In 1989, when I lived in Paris, I remember being mildly amused by a  billboard in the metro. It showed an elegant, well-coiffed woman  reclining in an easy chair, her eyes apparently shut.  ” Meanwhile, the Japanese are working,” noted the caption below.

In November that year,  The Berlin Wall came down  triggering euphoria across  Europe and rest of the world. It was the beginning of a new dawn. Europe was like a schoolboy in love. There was hope, and it was infectious.    The  sunny, optimistic  ambience,  however, had a dark undercurrent. Beneath the patina of hope lurked a primal fear.  Could someone snatch away  Europe’s  hour of  glory?

A Japanese journalist friend who was in Paris on the same press fellowship  brought up the subject  one day as we were walking through the touristy Latin Quarter. F, my Japanese friend,  told me he often felt the Japanese were not liked in Europe.  He had been   accused of  dabbling in “industrial espionage”.  It was always said in jest, he said. But such jokes were all too frequent. I asked him to explain.   Each time,  he took photographs of “ordinary items” — socks, shoes, garments on display on shop windows,  people around  looked at him resentfully, F said. Often, they asked him point blank if he was taking the photos so that the designs could be replicated back home, and at a lower price?

“And why were you taking photos of socks and shoes,” I asked innocently. F smiled and  shrugged.

The Japanese donot swagger. They would find that barbaric. But as anyone who has visited  Japan knows all too well, they are an immensely proud people. The deep but quiet pride shows through, even when they are hurt. If they donot  engage in verbal aggression, it is because they think that it is not worth the effort.  But that doesnot mean they have not taken note of the insults nor that they are push-overs.  Today, ascendant China and India, are  described in pretty much the same language earlier reserved for Japan.   The proud Asian, the Asian swagger — it bothers others. But Asia cannot be ignored and Asia is the new bandwagon so there is a mini-industry in “analysing” the Asian swagger.

There is a  take-away from the way the Japanese behave. It may be smart to change the gait,  while stealing a march…

Meanwhile, here is an  interesting report.


“Asiaąs new swagger has caused a crisis of confidence in the West that
makes the fear of Japan in the late 1980s look like a mild tremor. In
the late 1980s it was only one Asian giant growing powerful, and at
that time Europe, newly united after communism, looked boldly to the
future. Today many of Asiaąs nations are getting stronger, and not one
major Western nation can be confident about its future growth.”


Dazzled by Asia*
When will China lead the world? Donąt hold your breath.

By Joshua Kurlantzick
February 7, 2010

During his trip to Asia in November, Barack Obama seemed strangely
mute. Unlike Bill Clinton, who criticized Chinaąs human rights record
in front of then-president Jiang Zemin, Obama largely avoided the
topic of rights. In Singapore, despite pressure from human rights
activists, the president deferred to pressure to not release a
statement calling for the freeing of Burmese opposition leader Aung
San Suu Kyi. In Japan, the president worked valiantly to massage local
sentiments, bowing deeply to Emperor Akihito – and drawing flak back
in the United States from conservative critics for appearing weak.

More than any recent American president, Obama displayed deep
deference to his Asian counterparts. He did so, in part, because, like
many Americans, he has become convinced that this will be Asiaąs
century, and that the United States must begin to accommodate itself
to this stark new geopolitical fact. A recent report by the US
National Intelligence Council concluded that the world is witnessing
the rise of łmajor global players similar to the advent of a united
Germany in the 19th century and a powerful United States in the early
20th century…[and they] will transform the geopolitical landscape.˛
Major media outlets covered the president as if he was some kind of
Dickensian vagrant, appealing to his increasingly powerful creditors
in China for leniency. łObamaąs trip reveals a relationship with a
strangely lopsided quality to it,˛ wrote longtime China specialist
Jonathan Fenby, in one typical example of the coverage.

Over the past two years, some of the most important foreign policy
thinkers have chronicled Americaąs decline, and argued that Asia is
rising to preeminence. Parag Khannaąs łThe Second World: Empires and
Influence in the New Global Order˛ landed on the cover of The New York
Times Magazine, while Fareed Zakariaąs łThe Post-American World˛
became a bestseller. Meanwhile, the influential former Singaporean
ambassador Kishore Mahbubani, who helped spark the łAsian values˛
debate of the 1990s, released łThe New Asian Hemisphere: The
Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East.˛ Martin Jacques, a
prominent columnist for The Guardian, took the idea one step further.
In his book łWhen China Rules the World,˛ he contends that Chinaąs
rise will have a greater impact on the globe than the emergence of the
United States as an international power in the 20th century.

Yet predictions of Americaąs decline are vastly overstated. Asia is
indeed increasing its economic footprint in the world, but it still
lags far behind the United States in military might, political and
diplomatic influence, and even most measures of economic stability.
Asiaąs growth, the source of its current strength, also has
significant limits – rising inequality, disastrous demographics, and
growing unrest that could scupper development. Nationalism in Asia
will prevent the region from developing into a European Union-like
unified area for the foreseeable future, allowing regional conflicts
to continue, and preventing Asia from speaking, more powerfully, with
a unified voice.

The future of American power is a vital question. Americaąs foreign
policy choices will be directed by judgments about the United Statesą
staying power, and how the United States, like Britain before it,
should adapt to new powers emerging on the scene. If, as Jacques
argues, Americaąs influence will naturally fade while Asiaąs grows,
Washington should adopt policies similar to Britainąs in the mid-20th
century – ceding influence over large portions of the world while
working to ensure that it remains an important player on a few key
issues. American leaders would have to radically shift their style,
adopting a new humility while selling the US public on a diminished
global role, a major comedown for a superpower.

Conversely, if it is not to be Asiaąs century, Washingtonąs strategy
would be radically different. No concessions of fading glory: Though
the United States might not be the only superpower, it could assume
that, for the near future, it would remain the preeminent power,
allowing Washington to dictate the terms of everything from climate
change negotiations to global talks on nuclear weapons.

The idea of American power giving way to a rising Asia has been
building for two decades. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, many in
the United States predicted that Japan, which then seemed to have a
hyper-charged economy, would rule the world. But Japanąs economy,
built on a real estate bubble, imploded, and Japanese leaders never
truly matched their economic power with political might; limited by a
pacifist constitution, Japan did not fight in the first Gulf War and
wound up merely paying the check for much of the battle.

But now China has assumed the mantle. Next year, China will become the
worldąs second-largest economy, according to a study by the China
Policy Institute of the University of Nottingham. The global financial
crisis has badly dented the Western model of liberal capitalism,
leaving Asia as the worldąs growth engine, and main banker – China
alone holds some $800 billion in American treasury securities. The
chief economist of the Asian Development Bank, a regional
organization, declared in September, łDeveloping Asia is poised to
lead the recovery from the worldwide slowdown.˛ China and India likely
will grow by more than 7 percent this year, compared to minimal growth
in the West, and other leading Asian nations, like Indonesia and
Vietnam, are also predicted to post high growth rates in 2010.

At the recent Copenhagen climate summit, two of Asiaąs most powerful
leaders, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan
Singh, showed this newfound confidence. Meeting in a back room, they
pointedly tried to exclude Obama from their negotiations. Obama
ultimately had to burst into the closed-meeting like a kind of
diplomatic party crasher.

Asiaąs new swagger has caused a crisis of confidence in the West that
makes the fear of Japan in the late 1980s look like a mild tremor. In
the late 1980s it was only one Asian giant growing powerful, and at
that time Europe, newly united after communism, looked boldly to the
future. Today many of Asiaąs nations are getting stronger, and not one
major Western nation can be confident about its future growth.

The belief in Asiaąs rise has sparked this mini-industry of books on
the Eastern renaissance. In the most apocalyptic of the bunch, such as
Jacquesą, the authors focus on how Asiaąs powers, from China to
Malaysia to Singapore, are taking the final step from rising power to
global hegemon – using state-directed economic policies to dominate
industry after industry, while delivering what Mahbubani calls
łmodernity˛ – good governance, growth, and the rule of law, without
the messiness of Western liberal democracy. In fact, Mahbubani
suggests that this łmodernity˛ ultimately may be more appealing than
Western democracy, which has not helped produce growth in Africa,
Latin America, or many other democratic regions. Other authors, like
Zakaria, focus more on American decline.

Yet there are many good reasons to think that Asiaąs rise may turn out
to be an illusion. Asiaąs growth has built-in stumbling blocks.
Demographics, for one. Because of its One Child policy, Chinaąs
population is aging rapidly: According to one comprehensive study by
the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think
tank, by 2040 China will have at least 400 million elderly, most of
whom will have no retirement pensions. This aging poses a severe
challenge, since China may not have enough working-age people to
support its elderly. In other words, says CSIS, China will grow old
before it grows rich, a disastrous combination. Other Asian powers
also are aging rapidly – Japanąs population likely will fall from
around 130 million today to 90 million in 2055 – or, due to
traditional preferences for male children, have a dangerous sex
imbalance in which there are far more men than women. This is a
scenario likely to destabilize a country, since, at other periods in
history when many men could not marry, the unmarried hordes turned to
crime or political violence.

Looming political unrest also threatens Asiaąs rise. China alone
already faces some 90,000 annual łmass incidents,˛ the name given by
Chinese security forces to protests, and this number is likely to grow
as income inequality soars and environmental problems add more
stresses to society. India, too, faces severe threats. The Naxalites,
Maoists operating mostly in eastern India who attack large landowners,
businesses, police, and other local officials, have caused the death
of at least 800 people last year alone, and have destabilized large
portions of eastern India. Other Asian states, too, face looming
unrest, from the ongoing insurgency in southern Thailand to the rising
racial and religious conflicts in Malaysia.

Also, despite predictions that Asia will eventually integrate,
building a European Union-like organization, the region actually seems
to be coming apart. Asia has not tamed the menace of nationalism,
which Europe and North America largely have put in the past, albeit
after two bloody world wars. Even as China and India have cooperated
on climate change, on many other issues they are at each otherąs
throats. Over the past year, both countries have fortified their
common border in the Himalayas, claiming overlapping pieces of
territory. Meanwhile, Japan is constantly seeking ways to blunt
Chinese military power. People in many Asian nations have extremely
negative views of their neighbors – even though they maintain positive
images of the United States.

More broadly, few Asian leaders have any idea what values, ideas, or
histories should hold Asia together. łThe argument of an Asian century
is fundamentally flawed in that Asia is a Western concept, one that is
not widely agreed upon [in Asia],˛ says Devin Stewart, a Japan
specialist at the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International

Even as Asiaąs miracle seems, on closer inspection, less miraculous,
Americaąs decline has been vastly overstated. To become a global
superpower requires economic, political, and military might, and on
the last two counts, the United States remains leagues ahead of any
Asian rival. Despite boosting defense budgets by 20 percent annually,
Asian powers like India, China, or Indonesia will not rival the US
military for decades, if ever – only the Pentagon could launch a war
in a place like Afghanistan, so far from its homeland. When a tsunami
struck South and Southeast Asia five years ago, the regionąs nations,
including Indonesia, Thailand, and India, had to rely on the US Navy
to coordinate relief efforts.

America also has other advantages that will be nearly impossible to
remove. With Asian nations still squabbling amongst themselves, many
look to the United States as a neutral power broker, a role America
plays around the world. German writer and scholar Joseph Joffe calls
the United States today the łdefault power˛: No one in the world
trusts anyone else to play the global hegemon, so it still falls to

Even in the economic realm, the United States remains strong. As
Zakaria admits, the United States accounted for 32 percent of global
output in 1913, 26 percent in 1960, and 26 percent in 2007, remarkably
consistent figures. The United States remains atop nearly every
ranking of economies according to openness and innovation. While
Asiaąs centrally planned economies can build infrastructure without
worrying about public opposition – China has built impressive networks
of airports and highways – they are less successful at nurturing
world-beating companies, which thrive on risk-taking and hands-off
government. Compared to Intel, Google, or Apple, Chinaąs major
companies still are state-linked behemoths that do little innovation
of their own. The leading corporations in most other Asian nations
(with the exception of Japan and South Korea) also are either giant
state-linked firms or trading companies that invest little in
innovation. And censorship or tight government controls alienate the
most innovative firms – Google is now threatening to pull out of China

As Asia throws up barriers to immigration, in the United States
immigration helps ensure long-term economic vitality. Chinese and
Indian immigrants accounted for almost one-quarter of all companies in
Silicon Valley, according to research by AnnaLee Saxenian at the
University of California-Berkeley. According to the most comprehensive
global ranking of universities, compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong
University, American schools, powered by immigrants and flush with
cash, dominate the top 100, with Harvard ranked first. Asia has no
schools in the top 10.

Most important, the United States is a champion of an idea that has
global appeal, and Asia is not. During the opposition protests in
Iran, demonstrators look to the United States, not China or Indonesia
or even India, to make a statement. In a reversal of the Iranian
regimeąs rhetoric, some protestors even chant łDeath to China˛ because
of Beijingąs support for the repressive government in Tehran. As long
as protestors in places like Iran, or Burma or Ukraine, call out for
the American president, and not Chinaąs leader or Indiaąs prime
minister, the United States will remain the preeminent power.

To be the global hegemon requires military, economic, and political
might, but it also means offering a vision for the world. As Mahbubani
admits, during Britainąs imperial period, elites in places like
Malaya, India, or the Caribbean wanted to study in England, or read
British authors and philosophers, because they believed that the ideas
Britain had imparted – the rule of law, the Westminster political
system, an idea of fair play, a meritocratic civil service,
evidence-based scientific exploration – had merit for the entire
world. Even men and women who, ultimately, became some of the biggest
thorns in Britainąs side, like Jawarhal Nehru, cherished their British
studies and their links to British culture.

So, too, since World War II the United States has been, for many
foreign publics, the nation looked up to in this way. Even at the
worst moments, such as the period after 9/11 in which the Bush
administration created the prison at Guantanamo Bay and allowed
torture and other questionable tactics, I have rarely met anyone, in
any country, who wanted to move to China, or India, or even Japan,
rather than the United States. Foreigners may want to spend a few
years in China or India or Indonesia, to see the dynamism of these
places, but few, if any, have plans to become Chinese, Indian, or
Indonesian citizens. Perhaps one day China or Indonesia or India will
draw these migrants, who would come seeking the same dreams and
openness as they do today in the United States. But it wonąt be soon –
and it might not even be this century.

Joshua Kurlantzick is a Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

© Copyright 2010 Globe Newspaper Company.


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