From Asian values to the Asian growth miracle, the west is mesmerised by the east. But Gerald Segal warns east Asia that it should not believe its own myth of a Pacific century: economic growth will slow and social and strategic problems will multiply. He also warns the west that it has no real friends in Asiaby Gerald Segal / June 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Published in June 1996 issue of Prospect Magazine
There are less than 1,500 days before the Pacific century-a century, we are told, which will be dominated by the economies and societies of Asian Pacific countries. Europeans have had their century or two of power; Americans might just be able to hang on for a bit longer if they turn their attention to their Pacific prospects.
Sounds silly? Well, partly. There will be no such thing as a Pacific century; but what is taking place in east Asia has important implications for Britain and the rest of the world. Europe and east Asia had their first-ever summit meeting in Bangkok in March which suggests, if nothing else, that Europeans are moved by this new challenge.
The Pacific century argument is based on impressive statistics. Many east Asian states have achieved rates of growth two and three times those of European or North American countries at equivalent stages of development. The combined GDP of east Asia now accounts for roughly one third of world GDP. The world economy is now divided between three main poles: east Asia, North America and Europe.
HOW NEW IS THE PACIFIC century?
But the Pacific century argument is built on several half truths and dubious assumptions. First, “thinking Pacific” is hardly new. The idea of a Pacific century was first touted by William Seward, the mid-19th century American secretary of state who bought Alaska from Russia. By the end of the 19th century, the states of Asia accounted for one third of world GDP-the same as today. The 20th century, far from being the Pacific century, was an American century or, rather, another version of a western century. Pacific euphoria began to grow again as the cold war came to an end and people searched for a new image to describe the future international order. But just as the notion of east Asian supremacy began to acquire popular appeal, voices began to warn that eastern growth had its limits. When Bill Emmott (now editor of The Economist) wrote The Sun Also Sets in 1988, he was dismissed as a myopic European. His thesis-that there was no Japanese miracle and that Japan was heading for slower growth and problems similar to those of other mature economies-now looks farsighted as the Japanese economic bubble bursts: for the last four years Britain’s economy has grown faster than that of Japan.