Professor Kishore Mahbuabni, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and a Top Global Thinker, wisely says, “Europe represents the past, America represents the present, Asia represents the future.”
Indeed, most Asian people have such confidence. According a latest online survey among 18,235 internet users from 17 countries, five Asian countries China (41%)，Indonesia (23%), Saudi Arabia (16%), Thailand (11%) and United Arab Emirates (10%) are the top optimistic societies, who think the world is generally getting better.
Such confidence in a better future is likely backed by an unignorable fact: Asia is Rising. Here are some simple but astonishing facts.
First, Asia’s share of the world GDP in real US$ purchasing power parity (PPP) has risen steadily, from 23.2% in 1990 to 38.8% in 2014, and it is forecasted to expand to nearly 45% by 2025. In PPP terms, Asia has been the home for three of the world’s four largest economies, China, Japan and India.
More accurately speaking, Asia is not simply rising, but just resurging to its historic leadership, because for 18 of the past 20 centuries Asia continuously contributed for over half of the world economy.
Second, Asia’s share of global merchandise trade has grown from 14% in 1948 to around 32% in 2014, with its exports growing three times faster than the rest of the world over the past decades. Between 2011 and 2014, Asia did more than any other region to lift merchandise export volume growth.
Now, China has been the largest trading nation in the world in terms of imports and exports, since overtaking the US in 2013.
Third, 60% of the world population in Asia (4.4 billion) creates the largest market. Asia is projected to be the second largest contributor after Africa to future global population growth, adding 0.9 billion people between 2015 and 2050.
Ageing population will be a big challenge for Asia, but meanwhile its current 500 million middle class is projected to triple to 1.75 billion in 2020, a huge momentum for Asia’s future development.
Of Course, there is no question that despite huge growth potential, Asia is facing several critical shortcomings in achieving a more comprehensive and sustainable development.
First, Asia lacks a universal image, the economic, political and social disparities among Asian countries are huge; Second, Asia lacks unified and strong leadership, it is nearly impossible to form a strong regional union in the near future; Last but not the least, Asia lacks general consensus on universal values, especially human rights and democracy.
However, our “Asian Dream” will not end up as a mirage but eventually will turn into a reality. Hope for a better Asia comes from our Asian youth, especially those born after the 1980s.
First, there has been less hatred among young Asians. War always results in tremendous trauma and the hatred after war can last several generations. Asia suffered lots of wars in the history and there have also been bilateral conflicts within Asia after the 1980s. Even today, Asia is still not entirely peaceful.
Nevertheless, very few Asian youth have personally participated in those conflicts or directly confronted their Asian counterparts on battlefields. Asian youth blessedly do not have irreconcilable enmity with one another. This certainly helps create a valuable foundation for building trust and cooperation among them.
Second, Asian youth share a similar vision of peace and development. In this new era, war is a sunset business and going out of fashion. Instead, peace and development have become mainstream global objectives. Most Asian nations are keen to build peaceful societies which focus on economic development. Myanmar has entered its democratic journey peacefully.
China and India, the world’s fastest-growing economies and the largest developing countries, have over 60 per cent of Asia’s population. Most importantly, both countries account for the majority of Asian youth. Moreover, most Chinese youth were born after the reform and opening up from 1978, while a large proportion of Indian youth were born after their country’s economic liberalization beginning in the 1990s. Chinese and Indian youth are more interested in doing business than entangling in conflicts. Their preferred vision for peace and development will help strengthen the foundation for a more peaceful Asia.
Last but not least, Asian youth cherish the value of mutual understanding and cooperation. They are the generation growing up with the Internet. In Asia, there are over a billion netizens and most are increasingly open-minded and actively involved young people in online communities. Information technology has made young Asians better connected than previous generations.
Mutual learning and exchanges have also helped young Asians better understand one another. For instance, China had only 1,381 foreign students in 1980. By 2015, the number had surged over 280 times to 397,635 with 60.4 per cent of them from Asia. At the National University of Singapore, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy was established in 2004 to “inspire leaders, improve lives and help transform Asia”. Since then, it has fostered thousands of young Asian officials who are likely to seek win-win cooperation rather than zero-sum competitions with their Asian peers in the future.
Young Asians have grown up with booming intra-regional trade and investment. Free trade agreements (FTAs) were largely absent in Asia until the 1990s. But between January 2000 and April 2013, Asia’s concluded FTAs jumped from three to 76. The Asean-China Free Trade Area is the largest free trade area in terms of its coverage, with over 1.9 billion people in it. Such fast-growing regional trade and investment dependency will encourage young Asians to pursue closer cooperation with one another.
There is a Chinese maxim, “A youth is to be regarded with respect (hou sheng ke wei)”, in the Wisdom of Confucius. Young people are without doubt the hopes for a better future.
Even Deng Xiaoping, best known as the general designer of China’s reform and opening up, said in 1978: “Our generation is not wise enough to find common language on this question (the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands dispute). Our next generation will certainly be wiser. They will certainly find a solution acceptable to all.”
Although we young Asians may not be any wiser than older generations, we definitely share a much more common consensus over the goals of peace and development. More critically, we are determined to deliver such goals through more creative solutions and win-win cooperation.
With this confidence in a better future, our “Asian Dream” will not just remain a dream.
The writer, a 1980s China-born alumnus of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, is a senior investment analyst and independent commentary writer based in Singapore.