AIIB, Asian Development Bank, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, Bandung, Brussels, China, decolonisation, emerging nations, Europe, European Security Strategy, European Union, Greece, IMF, Indonesia, Japan, Joko Widodo, Jokowi, Shinzo Abe, third world, unemployment
For proof that the world is a much-changed place, look no further than last week’s impressive Asia-Africa conference in Bandung, Indonesia, marking the 60th anniversary of the original Cold War era summit in the same city led by Indonesia’s then leader-Sukarno.
The talk in Bandung six decades ago among representatives from twenty-nine Asian and African governments of Asian and African nations was of the role of the “Third World” in the Cold War, economic development, and decolonisation.
The meeting’s final resolution laid the foundation for the nonaligned movement during the Cold War. The heady talk among leaders was on the potential for collaboration among Asian and African nations and their determination to reduce their reliance on Europe and North America.
Fast forward to Bandung last week and replace references to the “Third World” with the more modern “emerging nations” and it’s clear that Asia and Africa have changed dramatically since 1955.
The two regions – as well as Latin America – are simultaneously driving the transformation of the global landscape and thriving because of it.
The mood may be morose in Washington and EU capitals – but Asia, Africa and Latin America are on a roll. Trade is booming – including between the three regions, investments are pouring in and an emerging middle class is changing social, political and economic lifestyles.
Interestingly – and worth reflecting on – is the fact that much of the transformation is the result of China’s rise and its gradual but sustained emergence as an important regional and global actor.
The West, especially the United States, is finding it difficult to adjust and accommodate the deep-seated paradigm shift in power taking place around it. That’s not difficult to understand given that the US as the current dominant global power has the most to lose from the shift of power to the East.
But Europe also needs to come to terms with a changed world. Here in Brussels as the European Union prepares to hammer out a new European Security Strategy to replace the one written 12 years ago it needs to pay special attention to the myriad ways in which the world is becoming different, almost daily. And it needs to forge a new outlook on China and Asia.
The world viewed from Europe is indeed violent, messy and dangerous. The EU faces a host of domestic problems – Greece, unemployment, and of course the deteriorating refugee crisis. Europe is surrounded as some say by a “ring of fire”: in the east by Russia and in the south, by a turbulent Arab world.
But the EU should be wary of projecting its own morosity on other regions – and indeed of basing its assumptions of Asia’s future on Europe’s tragic, war-racked past.
While Europe and its neighbours are in turmoil, the rest of the world is doing better than expected – and certainly better than 60 years ago.
The economies of most of the African and Asian countries gathered in Bandung are booming. Steps are being taken to combat poverty, there were successful elections in Afghanistan and Indonesia – and changes are underway in Myanmar and Vietnam next year.
Emerging countries are setting their own agenda, defining their interests, building partnerships and rallying together to forge a joint vision for the future.
This time the talk is also of breaking the chains of colonialism – but of a different kind; today’s African and Asian governments want an end to the economic domination of the West and of Western insitutions.
As the Bandung meeting pointed out last week, the focus is on establishing a new global order that is open to emerging economic powers and leaves the “obsolete ideas” of Bretton Woods institutions in the past.
President Xi Jinping of China told the conference that “a new type of international relations” was needed to encourage cooperation between Asian and African nations.
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, the conference host, said those who still insisted that global economic problems could only be solved through the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank were clinging to a long-gone past.
“There needs to be change,” he said. “It’s imperative that we build a new international economic order that is open to new emerging economic powers.”
In 1955, the 29 countries which met in Bandung accounted for less than a quarter of global economic output at that time; today they contribute to more than half of the world economy.
Many of those countries, such as China, India and Indonesia, are now themselves at top tables like the Group of 20 and wield significant economic power.
Indonesia’s Jokowi said the group was meeting again in a changed world but still needed to stand together against the domination of an unspecified “certain group of countries” to avoid unfairness and global imbalances.
The creation of the China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is one way in which emerging nations are challenging the Western-dominated economic stage. While the US has decided to stay out of the AIIB, many European countries have offered to be founding members of the new bank.
Asia’s future will depend to a large extent on the economic future of China. And on relations between China and Japan.
Tensions between Asia’s two biggest economies have flared in recent years due to feuds over wartime history as well as territorial rows and regional rivalry.
Memories of Japan’s past military aggression run deep in China, and Beijing has repeatedly urged Japan to face up to history.
In an encouraging move, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Xi did meet in Bandung, prompting hopes of a cautious rapprochement between the two economic giants.
Peace and prosperity in Asia hinge on cordial relations, even partnerships between the region’s leading powers. And who knows if China and Japan can sidestep their historical enmities, perhaps India and Pakistan could – one day – do the same?