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于滨:The fault lines that could shake Asia

更新时间:2009-06-12 11:52:18
作者: 于滨 (进入专栏)  

  

  While much of Asia has been overwhelmed by the year-end tsunami, the outpouring of sympathy and assistance will eventually soothe the pain and destruction. What the tsunami may not be able to change, however, is the much deeper and stronger socio-economic-strategic undercurrents that are gathering momentum in Asia. As the year of the Monkey in 2004 ushered in the Rooster in 2005, the region is being torn by two different, if not opposing, forces. One is economic dynamics, which is largely natural, integrating and mutually beneficial, and conducive to social cohesion and political stability. The other is one of political-cultural engineering of identity change toward "normal states". This pursuit of symbolic goals, ironically, also is associated with greater political-military assertiveness. As a result, the specter of the past is again haunting the globe, as the region approaches the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

  

  Growth and stability in 2004

  

  Asia in 2004 has been blessed by continuous economic growth and socio-political stability. Part of the reason is a steady worldwide economic upturn of 5% and healthy growth among the world's leading economies (4.4% for Japan, 4.3% for the United States, 2.2% for the European Union). Asia's developing nations are particularly impressive, registering an average rise of 7.8%, as against 4.6% for Latin America, 4.5% for Africa, and 6.6% for developing economies as a whole.

  Regional integration is also at work. In late November 2004, a summit among 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China yielded an action plan to step up their political consultation, security dialogues, and economic cooperation. An ASEAN-China Free Trade Area (FTA) is also in the making to integrate 2 billion people into a $2.4 trillion FTA by 2010, rivaling the world's richest FTAs ,such as the EU and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

  China's pro-active diplomacy is only the latest round of Asia's multilateralism, which will also prompt Japan and South Korea to accelerate their own pace of integration with ASEAN in the coming years. Already the ASEAN + 3 talks, which began in 1997 between ASEAN, Japan, China, and South Korea, have resulted in the deepening and expanding of relationships for Asian nations.

  The absence of large-scale terrorist attacks in major Asian nations (such is the case of Madrid, Spain, and Beslan, Russia, in 2004) was also helpful. Perhaps more than in any other parts of the world, Asia is home to some of the world's leading religions including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto and Judaism. With the exception of Central Asian and the Mideastern parts of the region, civilization coexistence and exchanges, not their "clashes", have been the mainstream in Asia. Anti-terror remains part of the vocabulary for the Asian elite. By no means is it the only, nor the most important item on their agenda.

  Last if not the least is China's sizzling economy (9%), which undoubtedly contributes to Asia's healthy performance. A quarter of the world's population going through a quarter of a century of sustained growth is no small matter for Asia's economic dynamics. As the No 1 manufacturer for shoes, cell phones, color TVs, digital cameras, bicycles, vitamin C, aspirin, and other products for the world market, China's growth potential has yet to be fully tapped. With a per capita gross national product (GDP) barely above $1,000 for 2004, the "Middle Kingdom" consumed 8% of the world's petroleum, 10% of its electricity, 19% aluminum, 20% copper, 31% coal, and a third of the world's steel.

  

  China's "color-blind" devotion to substances

  

  While the central kingdom's endless appetite for market and raw materials drives regional growth and integration, less noticed is the fact that China's rapid economic modernization is achieved by disregarding, at least partially, political symbols. What China has done is to ignore the "color" of the "cat" (black or white) as long as it catches mice (Deng Xiaoping's words). In policy terms, it means to focus on the substance of whatever works: socialism, capitalism, or both.

  China's explosive growth, however, comes at a steep price. Twenty-five years into its pro-business and elite-oriented economic reforms, China has transformed itself from the world's most egalitarian state into the least egalitarian nation in the world - ironically, since it is still nominally under socialist symbolism. This transformation of substance occurs in the midst of the most massive urbanization and human migration in the world's history, involving hundreds of millions of people at any time in the past decade or two. As a result, Latin Americanization - meaning huge income disparity leading to socio-political instability - is haunting China's political and intellectual elite. The current leadership of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao clearly favors a proper balance between efficiency (production) and equality (redistribution).(点击此处阅读下一页)


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