For many in the West, East and South East Asia are generally perceived as a vast region that is relatively tranquil accommodating weaker and smaller nations that have held their heads down and stayed submissive to Western colonialists for hundreds of years, writes Nelson Wong, Vice Chairman, Shanghai Centre for RimPac Strategic and International Studies, for the 13th Asian conference of the Valdai Discussion Club.
Even today, when some Asian countries have performed well in their economic development, people from this region are in general still very quiet, particularly in topical forums and public debates, at global conventions and industry gatherings of all kinds, where most East Asians are relatively more reserved or constrained in their expressions but have found clustering together among themselves easier and are always wary of acting above “their station”. But that doesn’t mean we Asians don’t have much to say at meetings or are reluctant to express ourselves in front of aliens or gwailos, as Westerners are generally referred to in Hong Kong and some South East Asian countries. The main obstacle is the language barrier, as most of us have not grown up in the Indo-European language environment, we don’t converse in English well enough and don’t think in the European languages.
People are different. Most Asian nations, particularly those in East and South East Asia, have developed our civilisations from the fields as our ancestors were mostly farmers. We have our philosophies, behavioural manners, and have developed our own social values and nation building strategies that are perhaps vitally different from those of most European countries. In the West-centric time when almost all of the social and political thoughts and theories have come from the West, we Asians have committed ourselves to learn, to comprehend, whilst keeping our traditions.
Of course we have our problems and sometimes even disputes among ourselves, but isn’t that natural for us humans, and why should we Asians be different in that sense. Even if few of the border disputes have been left over by some former Western colonialists in the region, or when China was weak and poor and unable to protect and defend its own territories, the easiest way is to leave them with us Asians to solve the problems and disputes by ourselves. The sporadic disputes over the sovereignty of some of the islands in the South China Sea, that sometimes gets overheated, are now on their way to reach an amicable settlement with the expressed joint effort between China and ASEAN countries to hopefully sign the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. But if some of us would choose to invite parties outside the region to be involved via dubiously motivated mediation, there are always people who would like to come to “divide and conquer”, or “divide and rule”. Here again, I would say that it is the Asians who should understand the truth in China’s statement to seek a peaceful rise, and for those who claim that they don’t believe in China and do not recognise our Asian traditions and values, these are the people who are trying to pretend to be someone they are not.
On the issue of Taiwan, the strategic ambiguity of the US towards the One China policy and its continued selling of arms and weaponry to this island that is expected to be reunified with the Chinese mainland, and in particular, the repeated provocative visits of senior officials of the US and some of its allies, contrary to their commitment to respect the One China policy, their actions are designed to irritate China and to create the false impression that it is China that is breaking the status quo and escalating the tension across the Taiwan Strait. But once again, this “Taiwan Card”, once considered by the US its lethal weapon to contain China or to disrepute China, seems not to be working as effectively as some might have expected or imagined. This is because most people around the world, and particularly countries in the region, know exactly the history of Taiwan and why it is still separated from the Chinese mainland and why the right and determination of China to seek its national reunification and to protect its territorial sovereignty is not to be questioned. That said, while China’s patience and restraint deserve to be noted and appreciated, the Taiwan issue remains highly sensitive and poses a potential threat in the context of our regional security, and we all know who is trying to interfere into these domestic affairs of China and keep pushing the envelope.
Economically, the greater continent of Asia which includes at least East and South East Asia, Central Asia, the Indian Peninsula, and the Middle East, is not only densely populated but also home to some of the fastest developing countries in the world, forming largely the driving force of the coming era known as the Time of Asia. Many countries in this region do not seem to be negatively opinionated towards Russia who is already benefiting from its friendly and strategic partnership relations with China, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Iran, to name but a few. However, being the largest country on earth in terms of landmass across the entire Eurasian continent and with its political and economic base centred mostly to the west of the Caucasus, winning the trust and confidence in the sincerity of its “Pivot to the East” strategic shift from a wider audience across Asia might remain as a long-term challenge for Russia. This Asian Conference of the Valdai Discussion Club, already the 13th
in a row, is therefore extremely important and due respect must be given to our event host and our Russian colleagues and friends for your effort and excellent work.
A recent paper from Goldman Sachs suggests that by 2050 the five biggest economies of our world will be China, the US, India, Indonesia and Germany. Without delving the logic behind these rankings that have been employed to justify this conclusion or prediction, the sheer fact of the difference rather than similarities of these five countries alone is already proof of diversity of our world moving into the future. This is perhaps why the German Chancellor declared recently that disagreement with China on many issues does not mean that decoupling should be the choice for Germany (and for the EU, I would add). Equally evident is the fact that Indonesia’s growth potential is being widely recognised worldwide not because of its allegiance to any of the powers that are bigger and stronger than it, but because of its pragmatism and independence when it comes to the handling of international relations. And the same holds true perhaps for India as well.
What is worthy of note is that more and more people around the world have come to realise how the US has been using its currency, its military power, its intelligence network as well as its cultural exports to maintain its supremacy and hegemony worldwide for decades until now. For the recent growing global awakening, we must thank Edward Snowden and, for argument’s sake, perhaps also Julian Assange. We may also not forget that the on-going de-dollarisation process has by and large been kick-started by Russia’s announcement to sell its oil and gas in rubles, in its response to the scale of sanctions imposed on Russia by the US-led West. Furthermore, just like the collapse of the Soviet Union had started from within, the possible decline of the US as the world’s only superpower will not be caused by the alleged challenge on world security from Russia, nor will it be triggered by China’s threat to the so-called “rules-based order”. It is always the systematic error and malfunctioning of the country itself that causes the eventual stepping down of a great power, which I am sure many of our friends in America understand well.
The “1+6 Roundtable Dialogue” that happened just this past week in China between the Chinese Premier and the heads of the World Bank, the IMF, the WTO, the OECD, the International Labour Organisation, and the Financial Stability Board, is nothing but a clear message to the world that China has become an integral and important part of the world economy and that our country is committed to its open-door policy, is ready to join hands with the rest of the world to achieve a worldwide economic recovery that we all need so badly.
On this note, I would like to conclude by quoting a well-known German-American anthropologist Franz Boas who, having studied the development of mankind, made the following observations:
“The history of mankind proves that advances of culture depend upon the opportunities presented to a social group to learn from others. The more varied the contacts, the greater the opportunities to learn. The tribes of the simplest culture are on the whole those that have been isolated for very long period and hence could not profit from the achievements of their neighbours.”