For nearly 2000 years and until 1820, the combined GDP of India and China alone was more than half of the entire world. This prosperity endured through all the wars and frequent churn of empires in Asia, from the Ottoman Empire in the west, to Imperial China and Japan in the east. India saw waves of Asian forces, some coming for plunder and other staying to rule, such as the Ayans, Arabs, Turks, Kushans (from North-West China, Scythians, Persians, Afghans, Mongols, and Mughals, before the British Empire was established in Hindustan. China experienced its own series of empires, such as the Shang, Zhou, Shin, Han, Mongol, Ming, and the Manchus; these were the various ethnicities of the region which later became one country called China. Persia, Arabia, and Turkey too experienced invasions, with peoples from around their region entering, integrating and leaving, era after era.
The colonial period changed this Asian continental landscape – economically, politically, and socially. The regions wealth declined as Europe extracted from it for one hundred and fifty years, from 1800-1950. By the time they departed Asia after the Second World War, the Europeans had left behind a continent whose political national boundaries they had crudely rewritten, whose tribal identities had become rigid, whose confidence had been shattered, whose leadership was ideologically confused, and whose wealth had been depleted into stark poverty.
In contrast, Europe had benefited from its years in Asia, acquiring great wealth extracted from the region, absorbing Eastern knowledge, taking a gigantic leap forward in scientific development, organization, rule of law, and communications. It modelled itself on ancient Rome. Asia was left behind.
But in the last decade, its nations have resurrected. Technology, trade and a new generation has helped to put behind the colonial shackles and complexes, becoming instead a continent looking ahead – indeed leading in many ways economically, and now looking to political progress. Asia, with the world’s largest geography, largest population, and widest cultural diversity, is in a new phase of development that is allowing it to re-position itself at the helm of the geo-economic future.
The surge of Asian economic prosperity is coinciding with a West – and especially a Europe – that is in economic and political flux. It is an opportune time for our continent to think about a new integration, learning the lessons from the West, and indeed, there are already calls for a more welded Asian cooperation in the form of a ‘union.’ The process has begun, through the establishment of the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD) which aims to integrate the various existing Asian regional blocs, from ASEAN in the east to the Gulf Cooperation Council in West Asia and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in Central Asia. The first ACD summit was held in October 2012 in Kuwait and sought to promote interdependence amongst Asian countries on issues of common importance – the reduction of poverty and the improvement of the overall quality of life on the continent, the expansion of economic integration to strengthen the Asian market – all to create a more peaceful coexistence in Asia.
The changing dynamic in the regional and international politics of Asia is currently dominated by its Eastern bloc of China and India, which are following in the footsteps of the more developed Japan, South Korea and Singapore. The drag in Asia is on its western flank, a region rich in energy and in turmoil from a second western intervention, but on whose resources the Asian economies depend for their economic growth.
Can the countries of Asia now leverage their positions, economies, and growth stories to gain benefits, as a regional unit, from greater economic cohesion? Can we envision a different cooperation within the region, from Turkey to Tehran and Tokyo? Can it go beyond the boundaries of nation states and revert to the local and regional economic and trading centres and routes which existed before and during the colonial era, which made the West seek out Asia for these past centuries?
Over two days in the sylvan and idyllic setting of Manipal, Karnataka, as the guests of Manipal University, 18 select scholars from 15 Asian nations discussed and debated an “Asia, Uninterrupted.” In a closed-door, off-the-record environment, these scholars and experts attempted to formulate the most feasible framework of such a federation, by unravelling the social, economic and political obstacles and understand whether a new union of Greater Asia, can be the region’s future.
Through a series of linked sessions the following questions were addressed:
Structurally, can Asia become a successful federation of blocs? Over the years, several regional bodies have been formed to boost economic, political and security cooperation.
Some have been effective while others have been dominated by a single country. Becoming a federation will help to bypass the political boundaries of nation states and will coalesce the sub-regional units under the umbrella of a greater Asia. It will require a collective body of institutions with independent legitimacy consisting of selected statesmen from all the Asian nations to overlook the common economic, security, social and political agendas.
Functionally, can this Asia, with its unique history and regional diversity, go beyond the vision of the European Union and its political complexities and single currency system? Can it align the demographic dominance of China and India, the economic might and technological drive of Japan, Korea and Taiwan, the resource-dependency of Iran and Tajikistan? Should Asia instead focus on the efficient removal of trade barriers, seek a common market with free movement of goods and labour? There is already much talk of such an Asian Union, and a spaghetti of FTAs in goods and services is being implemented bilaterally in the region. How will these be coordinated across the federation?
Culturally, can Asia better the idea of such unity, keeping alive and celebrated, its vast geographical, economic, ethnic and religious diversity?
Economically, how viable will such an initiative be? Will the differences in the economies, and levels of their development, be obstacles for this vision and how? How will Asia avoid the pitfalls of Europe?
Against this background, participants discussed the following subjects
A. India at the Centre of Asia
B. Coalescing the Blocs: Towards economic integration
C. The Demographic Dividend: Women First
D. Asian Security
E. Innovation and Enterprise
F. Culture and Civilization: Sharing our heritage
There are many ideas about how Asia can be re-imagined as a whole even though it is still coming to terms with colonial era map-making and the intellectual domination of the West. Can India, situated at the heart of Asia, promote connectivities and draw the Asian economies together?
From November 17-19, Gateway House and Manipal University hosted ‘The Manipal Dialogue,’ where 18 select scholars from 15 Asian nations discussed and debated the concept of an “Asia, Uninterrupted.” T.V. Mohandas Pai, Chairman, Manipal Universal Learning, delivered this speech as his keynote address.
The India-Japan alliance needs to be viewed through a prism broader than that of “containing” China, and by treating the Indian and Pacific oceans as a single entity. Such an alliance has the potential to strengthen the geopolitical security of India and Japan, along with that of all their allies and associates.
You can read the key points from the Manipal Dialogue, here.
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