LONDONEast and West are drifting apart politically and economically. Globalization
may still be a word that people love or hate, but the lesson from the latest
Davos and Porto Alegre meetings, or from comparing the priorities of New York,
Paris or São Paolo with those of Beijing, Hong Kong or Seoul, is of divergence.
History holds several examples of
contacts between East Asia and the West being interrupted, sometimes for long
periods, by war or chaos cutting the Silk Road. Are we seeing another as the
lands of Islam between the Indus and the Black Sea face both turmoil within and
confrontation with the West?
The threat of war in Iraq may be
temporary, but it is helping to underline how Asian and Western perceptions of
interest are growing apart.
It is occurring, too, at a time when
there is a kernel of confidence in East Asia that its economy has a momentum of
its own and can continue to prosper even if its current main trading partners,
the United States and Europe, no longer provide the stimulus to which Asia has
From the standpoint of the East, America
and Europe have both, in their different ways, become so obsessed with Iraq and
Islam that they exacerbate deep-seated problems and so endanger a broader global
Asians resent what they mostly see as a
latter-day outburst of Western imperialist instincts, with potential for damage
to the global economy.
They note, too, that the views of Asia
are given scant attention in Europe or the United States, which both assume that
the international configurations of 1945 should and will remain intact.
But due to their interest in maintaining
good relations with America, the Asians mostly keep their opinions to
The bottom line is that they want to stay
as far away from the issue of Iraq and the Middle East as a partially globalized
world permits. They suspect that the era when pan-Pacific developments were on
the global cutting edge is over, as America's concerns with Europe and the
Middle East, with homeland defense and with its increasingly important Hispanic
population and Western Hemisphere connections overshadow the links to East Asia.
Given U.S. budgetary problems, there is a likelihood before long of a reduction
of the American military presence in Asia, which has been such a major factor in
regional stability. This is undesirable but probably inevitable. Asia will have
to do more to help itself.
Meanwhile, there is growing Asian
resentment at under-representation in international institutions. This does not
apply just to the composition of the Security Council and the policies of the
World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It is also apparent in UN
agencies and at forums such as Davos and Porto Alegre, where debates on economic
policy are framed by the ideological divides of the West, including Latin
America, largely to the exclusion of the experiences and practices of an East
Asia which has long been at the forefront of development. South Korea, China,
Malaysia and others are admired from a distance, but their views and experts are
largely excluded from key institutions.
The reality of Asian growth is
reinforcing the self-confidence of the region.
The mainstream Western economists who
appear at Davos and elsewhere continue to claim that Asia and most of the rest
of the world are hostage to U.S. economic performance. Porto Alegre emphasizes
the evils of Western multinationals and the "Washington consensus" in stifling
development and increasing inequity. Both views often seem myopic and
paternalistic to an Asia which has recovered and learned lessons from its
Asian economies - excluding Japan but
including India - have performed well in the past two years despite weakness in
the West. They should continue to do relatively very well. All have large
reserves and current account surpluses and are in a position to continue to spur
domestic demand if Western demand, held back by debt and demography, contin- ues
Intra-regional trade is moving gradually
from dependence on the West as the ultimate consumer to consumption within the
region. While Western nongovernmental organizations and once rich Latin
Americans blame others for their own failures, Asians mostly welcome old
multinationals, and are too busy creating their own new ones to bother about
Davos or Porto Alegre.