In the West, during the last 7-8 years, interest in Asia has surged. Many are referring to China as a potential challenger of Western hegemony, and since the term was coined in 2004 politicians, analysts and enthusiastic headlines alike have been referring to the “Beijing Consensus” as an alternative to the Washington Consensus. Meanwhile India, although lagging behind its neighbour China, is still the only country which can be compared in terms of population, economic prospect or future potential. Now an economic success story, India is also beginning to make its voice heard on the international, as opposed to just the regional stage.
So why has Asia, and in particular China and India, become so important? I’ve been asking myself that question for a while, and looking at it I think that part of the answer is really just that simple.
Asia is the largest continent in the world, bigger even than North and South America put together. It is also the most densely populated. Very soon, the world is set to hit a landmark 7 billion inhabitants. Out of the 10 most populous countries 7 of them are in Asia, which with an excess of 4 billion people is the world’s most populous continent. That is roughly 60 % of the entire population of the world. To give a further sense of proportion, Africa is the second most populous continent just shy of one billion. China and India, with populations of well over a billion each, together constitute about 37 % of the entire population of the world.
I will keep scratching my head, but I think I’ve at least figured out the core reason why China and India are gaining importance. It seems inevitable, really.
Do you remember back in 2003 when nobody really knew anything about China and didn’t care? Back when most of what you knew of Indian economics belonged to a period in which it was referred to as the ‘crown jewel’?
It has dawned on me that the surge in interest in South-East Asia really only began pretty recently. Before that it had of course been a part of the world which generated a certain amount of interest. The mindboggling reality that the region contained half of humanity was often recalled, yet not fully comprehended. The memory of long gone dynasties and civilizations, fascinating and mystical world religions, plus some kind of grasp on the war in Vietnam was about as much as the average Joe Blow needed to know. In the seventies and eighties the West was forced to acknowledge an emerging economic power in Japan – an anomaly in an otherwise established Western world system. A few miniature ‘tiger’ economies have also been on our radar for a while (Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea). But South-East Asia as a whole still did not seem to hold more importance than any other region until just recently, when that begun to change. Nowadays, people have a real awareness of Asia as an emerging global economic powerhouse. Many believe that a shift in the global economic order is occurring, and no matter how fast or impressive the development is anywhere else, such as in Botswana or Argentina, nobody can steal the limelight like the two major powers of Asia.
I have asked a few people, and while most seem not to have been conscious of it many agree that there has been a relatively sudden change in the common perception and interest about Asia. What is your experience of this? Has there been a change in media attention? Even if you really prefer the sports pages of the paper, or even if you feel like you lack enough knowledge to reply – I still really want to hear what you think!
Filed under East Asia, media