The mass of recent literature on the ‘rise of Asia’ largely focuses on the implications of this development for the West.footnote1 It rarely stops to consider the impact on inter-relations between the Asian states themselves. In Rivals, ex-Economist editor Bill Emmott attempts to correct this by examining the cases of China, India and Japan, and argues that the interaction between the three will decisively influence the shape of the coming world order. As he points out, their triple coexistence as major powers represents a historical novelty. In 1820, when China and India between them accounted for almost half of world output, Japan remained a relative backwater, its modernizing drive of the Meiji period lying decades in the future; by the 1930s, when Japan had become a full-fledged industrial and military power, China was impoverished and riven by warlordism, while India groaned under the British yoke. The headlong economic development of the prc and steady growth in India over the past decades suggest that the two Asian giants will join Japan among the top five national economies in the world.
Yet this very process is creating ‘disruptive transformations’ that will profoundly alter the economies, societies and polities of the states in question, Emmott argues, potentially raising new tensions between the three. Rising prosperity has brought commensurate expansion of Chinese and Indian global ambitions. The coming years will see intensifying competition over resources and markets, not least in the battle for Burmese oil and gas fields. In addition, Emmott sees an incipient arms race developing, in a region littered with potential flashpoints. As well as territorial disputes—over Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh in the case of China and India, and over the Senkaku and other islands in the case of China and Japan—there are further sources of tension in Tibet, Taiwan, the Korean peninsula, Pakistan and Kashmir, which the deteriorating world economic outlook will likely only heighten. Emmott proposes a ‘plausible pessimistic’ scenario: China’s bubble-prone economy enters a deep recession, accompanied by rising social protests; the ccp tightens its grip with increased recourse to nationalism, amplifying regional tensions through displays of truculence. With Japan too bolstering its military, Taiwan might become the cause of a ‘short, exploratory exchange of fire’ that could also draw in the us.
Emmott is no stranger to prognostication: in 2003 he published 20:21 Vision, offering ‘Twentieth-Century Lessons for the Twenty-First Century’. His verdict then was that liberal capitalism under us hegemony would endure, despite the challenges to it that might arise. In Rivals, written as the world entered an economic downturn, he has changed tack somewhat: ‘the future does belong to Asia’, he nods at the outset. ‘Asia’ itself is a geographical rather than a political expression, of course. But Emmott suggests a ‘new Asia’ is now being created through the widening and deepening of trade and investment linkages. Japan’s post-2002 recovery has been based on exports to China, not the us. In a few years China, not the us, will be India’s main trading partner. Around half of all Asian merchandise exports go to other Asian countries, a level of integration comparable to that of the nafta economies. Today’s ‘Asian drama’ is ‘generating new wealth, ideas and confidence’—‘knitting Asia together into a single, vibrant market for goods, services and capital, one that stretches all the way from Tokyo to Tehran’. (More specifically, Emmott’s investment tips are for Indian infrastructure and manufacturing, Chinese consumer goods and Japanese services.)
Nevertheless it is ‘premature’, in his view, to see Asia as ‘a genuine region’. What divides it, especially politically, is at present more important than what unites it. The three great powers are ‘not naturally compatible’, and each will be manoeuvring to strengthen its position and further its long-term interests. ‘Asia is piled high with historical bitterness’ and flashpoints that ‘could readily ignite during the next decade’. The history of Europe teaches that the most dangerous moments in balance-of-power politics come at times of change. Fortunately, Emmott writes, the barriers to war are higher today—thanks, above all, to the United States’ ‘stabilizing role as a global military power’: ‘In Asia, where the United States is an outside power but with extensive military deployments inside the region, that role as an intervener of last resort is especially important.’
The subtitle of Rivals turns out to be misleading. Emmott’s real subject-matter is not how India, China and Japan will shape the next decade, but how the us should be shaping them. His recommendations are predictable. Getting India and Japan to balance with America against China has been established us policy since at least 1998, when Clinton’s five-star presidential visit set the American seal of approval on India’s nuclear tests. Emmott is full of praise for the 2005 Bush–Singh agreement—in which Delhi’s foreign and defence policy has been subordinated to Washington’s in exchange for nuclear sweeteners—as the consummation of this process, likening it to Nixon’s trip to China as a coup for us diplomacy. He welcomes signs of Indo-Japanese rapprochement, too. In October 2008 Tokyo and Delhi inked a declaration for a ‘Strategic and Global Partnership’, only the third such agreement that Japan has signed (the us and Australia being the other two). Washington should by all means encourage closer economic integration between Asian countries, Emmott argues, and should drop its insistence that ‘America must always be at the table when topics such as trade are discussed’. But defence and security are another matter—there, ‘it would make no sense for America to leave the room’. Just as ‘America plays no part in the European Union but is a pivotal element in nato’, so a similar division of labour is required in Asia.
The central chapters on the three powers, seeking to assess the sources of economic strength and political stability in each, cover territory that will be familiar to any reader of the mainstream press. China: the key driver of growth has been record levels of investment, at 40 to 45 per cent of gdp; but this is now creating asset-price bubbles and investment over-supply, building up pressures for a possibly painful adjustment. Will the growing Chinese ‘middle class’ become a democratizing force? Unlikely, in Emmott’s opinion. Barring a serious and protracted downturn, ccp rule will remain stable, strengthened by the institutionalization of inter-generational leadership change. But Deng’s motto, ‘Keep a cool head and maintain a low profile’, will be increasingly difficult to maintain. China’s presence on the Korean peninsula as well as in Southeast Asia, the Bay of Bengal, Indian Ocean and Pakistan—building a deep-water port at Gwadar, upgrading the Karakorum Highway—is said to be jangling nerves in Tokyo and Delhi. Japan: economically things have looked up after the 1990s’ lost decade, thanks to the massive casualization of labour and deregulation of telecommunications, transport, energy, financial activities, etc. Despite the problem of an ageing population, Emmott remains optimistic since the long stagnation of the 90s has had the beneficial effect of reducing the prestige of functionaries at the Ministry of Finance and miti. India: economically there is more to be done to demolish the ‘permit raj’, and inequality will have to rise more before India’s situation ‘improves’. But Emmott notes approvingly the broad stability in policy whether the bjp or Congress is in office, with the result that ‘for all the muddle, India has built up quite a momentum’. Above all he warmly endorses the Indo-us nuclear deal because of the strategic pay-off.
India is clearly the country Emmott knows least, and his chapter on it is distinctly unimpressive. He completely ignores the vast literature that has sought to give an in-depth, long-term analysis of India’s growth, not least of its geography and periodization. His intellectual diet is apparent from the acknowledgements page, a roll-call of corporate honchos, official government spokespersons, senior editors and think-tank intellectuals, all of whom in varying degrees are supporters of neoliberalism and the pro-us Indian turn. Here, as for China and Japan, there is simply no social map of the country, nor any real sense of the contradictory dynamics that have driven their development over the past twenty years. ‘The main problem in Asia is fear and suspicion of China’, Emmott declares. This is patent nonsense. The China Question may pose the biggest conundrums for us strategy, but principal problems in most of Asia are health, illiteracy, hunger and mass unemployment. Whatever the internal social and political tribulations of advanced capitalist countries, they are of a qualitatively lower order to those facing China and India as a result of the ‘uneven and combined’ character of their development.