Asia reach the Indian Ocean. "Geopolitical rivalries will only accelerate the Asianisation of Asia," says Khanna.

In assessing the importance of Asia, the book includes Middle Eastern oil. Technically, the region is part of the continent, but it is such a separate chapter with its own dynamics that it is difficult to see it as Asian territory. The same is true when label is used to refer to Israel or Lebanon. It can give the impression that the author is lumping everything together in order to make the figures more impressive. He argues that the Middle East is becoming less and less dependent on Europe and the United States and is looking more to the East.

Khanna is in a position to reasonably defend himself against most of the objections to his text. Most controversial, however, is his near-defensive justification of technocracy as a system of government. Beyond the descriptive attitude of a model that in some countries has received an important economic and social development , Khanna even seems to endorse its moral superiority.

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