Asian Century

Asian Century

China and India have the two largest populations in the world, and are expected to grow rapidly economically.

The Asian Century is the projected 21st-century dominance of Asian politics and culture. The belief in a future Asian Century parallels the characterization of the 20th-century as the American Century, and the 19th century the British Century.

A 2011 study by the Asian Development Bank found that an additional 3 billion Asians could enjoy living standards similar to those in Europe today, and the region could account for over half of global output by the middle of this century. It warned, however, that the Asian Century is not preordained.


The phrase Asian Century arose in the mid to late 1980s, and is attributed to a 1988 meeting with People’s Republic of China (PRC) leader Deng Xiaoping and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Prior to this, it made an appearance in a 1985 US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations hearing. It has been subsequently reaffirmed by Asian political leaders, and is now a popularly used term in the media.


Asia’s robust economic performance over the three decades preceding 2010, compared to that in the rest of the world, made perhaps the strongest case yet for the possibility of an Asian Century. Although this difference in economic performance had been recognized for some time, specific individual setbacks (e.g., the 1997 Asian financial crisis) tended to hide the broad sweep and general tendency. By the early 21st century, however, a strong case could be made that this stronger Asian performance was not just sustainable but held a force and magnitude that could significantly alter the distribution of power on the planet. Coming in its wake, global leadership in a range of significant areas—international diplomacy, military strength, technology, and soft power—might also, as a consequence, be assumed by one or more of Asia’s nation states.

Among many scholars have provided factors that have contributed to the significant Asian development, Kishore Mahbubani provides seven pillars that rendered the Asian countries to excel and provided themselves with the possibility to become compatible with the Western counterparts. The seven pillars include: free-market economics, science and technology, meritocracy, pragmatism, culture of peace, rule of law and education.


Population growth in Asia is expected to continue through at least the first half of the 21st century, though it has slowed significantly since the late 20th century. At four billion people in the beginning of the 21st century, the Asian population is predicted to grow to more than five billion by 2050. While it’s per cent of the world population is not expected to greatly change, North American and European shares of the global population are expected to decline.



Projected economies of India and China compared to US between 2009-2050 One of the busiest

Shopping streets in the world, Nanjing Road in Shanghai is an example of economic growth in mainland China, and its large consumer base. India’s middle-class population of 300 million is growing at an annual rate of 5%. Shown here is a residential area in the Mumbai metropolitan area.

One major reason for the belief in a coming Asian Century is the remarkable economic growth in Asia, and the continuing growth rates. A 2011 study by the Asian Development Bank forecast that Asia’s per capita income could rise six fold in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms to reach Europe’s levels by 2050. It stated: “By nearly doubling its share of global gross domestic product (GDP) to 52 per cent by 2050, Asia would regain the dominant economic position it held some 300 years ago, before the industrial revolution.

The notion of the Asian Century assumes that Asian economies can maintain their momentum for another 40 years, adapt to shifting global economic and technological environment, and continually recreate comparative advantages. In this scenario, according to 2011 modelling by the Asian Development Bank Asia’s GDP would increase from $17 trillion in 2010 to $174 trillion in 2050, or half of global GDP. In the same study, the Asian Development Bank estimates that seven economies would lead Asia’s powerhouse growth; under the Asian Century scenario, the region would have no poor countries, compared with eight in 2011.

Since China’s economic reforms in the late 1970s (in farm privatization) and early 1990s (in most cities), the Chinese economy has enjoyed three decades of economic growth rates between 8 and 10%. The Indian economy began a similar albeit slower ascent at the end of 1980s and early 1990s, and has averaged around 4% during this period, though growing slightly over 8% in 2005, and hitting 9.2% in 2006 before slowing to 6% in 2009, then reaching 8.9% in 2010.

Shujie Yao of UK’s Nottingham University explains that, “China will overtake the United States to become the world’s largest economy by 2038 if current growth rates continue,” and that China’s nominal GDP will likely overtake that of Japan by 2009 or 2010.  Also Goldman Sachs report predicts that “from 2007 to 2020, India’s GDP per capita will quadruple,” and that the Indian economy will surpass the US economy by 2043, but India “will remain a low-income country for several decades, with per capita incomes well below its other BRIC peers. If India fulfils its growth potential, it can become a motor for the world economy, and a key contributor to generating spending growth”.

Both of these developments involved policy of a degree of managed liberalisation of the economy as well as a turning outwards of the economy towards globalization (both exports and attracting inward investment). The magnitude of this liberalisation and globalisation is still subject to debate. They were part of conscious decisions by key political leaders, especially in India and the PRC. Also, the populations of the two countries offer a potential market of over two and a quarter billion. The development of the internal consumer market in these two countries has been a major basis for economic development. This has enabled much higher national growth rates for mainland China and India in comparison to Japan, the EU and even the US. The international cost advantage on goods and services, based on cheaper labour costs, has enabled these two countries to exert a global competitive pressure.

The term Easternisation has been used to refer to the spread of oriental mainly Japanese) management techniques to the West.

The trend for greater Asian economic dominance has also been based on the extrapolations of recent historic economic trends. Goldman Sachs, in its BRIC economic forecast, highlighted the trend towards mainland China becoming the largest and India the second largest economies by the year 2050 in terms of GDP. The report also predicted the type of industry that each nation would dominate, leading some to deem mainland China ‘the industrial workshop of the world’ and India ‘one of the great service societies’. As of 2009, the majority of the countries that are considered newly industrialized are in Asia

By 2050, the East Asian and South Asian economies will have increased by over 20 times. With that comes a rise in Human Development Index, the index used to measure the standards of living. India’s HDI will approach .8. East Asia’s would approach .94 or fairly close to the living standards of the western nations such as the EU and the US this would mean that it would be rather difficult to determine the difference in wealth of the two. Because of East Asian and Indian populations, their economy would be very large, and if current trends continue, India’s long-term population could approach double that of China. East Asia could surpass all western nations’ combined economies as early as 2030. South Asia could soon follow if the hundreds of millions in poverty continue to be lifted into middle class.

 Construction projects

The International Finance Centre in Hong Kong

It is projected that the most ground breaking construction projects will take place in Asia within the approaching years. As a symbol of economic power, super-tall skyscrapers have been erected in Asia, and more projects are currently being conceived and begun in Asia than in any other region of the world. Completed projects include: the Petronas Towers of Kuala Lumpur, the Shanghai World Financial Centre, International Finance Centre in Hong Kong, Taipei 101 in Taiwan, and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE. Future buildings promise to be taller, like the Shanghai Tower and the India Tower.

Culture of Asia

Culturally, the Asian century is symbolized by Indian genre films (Bollywood), Hong Kong genre films, Japanese Animation, and the Korean Wave. The awareness of the different Asian cultures may be a part of a much more culturally aware world, as proposed in the Clash of Civilizations thesis. Equally, the affirmation of Asian cultures has an impact on the identity politics of Asians in Asia and outside in the Asian diasporas.

The Gross National Cool of Japan is soaring; Japanese cultural products, including TV shows, are undoubtedly “in” among American audiences and have been for years.  About 2.3 million people studied the language worldwide in 2003: 900,000 South Koreans, 389,000 Chinese, 381,000 Australians, and 140,000 Americans study Japanese in lower and higher educational institutions.

Feng Shui books topped the nonfiction best-seller lists and Feng Shui schools have multiplied. Major banks and multinational corporations admit to employing Feng Shui consultants to advise them on the organization of their offices. There has been a readiness to supplement eastern forms of medicine, therapy, and massage and reject traditional western medicine in favour of techniques, such as acupressure and acupuncture. And practices such as moxibustion and shiatsu enjoy enormous popularity in the west. So too for that matter, do virtually all the Eastern martial arts, such as Kung Fu, Judo, Karate, Aikido, Taekwondo, Kendo, Jujitsu, Tai Ji, Qigong, Ba Gua, and Xing Yi, together with their many associated schools and sub-forms. Even the smallest town in Britain, Scandinavia, or the United States generally has at least one Indian or Chinese restaurant.

Though the use of English continues to spread, Asian languages are also becoming more popular to teach and study outside of the continent. The study of Chinese has recently gained greater attention in the United States, owing to a growing belief in the economic advantages of knowing it. It is also being encouraged through PRC’s support of Confucius Institutes, which have opened in numerous nations to teach the Chinese language and culture.

Chinese has been rated as the second most used language on the internet with nearly a quarter speaking Chinese, Japanese came as fourth, and Korean as the tenth as of 2010.[30] According to the CIA, China is the country that hosts the most users, Japan the third, India the fourth, and South Korea as the tenth as of 2008.

India has the largest film industry in the world, and Bollywood produces even more films than Hollywood. Bollywood’s annual growth is at 12.6%, higher than Hollywood’s 5.6%.

In the early years of the twentieth century very few people indeed were vegetarians. The figure given for the United Kingdom during World War 2 was a mere 100,000 out of a population of some 50 million…around 0.2 per cent of the total. However, by the 1990s the figure was estimated at between 4.2 per cent and 11 per cent of the British population, and rising rapidly (Cohen, 1999). As Porritt and Winner observe, as recently as the sixties and early seventies, “being a vegetarian was considered distinctively odd”, but “it is now both respectable and common place”.


As recently as the 1950s, Crane Brinton, the distinguished historian of ideas, could dismiss “modern groups that appeal to Eastern wisdom” as being in effect “sectarian”, “marginal”, and “outside the main current of Western thought and feeling”.[36] Yet some Westerners have converted to Eastern religions or at least have shown an interest in them. An example is Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whom the Beatles followed, first to Bangor in Wales in 1967, and subsequently to India to study Transcendental Meditation in 1968. The Dalai Lama, whose book The Art of Happiness became a best-seller, can attract huge crowds in New York’s Central Park or London’s Wembley Stadium.

Buddhism in some countries is the second biggest religion. FWBO is one of the biggest and fastest-growing Buddhist organizations in the West.

Belief in Reincarnation has never been a part of official Christian or Jewish teaching, or at least, in the former case, it has been a formal heresy since it was rejected by a narrow margin at the Second Council of Constantinople in AD 553. However nearly all polling in Western countries reveals quite high levels of this belief. “Puzzled People” undertaken in the 1940s suggested that only 4 per cent of people in Britain believed in reincarnation. Geoffrey Gorer’s survey, carried out a few years later, arrived at 5 per cent (1955, p. 262). However, this figure had reached 18 per cent by 1967 (Gallup, 1993), only to increase further to a sizable 29 per cent by 1979, a good six-fold increase on the earlier “Puzzled People” figure. Eileen Barker has reported that around one-fifth of Europeans now say that they believe in reincarnation.


The global political position of China and to a lesser extent India has risen in international bodies and amongst the world powers, leading the United States and European Union to become more active in the process of engagement with these two countries. China is also a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Although India is not a permanent member, it is possible that it will become one or at the least gain a more influential position. Japan is also attempting to become a permanent member, though the attempts of both are opposed by other Asian countries (i.e. India’s bid is opposed by Pakistan; Japan’s bid is opposed by China, South Korea, North Korea).

An Asian regional bloc may be further developed in the 21st century around ASEAN and other bodies on the basis of free trade agreements. However, there is some political concern amongst the national leaderships of different Asian countries about PRC’s hegemonic ambitions in the region. Another new organization, the East Asian Summit, could also possibly create an EU-like trade zone.

Human Capital

The 2007 World Bank Report on globalization notes that “rising education levels were also important, boosting Asian growth on average by 0.75 to 2 percentage points.” The rapid expansion of human capital through quality education throughout Asia has played a significant role in experiencing “higher life expectancy and economic growth, and even to the quality of institutions and whether societies will make the transition into modern democracies”. A notable exception is Indonesia where the quality education remains a major concern.

Challenges to realizing the Asian Century

Asia’s growth is not guaranteed. Its leaders will have to manage multiple risks and challenges, particularly:

ü  Growing inequality within countries, in which wealth and opportunities are confined to the upper echelons. This could undermine social cohesion and stability.

ü  Some Asian countries will not be able to make the necessary investments in infrastructure, education and government policies that would help them avoid the Middle Income Trap. Indonesia, the largest nation of ASEAN continue to lag behind in both reach and depth of its educational context and content.

ü  Intense competition for finite natural resources, such as land, water, fuel or food, as newly affluent Asians aspire to higher standards of living.

ü  Global warming and climate change, which could threaten agricultural production, coastal populations, and numerous major urban areas.

ü  Rampant corruption, which plagues many Asian governments.

ü  Aging population in Japan and China particularly can have a direct influence on the continuous economic development of Asian countries in terms of such as, but not limited to, declining labour force, change of consumption patterns, strains on public finances and so on.

ü  Religious fanaticism may easily hamper growth and scare away investors.

Sources: Various


Posted in Culture and Conversation, Good Read, Knowledge & Beyond, Research, Wisdom Generator.