- Saturday, 18 February 2017 16:29
by Huma Khan
Director Research and Communications Center for Global & Strategic Studies
Asia is known for its vastness, beautiful terrain, and population. Diversity in terms of culture, religion, and political systems is the hallmark of its existence. Regional integration, which is an emerging trend in the global age, has been only witnessed in its different regions but no major effort has been made to integrate the whole continent, as is the case with Americas, Africa or Europe. There are forums, such as the ASEAN and SAARC, and SCO emphasizing on the integration of sub-regions of Far East, Central Asia, and South Asia respectively, but only with limited or closed membership. A regional inclusive body like the European Union is not in sight. Divergence in racial, cultural and linguistic terms is one thing, but non-similarity in terms of political systems is yet another reason for their not coming closer to each other. Some practise socialism, while others remain tied to capitalism or retain authoritarian structures.
Diversity, which is the hallmark of the Asian continent, has also been witnessed through the stages of development in various countries and regions. We find states like Japan, South Korea, and China using hi-tech systems of economic development and, hence, have shown great potential to lead the rest. On the other side of the divide is the vast array of states which strive to cater to the basic necessities of life for their populace.
Yet there are emerging economies, like India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka showing vast potential to attract foreign investment to scale up the ladder of development. There is something called ‘Asian Dilemma’, whereby states are caught in the cobweb of hostilities due to geographical factors or legacies of the past. However, there are growing signs of integrating the Asian Continent despite all oddities. China has taken the lead to promote connectivity between South Asia and Central Asia to link it up with Europe.
Asian Development Bank has undertaken the project of connecting the Far East with Europe through a network of rails and roads. There has been talk of creating a fiscal union and opting for a single currency. The move towards integration may owe a lot to technological advances like telephony, the Internet, and satellite TV and there are trailblazers like China or Japan who are using the modern tools of communication to integrate Asian economies.
On the other hand, the predominant hurdle to regional integration is the prevailing underdevelopment, which marks the existence of Asia as a whole. Various countries will have to upgrade their political systems marred by populism and extremism. Is it necessary, then, to have a political leader to show the path to stability? Probably, Asia will require something new to reconcile politics with economic growth, rather than one or the other country, to dictate the rest on the path of reason. It is not socialism or capitalism but a scientific system of economic management that may do wonders for Asia.
The generic trend of politics in Asia is undergoing a drastic change. Asia being the largest continent of the world, is culturally, religiously and politically diverse, which makes the sum greater than the parts. The changing power axis from America-centric to Asia-centric has sparked hope for many, whereas resentment can also be observed. It is a norm to have mixed reactions, which are vital components of healthy competition.
The political scenario is no different than the basics of sport, which is why many political experts around the globe declared politics as ‘participatory sport’, which requires an amalgamation of all generations and representatives from the youth, middle aged and the elderly. At present, the politics in Asia is on the axis of change, which is why, for many, the present political situation may be highly disappointing, but the future is bright, where all the pieces of the puzzle will fall into their right place.
The beauty of politics in Asia is that each cluster of countries, which have similar historical and cultural roots, is facing more or less the same issues. The Central Asian Republics (CARs), South Asia and Far East Asia are not only culturally diverse but are known for political diversity as well. If a holistic perspective is studied, then, Asia is taking the command and will soon be the hub of global politics as increased collaboration of China and Russia can be observed. This collaboration of the world’s largest countries does not mean that it is a positive or negative indicator, rather it is changing the trends, and change is good as it keeps things moving. Asia is home to countries where traditional mindsets are dominant in running the politics and economy, whereas moving on towards the Far East, it is the conquest of technology to the extent of artificial intelligence taking over human capacity. It will not be wrong to predict that in the near future, political decisions will involve a large extent of artificial intelligence input.
There is a definite indication of the rise of the emerging powers of the region, which are all set to conquer the world’s top economic and financial listings. As the analysts and experts predict, by 2050, the top world powers will include most of the countries from the Asia for instance China, India, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Japan and Saudi Arabia. Should the western powers worry? This may be cause for alarm for many. The political dimensions are certainly expected to change with the change agents of Asia. Having multiple factors to its advantage, the exploitation of the same factors will make the political environment of Asia the most dynamic, state of the art and highly integrated with other aspects such as the economy.
What Makes up Asia: Central Asia, South Asia, and the Far-East Asia
The beauty of Asia is that it cannot be studied as a holistic chapter, as the vastness and massiveness suggests the economists and political analysts divide the continent based on its geographical similarities. Asia is not only culturally and geographically diverse, rather the political structures and beliefs also change across the regions.
However, as the political trends of the Central Asia, South Asia, the Gulf States and the Far East are studied, one comes across a diverse array of power structures, which includes the constitutional monarchies, one-party states, absolute monarchies, federal states, liberal democracies, dependent territories, and military dictatorships, all under one roof of Asia. Asia is still home to the state enmities, such as between India and Pakistan, and South Korea and North Korea, whereas, Kashmir is the disputed territory since the British left the sub-continent, and Palestine is in a constant battlefield.
The Gulf States, which include Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates (UAE), also known as the Persian Gulf, are home to the oldest civilizations of the world where the first constituencies of politics were practiced, whereas, on the other hand, the Central Asian Republics are relatively newer countries, which were born after the breakdown of the Soviet Union (Badan).
The Central Asian States have mostly been governed under the refined forms of dictatorship. Furthermore, the implications of the cold war led to ruffled ties between many Asian countries and Russia, however, now the ice is seen to be melting, which is a step forward for the regional integration plans of China.
The ‘One Belt, One Road’ and the ‘21st Century Maritime Silk Route’ initiatives rolled out by China have been welcomed by all, as they give immense opportunities to the participating countries to develop their economic infrastructures. Whereas, one must not forget that it has been one of the greatest political diplomacy games played in the history of politics which has not only assisted in streamlining the economies but have also opened up a new chapter in the course of the financial-political arena. Russia, being the largest country in the continent, has also taken a proactive approach contrary to the diplomatic policies of the USA. Russia acknowledges the fact that Asia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, therefore, blaming them for any radicalization is not the right move as it will just aggravate the situation. Russia has opened up doors of diplomacy especially with the Muslim world, contrary to the recent change of policies in Washington.
Each region has its peculiar strengths. The Central Asian states which came into existence after the breakdown of the Soviet Union, underwent the rule of dictatorship, which did not allow them to explore the world markets and make their space until now, as survival was the foremost priority. The recent changes and the shift to democracy in these republics have paved the way for a new era of economic development through regional integration. These countries have rich mineral and natural resource deposits and are able to meet the region's energy requirements through gas and electricity production.
The countries struggling with energy demand and supply deficit are now relying on the landlocked Central Asian Republics with hopes of indulging in bilateral agreements of trade and transit deals. The political systems are derived from the Russian rule, but at present, these countries have relatively newer political institutions, which are evolving after facing the general issues pertaining to governance. Chances are that with the pursuance of regional economic activity, political maturity will also develop which will assist in eliminating the governance issues.
The Gulf States have already been credited with fulfilling the world’s oil demand and regulating the supply to a certain extent. The war on terror in Iraq and global economic slowdown resulted in surging oil prices, which made fuel one of the most expensive commodities until recently when the economic activity regained its pace. Apart from being home to the Islamic civilization, the Gulf States enjoy the rule of monarchy where the royal families are running the state affairs. There has not yet been an outcry for democracy, as the people seem to be happy and satisfied with their leaders.
But, Iraq was under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussain, and his tenure is often referred to as chaotic one, which destabilized peace within the Gulf States. However, since the US-led war in Iraq, the country has been facing severe governance issues with a high incident of corruption and terrorism. Nevertheless, the political scenario of Gulf has never restricted any economic development, rather these countries have been one of the most active investors and business groups around the globe.
Turkey, Georgia, Iran, and Yemen, are the countries that are not categorized in any subgroup, but recently these countries have also emerged with an increased political and economic stability. Turkey is the only secular state, which has kept up with the democratic practices in the country. Besides, the political maturity has led to the development of economic perspectives, which is expected to yield a positive outcome in the near future as Turkey is also expected to take the lead as one of the top emerging countries.
The South Asia region has been an advocate of democracy, though only India has been able to maintain an exemplary democratic state. There is no doubt that the incidents of corruption are extremely high in this region as the good governance hardly exists. Pakistan and Bangladesh have undergone military rule due to the political instabilities and lack of adherence to the constitution. The analysts and experts often refer to this region as highly dependent on foreign aid due to the prevailing socio-economic issues, and incapability of the leaderships to strengthen the respective economies. Issues like population explosion, high poverty index, lack of quality education, et cetera add to the problems. Nonetheless, as the current political dynamics are studied, these regions are seen to be emerging as one of the most powerful countries due to the factors such as increased awareness of the locals, enhanced political knowledge, and the increasing will to impart good governance and make the political systems sustainable. The strategic linkages with the regional powers are also taking a positive shape as Russia and China are being looked up to as the new unannounced powers in the geopolitical arena.
Moving towards the Far East, countries like Japan, South Korea, and Indonesia have been true advocates of democracy, which can be observed through their well-established institutions and the respect for the constitution. The political maturity is one of the reasons these countries have exceptionally developed economies, as the investors’ confidence was never shaken. But Far East has its own share of instability in the shape of poor governance systems and the authoritarian leadership style. China’s growing influence and development in the China Sea have also caused a fissure within the neighboring states, which is creating political constraints. Chances are that foreign hands will highlight and emphasize this issue so that any arbitration efforts may not materialize and China loses its rights on the sea.
Geo-Political Environment on the Whole
The Asians are advocates of democracy and free speech; however, the military rule is seen to hold sway in many countries, which emerged due to the weak governance by the political elite. In many instances, the military was forced to take over the governance due to corrupt, weak and self-centered policies of the politicians, as seen in the case of Pakistan. While in other instances the military leaders misused their powers to reign over the country. There is no denying the fact that Asia has some of the world’s best politicians who have excelled in their field. President Putin is the most admired president in the history of Russia, whereas President Xi Jinping’s diplomacy made China welcomed by all, not only in Asia, but in Europe as well. India is also credited with well- developed democratic systems, which have never failed. The future of politics is promising in Asia, due to factors that will not only shape up the political infrastructure but will also groom the future world leaders.
Asia has the highest ratio of youth due to the population explosion. This is one of the reasons the economic centers shifted to this region. The abundance of unexplored natural resources and profusion of human capital are some of the other factors. This is further creating exposure and opportunities in the political fields and the youth is seen highly involved in all spheres of politics, wanting the best democratic practices in their respective countries. Some countries have well-developed democratic institutions, whereas the others are in the process of developing them.
The participation in formal training and education is increasing in all fields and political education has become one of the most preferred fields of study. Involvement of youth at United Nations Model platforms is increasing, which is grooming representatives for the highly integrated forums, such as the SAARC, SCO, ECO and ASEAN, while the list is increasing as the regional cooperation blocs are gaining momentum. China has taken the lead and has introduced regional integration initiatives, which will link Central Asia with South Asia and further link these regions with Far East Asia.
Asia has stepped into a new era of regional and economic collaboration which has led to increased geographical associations amongst the countries. Rather, it will be right to say that the economic and regional amalgamation is only possible due to the political and diplomatic extension of ties. An interesting phenomenon is also being observed, and that is the increased military collaborations, predicting that in future, a combined force parallel to NATO may rise in Asia with the objective to sustain peace and stability in the region.
On the other hand, the extensive collaborations with the political, followed by economic sector, may lead to a stronger union, which may surpass the European Union as well. That will allow visa-free traveling and the introduction of one currency will replace local currencies.
Traditional Versus Technological
Japan, South Korea, and China have highly advanced technology systems, which are not only able to assist in the economic progression but also in the development of artificial intelligence, which better equips humans with exceptional thinking processes and information vital for making well-informed decisions. The way various threats are managed by these highly advanced countries is mind boggling, as compared to the developing countries of Asia. Artificial intelligence has slowly yet successfully made its way into fields other than business development, which is why the technologically advanced countries are now enjoying high economies of scale and reduced wastage. The developing countries are still relying on the traditional means of information, and political scenario is highly dependent on the traditional sources of information, among which the newspapers take the lead. However, there is also an interesting trend - Asian continent is home to almost half of the world’s population, which includes the population of developed, as well as the developing countries. The youth, which comprise a major proportion of the population, are highly skilled in the fields of information technology (IT) especially the software development. The Internet has assisted in shaping the region’s politics as online forums, chat rooms, observation cells, subject blogging and other websites, such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, have given a new dimension to politics.
The populations from the developing countries have also started showing active presence on these social IT forums to attract their voter base and to spread their message and wider agendas. Unfortunately, in a few countries, the social media is restricted and highly regulated by the government institution, fearing it will create anti-state and anti-government sentiments. In the future, technology is definitely going to take over and transform the continent’s political scenario, a recent illustration of which is how FaceTime came to rescue the democracy in the recent attempt of a military coup in Turkey. Similarly, social media has been seen as an effective tool in highlighting the social issues, which had never been addressed before. Even the most underdeveloped countries of the continent such as, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Myanmar have seen a technological surge where the locals are raising their voices especially in the political arena. Therefore, it is easy to conclude that technological advancements are replacing the traditional political environment, which carries multiple benefits accruing from the increase in transparency and accountability.
Emerging Powers in the Region
The shift of power axis towards Asia is evident where China is declared as the unopposed winner. There is no doubt that India wanted and is still pursuing the dream to become the regional power, however, the current circumstances depict a contrary picture, as so far, India has not been able to achieve a breakthrough in attaining any massive project in the grand Chinese dream. The idea of regional integration and making Asia the economic hub of the globe has further escalated the economic tendencies of the developing countries and in all probabilities most of the countries making to the top of the list will belong to Asia. Most surprisingly, these countries are present-day developing countries, which will reign over the global economy in the next upcoming years. Now there is a far greater role of politics in this situation, as political hostilities will lead to isolation, whereas political openness, as seen in the case of Maldives and Sri Lanka, will yield tremendous positive outcomes. As the global trends have taken a new dimension, in the future, the economic powers will be declared as the political leaders of the world as well. Unfortunately, Asia had long been jumbled in the web of the Asian dilemma where the past legacies were too hostile to bring in a change. However, a shift in the Asian markets turned out to be the game changer in this region that has alarmed the western powers to a great extent, something that they never foresaw. As the future predictions are evaluated in the light of the current trends, eight of the fifteen top emerging countries belong to Asia. The countries located on the Asian side will benefit mostly due to their geostrategic location and being blessed with certain natural resources, which are becoming scarce around the world, and which consequently gives them a competitive edge.
New Trends: Whistleblowing
The world politics stage has seen a new phenomenon of whistleblowers who have turned the tables on many pertinent and sensitive issues. The information leaked by Edward Snowden, Julian Assange, and the Panama Leaks jolted the world political leaders and affirmed to many that the truth cannot remain hidden for too long. The political leaders, who also happen to constitute the world’s elite families and the sensitive agencies are now well aware that they are playing with fire as the technological advancements have given strength to a common man to reveal or hold any information at any given time. The world financial institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Asian Development Bank and so on, are now all facing the threat of whistleblowers, and therefore, precaution is being taken more than ever.
However, apart from the regular media channels, such as the investigative journalism and special programs aired on channels highlighting pertinent issues on matters related to good governance, whistleblowing has been used extensively to reveal information and actions of the world’s elite and political groups. This has further assisted China to take the driving seat and derive benefits for itself through rolling the idea of regional economic integration. Panama Leaks have been the largest whistleblowing incident of this century, which mostly targeted the political elite of the globe. As the people refused to accept the corrupt political leaders in Europe, a similar trend is taking place in Asia, where the locals are demanding a trial of the political elite accused of tax evasion and money laundering. As the voice of common man cannot be ignored in this revolutionized era, chances are that no politician will be able to get rid of these allegations easily as compared to the past. Panama Leaks have generated a global uproar, which has gone out of control and the people are angry, especially the tax payers, as they want justice to be served.
Populism and Extremism
Countries like Thailand and Philippines have seen a movement towards populism; however, the analysts have declared it as a failed attempt. Despite the alluring features of populism, the traditional mindset in politics is still dominant in these countries. The rising youth is seen more in favour of the ideological values taught by populism. They want a common man to be empowered and to be able to influence the decision makers on basis of equality. So populism did not succeed in the first attempt, but it has the potential to reemerge in the future.
Analysts also predict that populism may also manifest in the Central Asian Republics and South Asia. The traces of populism are certainly there. Nonetheless, the majority still favors democracy and many want that to be the only chosen way of the political system in any country. On the other hand, in a broader perspective, Asia is mainly an underdeveloped region, which has faced its own share of social issues and political instabilities.
The lack of attention and resources led these unaddressed issues to further aggravate, which has now taken the shape of extremism on the continent. At present, Asia is being labeled as the home of the Jihadist and terrorist organizations, which include the Al-Qaeda, Taliban and the Islamic State (ISIS).
There is no doubt that the terrorist related incidents are on the rise in Asia, which has distorted the normal life in countries of Asia. But there is more to the story. The political clashes, instabilities and lack of attention are the main reasons behind the growth of such destructive groups who are being financed and trained by the foreign hands who do not want to see a progressive and peaceful Asia.
Asia was the first country which was hit by the backlash of war against terror initiated by the United States of America. Afghanistan, once a modern state is back to square one, whereas Pakistan suffered the wrath of Taliban after becoming an ally of the USA. Indonesia, being one of the victims as the Bali attacks claimed lives of many foreigners, devised proactive strategies to confront the threats of terrorism. Whereas countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Thailand, Malaysia, and the Philippines are currently on high alert as the security agencies still need to devise foolproof strategies.
However, security analysts believe that the future is not bleak as the increasing political and military interaction and cooperation at various forums will yield productive results, where these forces will not only devise the integrated combat strategies, but will also be a step forward for the political leaders to take responsibility and adopt integrative practices, which will be in favour of the region on the whole rather than pursuing their individualistic aims and objectives.
Will the Economic Giant be the Political Leader?
There is no doubt that the political competitiveness is expected to intensify, and that is going to be a game changer in the continent. The discussion that China is aiming to become the new world supreme power is an old one, which lacks significant related information and facts. The truth is that the new era is that of integration, irrespective of political, economic, and regional security. Moving forward, ruling is no longer goiong to be monopolized by one country, Rather, countries will require the collective support of one another which is why an intense struggle is seen in devising diplomacy strategies and increasing the circle of allies instead of relying on few. The one with the most allies wins the race. China is no doubt the initiator of the regional economic integration, however, without the support of the participating countries in the grand plan, China would have failed to acquire this status.
As information horizons broaden, a reconciliation between politics and economy will be seen emerging. Therefore the futuristic politics in Asia will not be based on political power or the economic advantage. Rather, it is going to be the sum of both devised through a scientific approach to link all sectors so that maximum benefit can be derived. There is no doubt that the developed countries are coming forward to assist and uplift the underdeveloped countries through project initiatives, which will help elevate the economies, but at the same time, individual participation and commitment from these developing countries is also required towards the common goal. If we suggest that China will lead, then it will only happen if the other countries of the continent decide to support the Chinese stance. The growth of pro-India inclination is also rising, especially in the Gulf States and the Central Asian Republics. Whoever comes up at the top, will have to take all in the same boat for a win-win situation.