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An unlikely Asian century
The 19th century was the European century, the 20th century was the American century and the 21st century is believed to be an Asian century. While this century has 86 more years to go, Asia is unlikely to be the sole dominant political and cultural power.Out of the big Asian players, none has risen, nor is likely to rise, as the dominant power and the sum of all Asian countries isn't likely to have the capacity to dominate the world.
First things first, the big Asian players, like China, India, Japan and South Korea are busy with their own domestic issues.
The populations of China and India come with their own social issues requiring tight control to prevent social chaos. Japan and South Korea are busy with their economic agendas, ensuring that they get through the global crisis with flying colours. A Korean unification plan needs all the political strength it can get to focus on its success.
Second, the second-tier Asian players like Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries do not have enough momentum to propel them to political and cultural megastardom. Either individually or as a group, Southeast Asian countries are climbing uphill due to limited experience and poverty, excluding Singapore.
Third, G7 countries (the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan) are still leading the world with their soft power, despite their economies being in a big mess and their net wealth having dwindled. With their combined experience of more than a millennium, G7 countries are maintaining the status quo of world political and cultural power.
Fourth, the US, despite being a "frugal superpower", continues playing the role of "the world's policeman" even though it needs to borrow from China, the world's "lending bank".
The US has showed no sign of stepping down from the highest spot on the "policing the world" totem pole. Its latest military base in Niger is the attempt of a superpower in a midlife crisis to show its remaining power to the world.
It is extremely interesting to notice that the grandfather of capitalism is now borrowing money from the grandmother of communism. And in the matter of finances, apparently, both countries are a matching pair of gloves, which creates an unprecedented synergistic power.
Despite China's position as a "bank", its reluctance to control world domination is another interesting phenomenon.
Fifth, Western countries are likely to continuously lead scientifically through various technological innovations, which makes the cliche "marry an engineer, not an artist, because an engineer can always find jobs while an artist is likely to be starving" a reality. For instance, Germany, the "geeky techie" nation, is relatively stable in the midst of global crisis.
Sixth, economically, Asian countries are likely to maintain their supportive role as ideal places for offshore outsourcing. However, due to rising costs of doing business in Asia, Western countries are likely to limit offshore outsourcing. Many businesses have rebuilt manufacturing plants in their own countries.
Seventh, Indonesia, with its ongoing issues as a young democracy, is unlikely to rise to the occasion. It is yet to earn respect from the world, due to its inability to manage a mid-sized country whose population explosion has gone through the roof with 3.5 million to 4 million babies born every year and a land area merely 2.67 times the size of Texas. Poor internal management and a mediocre international image make it an uphill battle. Despite its national GDP, GDP per capita and positive economic growth of 6.3 per cent per year, Indonesia is still a third-world country in terms of infrastructure, legal and taxation provisions, political performance and education.
Eighth, the overall world dis-equilibrium has shown how fragile power is, as the world today is much more susceptible to shocks, and the global risk landscape has been dominated by sharp discontinuities.
The world has simply changed so rapidly due to four dominant forces: interdependence, complexity, velocity and transparency.
Last, the unlikeliness of Asia dominating this century doesn't mean it will be led by a unipolar superpower like the US anymore. The century is likely to be led collectively by all strong state and non-state agents, including individuals.
The world has finally come to its most equal form: anyone with hard and soft power has the potential to dominate the world politically, socially, culturally, economically and philanthropically.
The "wisdom of the crowd" has reached its tipping point. And the world isn't going back to the old ways of doing business anymore.
The United Nations and NGOs may attempt to steer the world into becoming a more peaceful place, yet they will likely be unable to fill the global governance vacuum.
The unlikely Asian of this century is both a pro and a con, as long as you know what to do and which decisions to make.
Jennie S Bev is an author, columnist and CEO of a digital venture in Santa Clara.