The Development of an Asian identity
I have posed the question of what China’s thinkers and planners might be concluding as they watch the EU, Brexit and tensions with the USA and populism.
The Chinese would have great interest in the history of Europe and the formation of an initial trading block back in 1951. China has developed a similar track working with Asean – 10 plus one and the FTA contained therein – and wider proposals – RCEP for Asean and 6 other Asian countries – and beyond that the broader project of Apec which crosses the sea to the Pacific.
The ideas of common Parliamentary systems, courts and a single currency do not seem visible, but there is a common management of defending currencies together against major speculations.
There are other significant groupings from the Mekong Delta – the Lancong Mekong Association of Cambodia, China, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam. And the Trilateral Summit of China, Japan and South Korea. Also the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation brings together South Asia, Central Asia and China and Russia. 16 plus 1 is another linking China with 16 Central Asian and Central and Eastern Europe nations.
All of these organisations focus on growing trade and reducing obstacles. Security and dealing with terrorism features strongly in some, but shared sovereignty in any form is not evident.
So now we have this conference of Asian ancient civilisations which creates a super layer of common identities and working for peace drawing on the past.
It is in all a sprawling set of changes from which a future Asian identity can be seen emerging.
It is difficult to see how the West features in these bodies, and the USA and Europe interact in different ways.
Even though the UK may leave Europe it will still have common interests with Europe in market access and trade across all these bodies.
Will these organisations unite into one body with characteristics of the EU? Single currency, a Parliament, a single Court system, open borders?
I do not see evidence of that in the near term , by which I mean within the next 30 years. Beyond that so much depends on how growth has developed.
But the links of top Asian leaders will grow and the bodies appear committed to Free Trade and transnational infrastructure to enable economic development.
While the USA may want to leverage its power to be a key Asian player, it is not inside most of these organisations, except Apec. Its huge areas of the Pacific under its control – much, much greater than China – and its many bases across Asia, link with its economic power and the reserve currency status of the dollar. So it is powerful, but its expression of power in its dealings with Iran and China leave the Asians feeling uncomfortable, although they do not express this openly.
But just as the USA struggles with the EU – competitors and allies – so it will also struggle with Asia even though some nations wanted the USA as a strategic insurance against the rising China.
A Europe–Asia dialogue exists as does a China-Europe dialogue. But both Europe and the USA are struggling to maintain the leadership of Asia they once had.
In fact the Korean crisis and the USA management of it and the Iran agreements, has seemed to strengthen the cooperation of China, Japan and India, a developing relationship which appears to offer options for Russia and South Korea as well.
So how does a new Asia look? And when does it appear? It is clear that BRI is a developing, transnational infrastructure glue, and the emergence of the Greater Bay Area – Hong Kong, Shenzen and Guangzhou the core – linking South East China with South East Asia – is a significant factor in creating trade, economic social and cultural linkings.
These developments do not seem to be aimed at excluding others , just with creating a new Asian identity.
The plans seem to create a fabulous growth prospect which Europe and the USA can actively participate in.
But, perhaps the USA and Europe need to create new Ministries of Asia to manage the relationships with the unfolding continent of Asia. And which continent will the nations of the Middle East identify with? The recent trip of the Saudi Crown Prince is significant.
Lastly let’s not forget the link of this new emerging Asian continent with Africa and South America which makes BRI global. The prospect of these two intercontinental relationships with Asia require study and understanding in Europe.
Just as one can look at the prospective different assets of the different nations of Asia, so the same applies in looking at how the continents will work together and within Africa and South America how those nations may develop their strengths.
One thing is clear to me China’s BRI project looks ahead over 100 years and sees a world of linked infrastructure, streamlined trade, greater spread of populations, opening up vast new areas of the world, and enabling massive tourism. Developing sustainability, the environmental challenge, security and a common approach to managing core resources are all evident as well and growing in an Asian approach. The sea and land will increasingly be the asset of the continent.
What does China envisage will be the role of the nation state, and how much independence of movement will companies have within what will be an increasingly managed development of the major continents to enable sustainable development. Only intercontinental cooperation can manage global security and stability, and sustainability.
The USA has long valued its separation from the world, being accessible only to Mexico and Canada. But soon the USA is going to have to consider tunnels and bridges to link its continent with the rest of the world.
The emerging separation of the internet into two worlds forced by President Trump may lead to short term geographical market choices. Huawei and others may be forced out of the West, but the Trump castle of the West looks very weak in long term economic prospects compared to the wider world.
Huawei may feel upset at what is happening – a sequel to the failed TTIP and TPP – but maybe the USA is creating a huge opportunity for China and others to build a new centred world. In fact one might wonder what the relevance of that phrase “be careful what you wish for” means here. In fact one may wonder who really wants what?
Liu He and I once discussed one world two systems. Not surprisingly I concluded he was there long before me. Welcome to China’s world but it is not the Empire of China – this is the Community of Shared Future of Mankind. Has President Trump or any of his inner circle ever read that? For that matter has Mr Barnier or Boris Johnson? We have a long way to go to understand China.
We are limited while China looks ahead a 100 years and we plan for the next 6 months.