The rise of Asia has almost reduced itself to being a cliché. For almost every decade, since the beginning of the 20th century, there has been the promise of the arrival of the continent at the centre of global relations, and yet Asia continues to elude. In part, at least, the Asian mirage mimics Samuel Beckett's well-known play, the wait for Godot's arrival reveals less about the mysterious stranger and more about those seeking a deus ex machina.
ASIAN JUGGERNAUT: THE RISE OF CHINA, INDIA AND JAPAN
By Brahma Chellaney
Price: Rs 395; Pages: 348
Asia is slippery for a variety of reasons. Is there one Asia or many Asias? Is there a pan-Asian identity which unites the diversities of central Asia, west Asia and south Asia with south-east Asia and east Asia? Is the geography of Asia not as much of a social construction as the heterogeneous identities that define the people inhabiting the landmass? And is the idea of one Asia really no more than a product of the occidental mind that sought to simply homogenise and brush all complexities of the "other" into a single-coloured map? The post-colonial world, and in India the Nehruvian era, saw, briefly, attempts at politically uniting Asia. But it became clear that the forces that divide were stronger than the urge to come together.
Now, fortunately all, but the most normatively inclined, have abandoned the search for a grand Asian advent. Instead, the focus has been on more specific regional and sub-regional assertions. Since the last few years, as we all know, the potential emergence of China and India on the world stage has captured the intellectual imagination of a variety of policy analysts in a range of think-tanks. And almost every possible methodological technique has been used to game, simulate, project and forecast the impact that the rise of these two civilisational states would have on international and regional politics. Brahma Chellaney's Asian Juggernaut includes the novelty of Japan as a value addition to the exhaustive studies restricting themselves to just China and India.
A juggernaut, at least etymologically speaking, is a vehicle. A three-tiered locomotive would, generally speaking-if the laws of physics hold good-be quite unstable or at least inferior to a four-wheeled one. But physics apart, the inclusion of Japan makes the study interesting, if intriguing. It is useful to be reminded that while the Japanese miracle may be over, there has been a recent slow but steady revitalisation of the Japanese economy that still ensures its standing as a major player in the international relations of Asia and beyond.
However, the basic question remains: will the rise of China, India and Japan translate into a new sense of Asian solidarity? Are the contradictions within not greater than the tendencies to coalesce? Chellaney is, fortunately, most of the time, a hard-nosed realist. He identifies the conflicts and tensions that beset this "strategic triangle". And yet, as if driven by some godly mandate, he concludes each chapter hoping that history, politics and self-interest will somehow give way to altruism, collaboration and even the creation of an Asian Union.
The reality is that continued American hegemony, not the rise of Asia, still is the defining feature of contemporary international relations. And the bilateral relationship between all three of these Asian states with the United States is more important for them, in almost every sense, than the relationship between them. And as reminder, that Japan is as much a western power as an Asian one, is the recent publication of the influential study by the Chicago Council on Global affairs and the Japan Economic Foundation-Engaging China and India: An Economic Agenda for Japan and the US.
More fundamentally, the rise of India and China, and perhaps even Japan, will have to be watched carefully. Unfortunately, even the best forecasting models cannot factor in the existing or future internal challenges that these countries will face including through pandemics or civil strife. Napoleon Bonaparte once described Europe as a molehill, and Asia as the land of great empires. Two centuries later, similar predictions are being voiced. Let us hope that they are more accurate than the French Emperor's.