What is "Asia" from Global Perspectives?
Toyoo GYOHTEN (President, Institute for International Monetary Affairs)
Global Redefinition of Asia
We seem to have taken the concept of Asia for granted, as we have been using the word "Asia" so often in various contexts in the past. Recently, however, there have been a number of incidents that require us to reconsider the definition of Asia from global perspectives.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 incident and the Iraqi war, the U.S. has become hegemonic in order to fight terrorism, and the so-called Atlantic rift has developed where heterogeneity is strongly felt between the U.S. and Europe. Clearly Asia is not unaffected by this conflict. Economically, Asia's role has been increasing as a market and a production base for the U.S. and Europe, and that is why the U.S. has been actively participating in APEC and Europe is working on ASEM with Asia. Furthermore, in terms of security Asia is full of risks such as North Korea, the Taiwan Strait and the Indian Subcontinent, which are definitely affecting the U.S. and Europe.
In this context, however, Asia is not necessarily becoming a cohesive entity from global perspectives. First, historically Asia is delayed in its nation state building and its development pattern is different from Europe, due to its colonial legacy. Therefore, it is not easy for Asian countries as nation states to cooperate among themselves as we have witnessed in Europe. Second, China is becoming a dominant factor in Asia, but no one can foresee what kind of nation China will become in the next 10 to 20 years. There are many scenarios for China and Asia's future is heavily dependent on which scenario becomes a reality.
As a result, Asians themselves are not sure what Asia really is in contrast to the U.S. or Europe, where the U.S. will maintain its hegemonic superiority in the world at least in the next 5 to 10 years, and Europe will increase its presence as a global entity by enlarging the EU to include 25 countries in the near future. On the other hand, the concept of Asia has been diluted by use of the terms "APEC" and the "Pacific-rim," and there is no consensus on the definition of Asia among Asians themselves.
Concern about China's Hegemony
More recently, the concept of "ASEAN Plus 3" has emerged to include Japan, China and South Korea. This seems to be a realistic and useful concept to deal with Asia, at least from Japan's standpoint.
However, even this concept has some problems. First, what to do with Australia and New Zealand? Second, whether to include South Asian countries such as Myanmar, India and Pakistan? More seriously, this framework is not effective enough to deal with such serious issues as the security problem in the Korean peninsula, where the U.S. and Russia may have to be involved.
Given this situation, Asia might well remain in a nebulous state, and China would eventually become so powerful as to represent Asia as a whole in an undesirable way for most of the Asian countries that have ambivalent feelings towards China.
While everyone appreciates China's extraordinary aspirations and energy for economic development, there does not seem to exist a principle or a philosophy on the part of the Chinese for their future role in Asia and possibly in the world. As a result, no one is sure what kind of vision China has as a leader for itself and the world, and most Asian countries including Japan would not like China to be hegemonic in view of China's historical expansionary tendencies.
Japan's Role in Redefining Asia
It is about time for every Asian country to think about Asia's global reorientation, and for Japan to play a more active role in the redefinition of Asia. An immediate question for Japan is how to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with China, while benefiting Asia as a whole in the globalized world. China is rapidly building military and economic power, but still lacks "soft power" to persuade other countries to follow voluntarily and willingly. That is where Japan can play a role, especially a key role in building a horizontal alliance of the EU style rather than vertical control over Asia by one particular country.
In this regard, the Japanese public should take China more seriously and accept the reality that China is rapidly growing to become a superpower in Asia and possibly in the world. For example, Japan must reconsider its agricultural problem in order to move forward with its FTA agreements with other Asian countries vis-à-vis China's FTA initiative.
In conclusion, Japan must come up with more persuasive diplomatic, security, economic and cultural policies for itself and Asia as a whole to help build a cohesive Asia in a way that would benefit not only Asian countries but also the world as a whole.