Missing links in globalization
How Asia is drifting
apart from Europe and America
by Philip Bowring
SCMP January 27, 2003
East and West are drifting apart: that is the clear message for an Asian
visitor to the annual summit of the World Economic Forum in Davos, which
The trend has become apparent in several ways. While Iraq is the most
obvious and immediate example, it is perhaps the least important in
the long run.
The US has been the main exception to the decline in high-powered attendance,
with three cabinet members and a clutch of politicians who may have
thought they were in Davos to explain US policy on Iraq, but have mainly
been subjected to a barrage of criticism.
Americans remain generally popular and the benefits the US has brought
to the world should not be forgotten because of corporate scandals and
some excesses on the security front after September 11, 2001. But contempt
has risen to an unusual level at Washington's push for war.
The US seems determined on war with Iraq regardless of what weapons
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein possesses or whether he seriously threatens
anyone but his own citizens; or whether the UN or its major Western
allies approve a conflict which promises far more "collateral damage"
than any event since the Indochina wars.
The Europeans are contemptuous, the Arabs besides themselves with anger
and the Asians look on with concern - notably Indonesia and Malaysia
- about the domestic impact of US-led aggression. To some, US President
George W. Bush already looks rather less rational than North Korea leader
Visiting Davos to remind the world of a more intelligent, gentler US
was a leader who would never have led his country down the path of extremist,
aggressive unilateralism and who was willing to talk to Mr Kim: William
Jefferson Clinton. The former president's sex life may have been an
embarrassment but it seems to have been good for his emotional equilibrium.
The Iraq issue, however, divides East from West in another way. The
US, Europe and the Middle East are all obsessed with this issue. It
dominates the news and domestic political discourse. Yet, for most of
Asia, it is still a distant issue. Davos has been full of doom-laden
comments about the world on a precipice. But generally Asia does not
share that sentiment, whatever it may think of the Iraq situation.
The assembled US and European economists and pundits make gloomy forecasts
about "the world economy", based almost entirely on the perspectives
of the US and Europe. Of course they are important to the rest of us.
But if they bothered to read the data from Asia they would see that
there is moderate to strong growth almost everywhere.
India, Thailand and Korea are all doing well enough that they can withstand
low growth in the West.
The low growth contagion from the West can be avoided, just as Asia
has suffered very little from Japan's past three years of near-stasis.
None of this means that Asia is immune from problems elsewhere. But
the message here is that the Davos consensus has yet to understand how
Asia - both economically and politically - is drifting apart from the
interests of the Western world. Davos has lost interest in Asia, and
In some ways that might seem reassuring to a more confident Asia. But
one must never forget that Asia-Pacific security still relies primarily
on the American umbrella. So perhaps Asian leaders should speak up,
remind Mr Bush that his obsession with Iraq could do huge long-term
damage to its image and its vital relationships in the Asia-Pacific
The meeting seems to be losing its lustre, with fewer heads of state
and government in attendance. The only Asian leader to bother this year
was Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, presumably because it
is his last chance before he steps down. Thai Prime Minister Thaksin
Shinawatra, usually keen to promote his international standing, did
Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo had planned a visit but
her budget could not stand the cost of a trip to the pricey event. Hong
Kong's small contingent is headed by a trio who underline the links
between government and business: textile baron turned Secretary for
Commerce, Industry and Technology Henry Tang Ying-yen, Cyberport pioneer
Richard Li and Disney promoter Mike Rowse.
Asian participation is largely confined to Asia-specific issues, and
the Africans are conspicuous by their absence.
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