DUMAGUETE CITY – Asia-Pacific Century Asians are growing closer economically. They are also, with their rising place in the world, growing more confident. As recently as 1960, Japan and East Asia together accounted for only 4 percent of world GNP, while North America made up 37 percent. Today the two regions have about the same share of global product. And Asia in growing faster. Later in this decade, Asia’s economy should be larger than that last of the United States alone. Within a decade after that, China and Japan could each be larger, in the narrow scales of GNP calculations, than the United States.
Asia is also rising in technological terms. In a growing number of hightech areas, such as amorphous metals and optical fiber research, Japan has already passed the United States.
T he Asia-Pacific century is on hand, as rapid economic growth 0f East Asian countries in particular followed by ASEAN economies have overtaken those of the old world. The first teams in this Asian miracle are led by Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. The second team that is close behind is the ASEAN economies. If you add to this development the rise of South Asia led by India one could say that the Asian continent will be the driving force of the global economy. Ironically this economic miracle came when the Western colonizers left the area.
However, the Asian sparkplug that is igniting and changing the architecture of the global economy is undoubtedly the rise of China, India, and the ASEAN community whose combined population is a third of that of the world. Having lifted perhaps a third of their population out of poverty and created a formidable middle class these countries provide a humongous market for the world’s economy.
To sustain the gains of the Asia-Pacific region what is required is the construction of strategic plan for the promotion of political, security and economic cooperation to avoid future conflicts geopolitical flashpoints that hang on the head Asia’s sustained path of economic progress and human development like a sword of Damocles.
Asia’s Flash Points
It is axiomatic that accelerated economic growth, in the region will require energy .It has been estimated that a 1% GDP growth will require ten times more energy which if inadequate for the requirements of growth could trigger political insecurity, provoke an accelerating arms buildup and deepen geopolitical rivalries.
Parenthetically, the Asian region has significantly accelerated its arms buildup, now higher than that of post-Soviet Russia. Asian nations, including India, are rapidly developing new long-range strike capacities as legions of new missiles and aircraft become operational. This ‘Arms Race Asia’ is troubling not only for its pace but also for its alarmingly high technological level.
The region’s economic growth and serious energy shortage are leading the area swiftly towards a struggle for offshore oil. Moreover, with regional energy shortages as a result of high growth, the attractiveness of nuclear energy grows in Asia, even as it declines elsewhere. It is useful to note that nearly half the increase in the entire world’s nuclear energy production by 2010 will be in East Asia. These plants will most likely produce dangerous amounts of plutonium, a key raw material for nuclear weapons.
Compounding the energy- related security dangers in Asia are troubling geostrategic uncertainties. Surrounding Japan, in a prospective Northeast Asian Arc of Crisis, are heavily armed nations – notably the two Koreas, China and Taiwan.
Factors to Consider the Degree of Volatility of the Region
Asian energy markets will change sharply, with major new importers like China, India, and ASEAN – including Indonesia – emerging, and regional competition for limited supply growing much keener. At the same time, Asia – especially China – will grow dramatically more dependent on the Middle East, the world’s low-cost source of oil, with the volume of petroleum passing eastward through the Strait of Malacca likely to triple within the next fifteen years. Asia’s rising role as a source of new demand in global oil markets may not affect Europe economically for another decade, or perhaps more. The collapse of Eastern European and to some extent Latin American demand, amid debt crises, has created slack and bought time for global markets, as has the shift to high technology and services in the economics of the advanced industrial world. But Asia’s rising demand will dangerously deepen overall global dependence of OPEC by 2010 – to between 45 and 60 percent, by International Energy Agency estimates. A generation from now Asia, in short, could well be the cause of Europe’s next oil shock – at a point when North Sea oil and gas will provide much less of a cushion for the continent than it does today.
Asia’s relationship with the Middle East will deepen rapidly over the coming decade, the BRI initiative will see to this. The most dynamic – and rapidly deepening – element will be the new linkage between China, a net oil importer since November 1993, and the Persian Gulf States, particularly Iran.
A third major development on the East Asian horizon could deepening balance of power rivalries within the region. These could have potentially serious military implications, especially in the naval sphere. Indeed, there is a significant prospect of an escalating naval arms race along the vulnerable, far energy sea lanes from Yokohama and Shanghai to the Persian Gulf, especially if the American naval presence east of Suez declines. China, Japan, Korea, India, Indonesia, and other smaller states of Asia could well be caught up in such a rivalry, with serious security consequences for Australia and potentially Europe as well.
Local geostrategic, energy, and economic considerations within Northeast Asia create the particular danger of a fourth contingency – serious and deepening Sino-Japanese rivalries. Despite a common cultural heritage, Sino-Japanese tensions have been deepening in the past 2-3 years, fed by old historical memories, conflict over nuclear testing, Taiwan, terms for Japanese aid to China, and still more fundamentally the complexities of China’s deepening geopolitical shadow. (to be continued)