THE RISE OF ASIA
by Eduardo Faleiro
The first Summit Conference of the Group of 20 was held last month (November 2008) in Washington D.C. The G-20 brings together twenty of the most important industrialized and emerging market countries across the world. They represent around 90 per cent of the global gross domestic product, 80 per cent of the world trade as well as two thirds of the world population. Its economic weight and broad membership makes the G-20 the single most important forum to address global economic and financial issues. The Conference dealt with the present global recession and called for a comprehensive reform of the international financial institutions “so that they can more adequately reflect changing realities in the world economy and be more responsive to future challenges”. The Conference underscored the effective shift of economic power to the Asia Pacific region and felt the need to involve China and India, the two rising economic giants, in the solution of the present crisis.
The rise of Asia began with the extraordinary economic progress of Japan in the 1950s and 60s; it was followed by the remarkable advance of the Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore) and other countries of South East Asia; and now the impressive growth of India and China. By the middle of this century, China is expected to be the largest economy in the world and India the third largest. By that time, Asia might hold seven of the ten largest national economies.
Yet, whilst Asia witnesses rapid economic growth there are vast numbers of people in this continent who face grave problems of illiteracy, disease and poverty. What is required is greater attention to inclusive development that benefits significantly most people and not just a fringe. Market forces need to be regulated to this effect. Often, the present economic policies accentuate economic disparities, widen the gap between the rich and the poor and lead to radicalization and political instability. The discontent of the vast masses has already resulted in the collapse of several Governments across the continent.
Good governance calls for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the United Nations in the year 2000. The eight goals are eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, gender equality and empowerment of women, reduction of child mortality, improvement in maternal health, eradication of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major diseases, environmental sustainability and global partnership for development. Whilst some Asian countries have achieved and indeed surpassed these goals there are several others who will not be able to attain them by 2015 as scheduled, unless there is strong political will and the Governments concerned earmark sufficient funds for the purpose.
The economic and social welfare of a country is advanced considerably if it interacts as part of a regional block rather than individually. An integrated regional economy accelerates economic growth of the member countries through the advantage of geographical proximity and economies of scale. The European Union is a model in this regard. It shows that even countries that have been at war for a thousand years can co-operate and work together for common benefit. ASEAN is another good example of regional co-operation.
India contributes to Asian co-operation and solidarity. The “Look East” policy is intended to strengthen our relations with East and South East Asia and is a priority of our foreign policy. Relations between India and Japan have undergone a qualitative and significant improvement in recent years. The two Prime Ministers have been meeting regularly every year since 2005. A Global and Strategic Partnership between the two countries was established in December 2006. India and China have also realized that they can benefit from mutual co-operation and are attempting to do so.
South Asia is an area of regional co-operation in which I took particular interest whilst in the Government of India and as a Member of Parliament. The South Asia Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC) brings together India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and now also Afghanistan. There has been some progress in economic co-operation in the region and this should lead to improved bilateral relations and regional co-operation at the political level.
Governments and civil society of India, Pakistan and other countries of SAARC ought to join hands across national borders and religious differences, agree on zero tolerance towards every form of extremism and terrorism and redress the grievances of the disaffected and marginalized. They must beware the machinations of neo-imperialism and its strategy to divide and rule.
Asian co-operation is essential to identify common strengths and opportunities which will help to improve the quality of life of our people. It should ultimately lead to an Asian Union capable of interacting with the rest of the world on an equal footing and contributing more positively towards mutual peace and prosperity.
(The writer is a former Union Minister. This article is based on his speech at the Asia-Pacific Conference held recently in Tokyo.)
Dr. Eduardo Faleiro (visto na fotografia – 1º de direita – aquando da sua participação no I Congresso Internacional de Lusofonia organizado pela ULHT em Lisboa, 2006) estudou Direito em Portugal e pode ser contactado escrevendo para email@example.com