You are here

Vineet Ravindran asked: What is the ‘Asian Century’? Is the American ‘Pivot to Asia’ and the friction in India–China relations a challenge to the concept of the Asian Century?

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • Prashant Kumar Singh replies: The idea of the ‘Asian Century’ argues that the 21st century international order is going to be defined by Asia’s pre-eminence, the way the US pre-eminence defined the international order in the 20th century and Europe in the 19th century. It is also seen as Asian countries’ mutual rediscovery in terms of reconnection and reintegration. It seeks to repair artificial divisions in the Asian social, economic and cultural space that colonial interventions created.

    This idea appeared in the early 1990s when the world began sensing Asia’s economic resurgence. The end of the Cold War facilitated it. With the growth of Asian economies, mainly the Chinese economy, the share of the US, the leader of the 20th century international order, fell, leading to its relative decline. After the 2008 global recession, during which the Chinese economy helped stabilise the world economy, the idea gained further traction. China’s rise as a global economic power and the recognition of India’s economic progress and its long-term potential powered it.

    It is not wishful thinking. Over the last three decades, the locus of geo-economics has shifted from the West to Asia in the east. It has emerged as the main geopolitical theatre of the world, and the principal strategic contest is being played out here between China and the US. The Indo-Pacific concept operates primarily on Asian land and waters, with ASEAN playing a central role and India a prominent role in it. Asia witnesses numerous overlapping cross sub-regional processes such as the EAS, BIMSTEC, and the RCEP. China’s BRI is a mega integrationist initiative. Asia’s economic success has accelerated Asians’ movement within Asia for education, work, and business. Many Asian countries have significantly closed the critical technology gap with the West. The implications of Asia’s rise are evident in global governance. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank (NDB) are perceived as alternatives to the West-dominated World Bank and IMF. China's growing influence in international bodies, while not always beneficial to its Asian neighbours, is a pointer to the ‘Asian Century.’ Similarly, the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) granted India-specific exemption in recognition of India's growing importance in global affairs.

    India and China are, indeed, ‘twin engines’ of the ‘Asian Century,’ both in geopolitical and geo-economic aspects, by virtue of their large geographic, demographic, economic, and military profiles. The quality of no two other Asian countries’ bilateral relations will be as critical to its realisation as theirs.

    Challenges to the ‘Asian Century' come more from within Asia than from outside. China should realise that most parts of Asia are showing promise for growth, and they are all interconnected. Thus, the ‘Asian Century’ is not China’s century alone. Its essence lies in multipolar Asia. Therefore, China’s conduct towards its neighbours should be more inspiring and accommodating of their rise. China’s ‘Asia for Asians’ slogan has an exclusionary tone. The ‘Asian Century’ is not about isolating Asia from the wider world, nor is it a formula to project China’s leadership in the world.

    Recommended Reading: Parag Khanna, The Future Is Asian: Commerce, Conflict, and Culture in the 21st Century, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2019.

    Posted on 30 December 2022

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.