SEOUL – There is no question that Asia’s standing in the global economy is stronger than ever. The region now produces about 40% of the world’s GDP, measured according to purchasing power parity. During the recent economic crisis, Asia accounted for more than half of global GDP growth. Add to that a massive population and growing political influence, and Asia finally appears ready to lead on a world stage long dominated by the West.
But it is too early to open the champagne. The United States and Europe maintain an advantage, in terms of global strategic influence, while Asian countries are facing major political, economic, and security challenges.
In fact, Asia’s growth momentum is declining. China is working overtime to achieve an economic soft landing, following decades of breakneck expansion. Japan is preoccupied with escaping slow growth and coping with population aging. Asia’s other economic powerhouses – India, Indonesia, and South Korea – each face their own set of economic and political problems. Across the region, rising income inequality, financial instability, and environmental degradation are hampering development.
More problematic, despite being deeply interdependent, the region’s countries struggle to act collectively. The persistence of power rivalries, historical resentments, and territorial disputes, together with pronounced disparities in economic and military might, create substantial obstacles to unity. A recent surge in coercive behavior by China, a nationalist revival in India, and a shift toward conservatism in Japan have exacerbated these challenges.