Asia's approach to the future
  ·  2021-05-06  ·   Source: NO.18 MAY 6, 2021


The site of a railway reconstruction project in Jinan, Shandong Province, on April 12 (XINHUA) 

Many people say the 21st century is the Asian Century.During this year's Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference in Boao, Hainan Province, in April, Zhang Yunling, chair professor and Dean of the Institute of International Studies at Shandong University, spoke to Beijing Review reporters Tao Xing and Wen Qing, sharing his opinions on the future development of Asia and China's role in the process. This is an edited excerpt of his views: 

The Asian Century 

The phrase Asian Century actually refers to the regeneration and development of Asia. The process of going through stages of colonization, gaining national independence and rapid development has been difficult for much of Asia. The new century brings new prospects and one of its most salient features is China's modernization and development as a giant economy.

Broadly, Asia has several successful cases of development over the past decades. The economies of the Republic of Korea (ROK), Singapore, and China's Taiwan and Hong Kong, commonly known as the Four Asian Tigers, experienced steady growth from the 1960s to the 1990s. However, they were relatively small economies.

The formation and expansion of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) constituted another fine example of economic improvement. The cohesion of Southeast Asian countries ended a time of division and war, and launched a new beginning for member nations to grow together. 

Most notably, China has been developing steadily after adopting the reform and opening-up policy in the late 1970s. It is important to realize that China's story of success in governance and modernization, and its approach to both, are different from those of the West.

China is currently the world's second largest economy in terms of GDP, Japan is the third largest, and India, currently the fifth largest, is expected to continue its rise in the world's economic rankings. The combined GDP of China, Japan and the ROK already exceeds that of the U.S. It is meaningful that Asia, occupying such a large proportion of the planet, began as one of the world's less developed regions and rapidly achieved this degree of economic development.


An exhibitor promotes products using her social accounts at the 17th China-ASEAN Expo in Nanning, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, on November 27, 2020 (XINHUA) 

A cooperative approach 

Cooperation has been key to ASEAN's synergy, and at the core of China's economic miracle is the advocacy for cooperative coexistence between nations. China's commitment to cooperation draws on both the concept of harmony that exists within its culture and on modern ideas on governance. Simply stated, the concept boils down to: no conflict.

However, after many decades of U.S.-led competition between nations, the international community may be slow to recognize China and Asia's collaboration-oriented approach. 

The U.S. once dominated the world in the area of security, a position based on its history of winning the two world wars and its status as a nuclear power. However, the U.S. also has a notorious record of forcing its values onto other nations with its economic and military power. Nevertheless, the U.S. hegemonic leadership has become increasingly unacceptable. Especially after the Cold War, countries around the world have begun to walk their own paths of development, believing that the world is diversified.

In general, the Asian approach could be summarized into two points. First, strategic ambiguity can be applied across issues which cannot be solved instantly. Second, consultation and communication on issues of common concern are needed.

For example, a number of contentious issues exist within the Asian region, including territorial disputes between China and Japan, Japan and the ROK, and China and India. Asian countries applying American methods to handle these disputes may quickly find themselves engaged in conflict. The Western culture of competition is zero-sum, whereas Asia's culture of cooperation seeks win-win results.

In cases where an issue cannot be dealt with immediately, acknowledging that fact, maintaining a positive attitude, and working toward finding a solution, perfect or imperfect, that is acceptable to all and avoids conflict is a core strength of the Asian approach.

Recently, the Japanese Government decided to discharge contaminated water from the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean. Japan's neighboring countries are likely to suffer the most serious consequences of this decision.

It is advised that Japan allows expert groups from the international community, especially its neighboring countries including China, to examine and inspect the process in order to ensure the safety of the disposal. This kind of cooperation may also be a way to promote Japan's good relations with China and other countries.

The accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was caused by a natural disaster and could happen anywhere. The whole of Asia should deal with it together, seeing it as a common challenge and not Japan's own problem.

It is also important to be aware that the creation of frameworks for cooperation such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership free trade agreement is the result of a long-term adjustment. It is a process of improvement, upgrading and deepening that cannot be accomplished in one stroke.

Obstacles from the U.S. 

Unfortunately, the Asian approach may not be understood well by the U.S. Competition between China and America is intensifying. However, all sides understand that the two countries will not go to war. Once that reality is commonly held by all parties, the world's governments and media should let go of competitive postures and seek opportunities to move in the right direction together .

Throughout history, the two world wars and the Cold War were all confrontations between blocs. However, at present, it would be difficult for the U.S. to persuade other nations to join a confrontation against China. For example, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), an informal strategic dialogue between the U.S., Japan, Australia and India, continues to have difficulties in reaching a consensus on how to contain China.

The inauguration of the Joe Biden administration has opened up opportunities for China to once again promote cooperation with the U.S. Historically, China-U.S. relations have softened and become more productive in the second year of a new U.S. administration. Both sides need to obtain a deeper understanding of each other's actions and policies.

Copyedited by G. P. Wilson

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