The Asian Century, China, and the Philippines

It was said, initially perceived and now coming true, and supported by most scholars in various fields (from politics to technology) that the twenty-first century will be the Asian Century, just as the nineteenth was the British and the twentieth, American. It may be argued that perhaps, some of these scholars are only exaggerating things given the rise of China, and the prospect of a stronger Brazil, more dynamic India, and reemergence of Russia, not to mention the earlier successes of Japan and the so-called tiger economies of Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, and Hong Kong as well as the assumed emergence of Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and even the Philippines even before the first half of the 21st century ends. But if recent data based on common indicators (GDP growth, GNP, trade balances, and political leverage, to name a few) will be used as instruments of power determinants, then the West should really watch out for the Asian showdown. According to Golman Sachs BRICs study, by around 2050, three out of four largest economies in the world will be Asian: China, US, India, and Japan.

The emergence of Asia (and its developing nations) at large, and China in particular is very much watched out by the world especially the West (to some, it is seen as a threat to power, for others, it’s seen as bowl of opportunities – cheap labor, market etc). The rise of Asia’s giant China has met different responses from different corners of the world. The immediate feelings of China’s impact are nowhere more manifest than in Asia where China’s emergence has been felt most strongly (especially by developing nations) due to obvious geopolitical and economic factors and cultural and historical ties. China’s rapid economic growth and active regional diplomacy have already transformed Asia’s developing nations in many ways – in economic, political, and even socio-cultural aspects, to some extent. In terms of economic transformation for example, the rise of China changed the East and Southeast regional landscape in two ways: on the one hand, China’s new role as a link in the production network contributed to the growth of intra-regional trade; on the other hand, China became an active player in developing institutional frameworks to promote regional integration. Also, East Asian states have become increasingly legitimate and stable: having strengthened regional multilateral institutions; increased bilateral economic, cultural, and political relations; constant increase of FDI, and increasing economic, diplomatic, and even military relations not only with China but with other Western and emerging powers. As observed by David Kang, East Asia accommodates China: because of the perception that latter’s rise will cause a more stabilized region; and that their interests and to some extent, their identity match up with China. This is true with how Middle Eastern, African, and Latin American states are now also rushing to partner with China and other East Asian nations. As for the US and Europe, their brands are made in China, with a few stationed in strategic cities in Southeast Asia. With the rise of Asia and its developing states, the West might respond in two ways: excitingly welcome it, celebrate, and work with developed states, or stumble a few to protect its interests. I favor the ideal first.

Given China’s rise and the surge of Asian nations especially those in West, East, and Southeast Asia, the Philippines will have the closest chance of also marching with Asia towards its rise this century. But the floating question is as to how this can be made possible, given the present conditions of the Philippines – a country slowly recovering from almost three decades of economic stagnation and a society almost perennially divided, crippled by corruption and elite democratic government.

The Philippines has much to learn from China and its East Asian neighbors, from Japan to Singapore. These lessons will therefore possibly contribute to its gradual rise, in that by the latter half of this century, it would have become an ideal Asian playground. China and fellow Asian states are not all corruption-free, certainly not all are democratic. But here are a few things which the Philippines might have missed and might want to reflect on in order for it not to be left out on the rise of Asia. For this part, I wish to borrow an Indian scholar’s list of seven pillars (that fortified the West) that contributed, partially, to Asia’s rise: free-market economics, science and technology, pragmatism, meritocracy, culture of peace, rule of law and the value of education. When analyzed, Japan, South Korea, China, and Singapore –all put prime importance to these factors. Asia is not without flaws – of course challenges remain at hand. The following factors may contribute to the rise of Asian regions, through which the Philippines can benefit and march forward provided it does its responsibilities as member of the Asian bloc: regional stability, protective but collaborative national economies, stronger intergovernmental ties and multilateral institutions, concrete security measures, and regional balancing. Goh did mention a few of these guidelines but emphasized the need for balancing or maintenance of equilibrium in the region. With an economically dynamic, politically stable, and geographically secure region, the Philippines can also enjoy the harvest from hardword, interpedence and cooperation within the region, and in Asia. The Philippines can achieve this the soonest time possible, God willing.

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