Tag Archives: Asian Century

The Future is Now: Five Steps Towards a Greater Asia

In a media environment saturated with dissection of inconsequential minutiae, it is sometimes a struggle to keep one’s eyes on the ‘substantive images’: the developments of serious import that will concretely define the direction of the world. It was therefore with some relief that we at Mediolana became aware of Parag Khanna’s mildly provocative The Future is Asian: Commerce, Conflict and Culture in the 21st Century, a book that seeks to direct its audience’s attention to the inexorable rise of the planet’s most populous continent.

Khanna’s thesis correctly underscores the undeniable significance of Asia – an act which is not hard to accomplish, but which few have attempted with anything like his stridence and lucidity. Asia possesses a number of the world’s largest economies and most of the world’s foreign exchange reserves; its military potency is exceptional, particular in terms of manpower; and several of its more ambitious countries are taking giant strides on political stages both domestic and international.

Much of this material is borderline unarguable. However, Khanna’s work possibly falls short on its prescriptions for greater Asian integration, which he views as ‘natural’ for what he perceives as a ‘continental system’ similar to that of the European Union.

In fact, Asia is much more diverse – geographically, linguistically, religiously, culturally – than Europe. Democracies border onto dictatorships, while communist nations sustain curious alliances with putative theocracies. A huge amount remains to be accomplished when it comes to fashioning a coherent power bloc out of 49 states which have widely divergent political economies; after some contemplation, what follows are five steps towards a greater Asia:

  1. Asiavision. Pan-Asian soft power events – such as a continent-wide song contest à la Eurovision – can go a long way towards creating a genuinely continental cultural space.
  2. Abolishing absolute poverty. Speaking of soft power, Asia will never fulfil its potential while such large numbers of its citizens – particularly in regions such as South Asia – are needlessly languishing in morally indefensible penury.
  3. Urban infrastructure. China’s Belt and Road initiative – while mammoth in scale – still does not address the need for dramatic investments in public transportation across much of the continent, including the cross-border high-speed rail projects which can connect up regions.
  4. Legislation. Asia presently lacks a continent-wide equivalent of the European Commission, or indeed the African Commission. It should fill this gap with a directly-elected institution which has the technocratic expertise to harmonise and elevate the standing of environmental and industrial laws.
  5. Human rights. Far too many Asian nations (China, Saudi Arabia et al) have little to contribute in the field of basic human rights promotion; at the other end of the democratic spectrum, Asian states still reflexively take their cue from the West rather than evaluating trends more critically. An independent human rights court could go a long way towards remedying this.

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Ultra-Matum: Can the West Withstand Brigata Curva Sud-Style Globalisation?

Back in the more innocent days of the early 2000s, the person who would become Mediolana’s Creative Director & CSO (‘CD&CSO’) was enjoying a leisurely coffee (or at least a simulacrum of coffee) in a Cambridge Starbucks with a member of that relatively rare specimen: someone he knew from his own course. Much of the accompanying conversation is of historical interest only, but one explosive idea from that otherwise gentle discussion has stayed with our CD&CSO, namely the notion that just as Japan had successfully copied and then vastly improved upon mid-twentieth century Western industrialism, both Japan and Asian countries more generally could do this and more in the realm of cultural production.

In other words, the J.League – the top tier of Japan’s professional football pyramid, still a novelty but already viewed as wildly successful – was merely a harbinger of things to come. J.Movies, J.Novels and J.Design would all equal and then surpass their Western equivalents in terms of both technical and artistic merit; this was a process that was going to define the next hundred years.

In 2017, this process is not merely underway, but is attaining a depth and breadth that constantly surprises. As the excellent recent COPA90 mini-documentary These Asian Ultras Will Blow Your Mind illustrates, it is now the case that PSS Sleman, a second-tier football club in Indonesia – replete with its own ultras, the already-fabled and disproportionately female Brigata Curva Sud – can produce chants, choreography and devotion on a level that the more uncritically consumerist parts of Europe seem to have forgotten exist.

The big corollary of these developments is the burning, largely unspoken question of our times: can the Western world – particularly the United States – really handle multi-directional globalisation, a form of interaction which supplants the traditional core-periphery model with a more level playing field amongst partner-type entities?

At the time of writing, this question seems a rhetorical one. But erecting trade barriers at a time when – as richly evidenced by capital flows small and large – psychological barriers to commerce are coming down is not the answer of self-assured nations. Only by moving up the value chain can (semi-)monopolistic and lucrative positions be maintained. The alternative – decline at the hands of faster, hungrier competitors who can replicate cheaper than you can produce – is nothing but a prescription for more empty populism.

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