The Future Is Asian | Parag Khanna

Summary of: The Future Is Asian
By: Parag Khanna


In the book ‘The Future Is Asian’, author Parag Khanna provides an in-depth analysis of the rapid growth and increasing interconnectedness of Asian countries. As intraregional trade and investment surge, Asia is transitioning from dependence on Western nations to mutual reliance within the continent. With various Asian countries adopting a unique blend of neo-mercantilist policies and embedding technology into their economic development, this book highlights the innovative strategies being implemented and the impact they have on global relations. Delve into this summary to better understand the challenges and opportunities that arise from the continued ascendance of Asia and its diverse, pragmatic, and technocratic approaches shaping the world economy.

Rising Intraregional Trade in Asia

Intraregional trade among Asian countries has been increasing, surpassing the previous pattern of Western countries outsourcing their manufacturing to Asia. This shift insulates Asia from external shocks, and countries in the region now depend more on each other. China, Japan, and South Korea are investing in developing Asian countries, while the volume of Chinese investment in the United States has decreased. Additionally, energy producers in the Middle East, Central Asian ex-Soviet countries, and Russia are looking to Asia for sales. As the region becomes more cohesive, Western sanctions against countries like Russia and Iran are becoming less potent, and China has become Russia’s largest trade partner.

Asian Economies and Policies

Asian countries have varying economies and policies, but a few generalizations are still relevant. Post-World War II Japan and the “Four Tigers” of Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea succeeded with an export-led growth approach, subsidies, and special development zones. China has carried on this approach, but with more government involvement in commerce. The wider Asian pattern involves milder policies and limited government involvement in areas such as infrastructure. Asian countries are positive about globalization but not about completely free trade. Unlike the West’s tradition of separating government and business, Asia accepts subsidies and state direction. Family-run businesses are more common in Asia than publicly traded corporations in the West. The United States is Asia’s biggest customer and competitor, but China’s economic policies clash with Western norms.

Asian Economics Goals

In contrast to Western economists’ beliefs regarding free markets, Asians consider markets subordinate to economic goals and societal well-being. Many Asian countries are enacting reforms but aren’t following complete free-market policies. Instead, they look to each other for examples. For instance, Doha wants to be a world business hub like Dubai, India is creating special economic zones like China, and Pakistan aims to be a tech hub like India.

Asian Propensity: Order Over Democracy

The Western democracy model, with its emphasis on constitutional government, separation of powers, and liberal democracy, was once predicted to become the norm in Asian countries. However, experts note a distinct Asian tendency to prioritize order and strong government over democratic accountability. Asians accept technocratic governance that delivers economic progress, law and order, and responds to public concerns, rather than pushing for greater democratic power. Their no-nonsense pragmatism and fear of societal disorder have lessened the appeal of Western standards, which have been further reduced in the wake of the recent global financial crisis and political populism. Thus, while Asian economic policies have significantly reshaped the US industry, American leaders have failed to fully appreciate the dynamic feedback loops between the US and Asian economic systems.

Asian Leaders’ Technocratic Approach

Asian leaders are increasingly turning towards a technocratic approach to governance, with Singapore as a model. Singapore’s success is built on a competent technocratic government, performance-focused feedback mechanisms, and a mix of democracy. Despite contradictions like unfettered free trade policies alongside government management of half the economy, Singapore’s highly paid civil service and its leaders elected for ability are contributing to its success. Other countries like India, Indonesia, and the Philippines have also embraced technocratic policies, achieving real change and consolidating technocratic improvements to their civil service and economic management. The present wave of increased foreign investment and trade in Asia is reinforcing the need for practical and efficient policies, inspiring leaders to prioritize results over electoral popularity.

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