An elderly Chinese man reads a message on a mobile phone in old wooden house. Photo: iStock

The greatest merit of Parag Khanna’s new book, The Future is Asian, is to accessibly tell the story of a historical inevitability – with the extra bonus of an Asian point of view. This is not only a very good public service, it also blows out of the water countless tomes by Western “experts” pontificating about Asia from an air-con cubicle in Washington.

Asia hands from the West tend to be extremely protective of their extra-territoriality. In my case, I moved to Asia in 1994, and Singapore was my first base. In time I found out – along with some of my colleagues at Asia Times – nothing would ever compare to following the ever-developing, larger than life Asian miracle on the spot.

Khanna has always been in the thick of the action. Born in India, he then moved to the UAE, the West, and is now a resident in Singapore. Years ago we spent a jolly good time in New York swapping Asia on-the-road stories; he’s a cool conversationalist. His Connectography is a must read.

Khanna found a very special niche to “sell” Asia to the Western establishment as a strategic adviser – and is very careful not to ruffle feathers. Barack Obama, for instance, is only guilty of “half-heartedness”. When you get praise from Graham Allison, who passes for a Thucydides authority in the US but would have major trouble understanding Italian master Luciano Canfora’s Tucidide: La Menzogna, La Colpa, L’Esilio, you know that Khanna has done his homework.

Of course, there are a few problems. It’s a bit problematic to coin Singapore “the unofficial capital of Asia”. There’s no better place to strategically follow China than Hong Kong. And as a melting pot, Bangkok, now truly cosmopolitan, is way more dynamic, creative and, let’s face it, funkier.

In 1997 I published a book in Brazil titled 21st: The Asian Century, based on three years of non-stop on-the-road reporting. It came out only a few days before the Hong Kong handover and the collapse of the baht that sparked the Asian financial crisis – so the book’s argument might have been seen as passé. Not really; once the crisis was over, the development push by the Asian tigers was overtaken by China. And 10 years later, slightly before the Western-made global financial crisis, the road to the Asian Century was more than self-evident.

Khanna hits all the right tones and multiple overtones stating the case that the Asian century “will…” begin when Asia crystallizes into a whole greater than the sum of its many parts”. It’s already happening, and it’s a wise choice to set the point of no return towards an Asia-led new world order at the first Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) summit in May 2017 in Beijing.

Yet throughout the book Khanna feels the need to take immense pain showing frightened Anglo-American readers that China won’t lead the Asian future; there will be no “Chinese tianxia, or harmonious global system guided by Chinese Confucian principles”. And that offers room for references to the push by the US and its allies to “deter China”, or the push by “Japan, India, Australia and Vietnam” to “counter China aggression”. Not to mention credit to the pathetic notion of “clash of civilizations”. But, on a whole, Khanna nails it. “By joining BRI, other Asian countries have tacitly recognized China as a global power – but the bar for hegemony is very high.”

No East and West

Within the scope of an article, and not a book, it’s possible to show that this epic story is not about hegemony, but connectivity.

First of all, there’s no East and West; as Edward Said has shown, this is essentially inherited from Eurocentrism and colonialism, starting way back when the Ancient Greeks situated the western borders of Asia in the eastern Mediterranean.

Asia, the term, comes from the ancient Assyrian assu – which means rising sun. A clear distinction between East and West was stamped by the end of the 3rd century, at the time of Diocletian, when the Roman empire was cut in half following a meridian from Dalmatia to Cyrenaica, a partition confirmed at the death of Theodosius 1 in 395 AD.

The East then organized itself around Constantinople while the West was divided and regarded as Europe, a distinct unity under Charlemagne (800 AD). What’s interesting is that in contrast with China – self-defined as the center of the world – neither the Roman Empire nor Islam saw themselves as such, admitting the existence of other quite populated worlds: China and India.

The notion of a “continent” only came up in the 16th century, based on the tri-partition Europe-Asia-Africa made by the Greeks in the Eastern Mediterranean, adopted by Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and ratified by the “discovery” of the New World: the Americas. So once again, “continent” is a Western invention.

Eurasia is essentially a giant, elliptical, unified space. Crack geographers tend to see it to the north – from Central Asia up to the northwest of India – as the realm of caravan routes, Silk Roads, cosmopolitan oases, steppes and deserts crisscrossed by nomads.

To the south, it’s a sort of monsoon “shawl” draped over a unique ocean; maritime routes through straits; and cosmopolitan ports and warehouses.

Southeast Asia enjoys a unique status, squeezed in a historical and cultural pincer movement between two major forces, constituted in an independent manner from one another as two major civilizations; India to the west and China to the northeast.

The inner logic of all this immense space is mutation, trade exchanges, and migrations. So Eurasia is essentially unified as two major “on the move” spaces; continental and steppe (on horseback), plus maritime (via navigation). Historically, between these two corridors, we find the creative hubs of civilizations and more durable empires: China, the Indian world, Persia/Iran, the Arab world, the Byzantine-Ottoman empire.

Hard node of history

In one of his exceptional books, French geographer Christian Grataloup conclusively shows how Eurasia is a geo-historic entity – exhibiting a “system of inter-relations from one end to another”. Yes, it’s all about connectivity, as the Chinese are stressing with the New Silk Roads or BRI.

Already by the 15th century, every society in Eurasia exhibited the same presence of cities, writing, monetary exchange. So it’s possible to conceive a common history, from the Mediterranean to Japan, for over two millennia. Grataloup’s intuition is breathtaking. “This is the hard node of world history”.

Historically, it’s all about the confluence of eastern routes in the north, the Silk Roads at the center, and southern routes, mostly the Spice Route. In the central segment of the major axis, decisive innovations occurred; the first villages, the first forms of agriculture, writing, the birth of the State. As the great Mongol caravan empire, built around the Silk Roads in the 13th century, fractured, while societies in the extremities of Eurasia developed maritime power.

Khanna offers myriad details on the key fact; that the Eurasian space is finally being rearranged, rebuilt via economic development, along transversal axes configured as economic corridors; the result of a modernization process that started in Japan in the second half of the 19th century to expand to all of East and Southeast Asia, then China, and finally India. The genius of the BRI project is to make it happen.

The Chinese ambition to be the economic leader of the Eurasia ensemble – by land and by sea – is a unique development in the region’s history, combining the continental approach of the Mongol empire of the steppes, or the Russia empire, with the maritime approach of the West, especially via the British Empire.

But contrary to Western imperialism, it’s all based on economy and culture. So, China will have a lot of work mastering the art of soft power. Time though is on the BRI side; the horizon is 2049 – not profits in the next quarter. Maritime routes in the north like the Arctic Silk Road, and via the South China Sea and Indian Ocean to the south, will envelop Eurasia, which will articulate itself in the center over high-speed rail and highway corridors of the New Silk Roads and the upgraded Trans-Siberian links.

They call it Euro-Asia in Beijing, and they call it Greater Eurasia in Moscow. The whole process is historically inexorable, already forging the future – call it Asian or Eurasian.

——
Asia Times has relaunched on www.asiatimes.com. Download our brand new native App for a sweeping selection of geopolitical and business news from across Asia.

Asia Times Financial is now live. Linking accurate news, insightful analysis and local knowledge with the ATF China Bond 50 Index, the world's first benchmark cross sector Chinese Bond Indices. Read ATF now. 

Join the Conversation

34 Comments

  1. Excellent beat ! I would like to apprentice while you amend your site, how could i subscribe for a blog site? The account helped me a acceptable deal. I had been a little bit acquainted of this your broadcast offered bright clear idea

  2. I think this is among the most significant information for me. And i am glad reading your article. But wanna remark on few general things, The site style is wonderful, the articles is really great : D. Good job, cheers

  3. Thanks for one’s marvelous posting! I quite enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author.
    I will make sure to bookmark your blog and may come back from now on.
    I want to encourage you to continue your great posts, have a nice day!

  4. I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme.

    Did you make this website yourself or did you
    hire someone to do it for you? Plz respond as I’m looking to
    construct my own blog and would like to know where u got
    this from. kudos

  5. Hi there to every body, it’s my first go to see of
    this website; this weblog contains remarkable
    and genuinely fine data in favor of readers.

  6. You could certainly see your skills in the article you write.
    The sector hopes for even more passionate writers like you who
    are not afraid to say how they believe. All the time follow
    your heart.

  7. Excellent goods from you, man. I have understand your stuff previous to and you are just too great. I actually like what you’ve acquired here, certainly like what you’re saying and the way in which you say it. You make it enjoyable and you still care for to keep it wise. I can not wait to read far more from you. This is really a wonderful site.

  8. I have been surfing online more than 3 hours lately, yet I
    by no means found any interesting article like yours. It is lovely price enough for me.
    In my view, if all site owners and bloggers made excellent content
    as you did, the web might be much more helpful than ever before.

  9. whoah this blog is fantastic i love reading your articles. Keep up the great work! You know, a lot of people are searching around for this information, you could help them greatly.

  10. certainly like your web site but you have to take a look at the
    spelling on several of your posts. Many of them are rife with spelling problems
    and I in finding it very troublesome to inform the truth however
    I will definitely come back again. pof natalielise

  11. I’m amazed, I have to admit. Rarely do I come across a blog
    that’s both equally educative and interesting, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head.
    The issue is something not enough folks are speaking intelligently about.

    Now i’m very happy I came across this in my search for something concerning this.

  12. Hello, i think that i noticed you visited my website thus
    i got here to go back the favor?.I am attempting to find
    things to improve my site!I suppose its good enough to make
    use of a few of your concepts!!

  13. Nice post. I used to be checking continuously this weblog
    and I’m impressed! Very useful info specially the closing section 🙂 I care for such information much.
    I was looking for this certain information for a very lengthy time.
    Thanks and good luck.

  14. I have to express thanks to the writer for bailing me out of this setting. As a result of exploring through the search engines and meeting notions that were not helpful, I thought my life was well over. Being alive minus the approaches to the difficulties you’ve resolved all through your good report is a critical case, as well as those that would have in a wrong way affected my career if I had not noticed your blog. Your primary know-how and kindness in playing with all the things was very useful. I don’t know what I would have done if I had not encountered such a solution like this. I can also at this point look ahead to my future. Thank you so much for the expert and results-oriented guide. I won’t hesitate to suggest your web sites to any individual who should get tips about this subject matter.

  15. Greetings! Quick question that’s totally off topic. Do you know how to make your site
    mobile friendly? My website looks weird when browsing
    from my iphone 4. I’m trying to find a template or plugin that
    might be able to fix this problem. If you have any suggestions, please
    share. Cheers!

  16. Hey there! I’m at work browsing your blog from
    my new apple iphone! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to
    all your posts! Keep up the outstanding work!

  17. I found your blog site on google and check a few of your early posts. Continue to maintain up the very good operate. I just extra up your RSS feed to my MSN Information Reader. Searching for forward to reading extra from you in a while!…

  18. Wow, incredible blog layout! How long have you been running a blog for? you made blogging look easy. The total glance of your web site is great, let alone the content!

  19. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d without a doubt donate to
    this excellent blog! I guess for now i’ll settle for bookmarking
    and adding your RSS feed to my Google account. I look forward
    to brand new updates and will share this website with my Facebook group.
    Chat soon!

  20. Good website! I truly love how it is simple on my eyes and the data are well written. I’m wondering how I might be notified when a new post has been made. I’ve subscribed to your RSS feed which must do the trick! Have a great day!

  21. Hi there! Someone in my Facebook group shared this site with us so I came to give it a look.
    I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers!
    Outstanding blog and brilliant design and style.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *