The Resistible Rise of Asia?

NEW DELHI – A favorite theme in international debate nowadays is whether Asia’s rise signifies the West’s decline. But the current focus on economic malaise in Europe and the United States is distracting attention from the many serious challenges that call into question Asia’s continued success.

To be sure, today’s ongoing global power shifts are primarily linked to Asia’s phenomenal economic rise, the speed and scale of which have no parallel in world history. With the world’s fastest-growing economies, fastest-rising military expenditures, fiercest resource competition, and most serious hot spots, Asia obviously holds the key to the future global order.

But Asia faces major constraints. It must cope with entrenched territorial and maritime disputes, such as in the South China Sea; harmful historical legacies that weigh down its most important interstate relationships; increasingly fervent nationalism; growing religious extremism; and sharpening competition over water and energy.

Moreover, Asia’s political integration badly lags behind its economic integration, and, to compound matters, it has no security framework. Regional consultation mechanisms remain weak. Differences persist over whether a security architecture or community should extend across Asia, or be confined to an ill-defined “East Asia.”