Identifying MacroStructual Trends in Asian Economies

This post recognizes the error in assuming that all Asian countries are undergoing similar socio-cultural-economic processes and placing diverse Asian countries on the same trajectory of development.

That said, when identifying and ranking important macro-structural trends in Asia, one must keep in mind the larger context of modernity within which these trends exist. The Asian nation-states are facing the structural, economic and socio-cultural trends so particular to modernity, namely globalization, contradictions of nationalism, and security problems that originate from the wrestling with conceptions of identity.

Asian nation-states are wrestling with neo-liberal globalization in this era of deterritorialized production and virtual capital, and trying to gain more economic security through inter-economic cooperation and alliances such as ASEAN and APEC. One example of inter-economic cooperation is the call for a Euro-style common currency. Yet, a trend particular to capitalist modernity is the creation of hierarchies of race, class and gender, and uneven development that tends to alienate and marginalize internal populations. Coupled with this is the fact that the core powers of the U.S., Western Europe and Russia have a vested interest in keeping Asia as semi-peripheral and prevent it from initiating a common currency, which would pose a definite threat to the current economic order of things. Therefore, they encourage foreign direct investment and neo-liberal development, and the U.S. specifically depends on China and Japan to finance its trade deficit. However, with Asian states slowly coming out of their financial crisis and looking for security in this era of increasing globalization, the trend is definitely towards more economic cooperation and integration.

Related to the problem of neo-liberal globalization is the development project and the Asian-nation states struggling with the tension of a universal collective identity and their contradictory particular constituted identities. For example, India is cast as a nation-state representing all ethnicities and religions in India, yet it is constituted as a Hindu nation (Hindustan). In lieu of this struggle for a universal nation-hood, capitalist modernity creates even more rifts, differentiations, and unevenness that adds to the contradictions of nationalism. With the multitudes of ethnicities in China, capitalist modernity creates more economic relations differentiated by economic classes. And with the flow of cultural capital from the West, Asian nation-states and peoples struggle to hold onto their respective constructed national histories and identities trying to wrestle with questions of ethnicity, religion, gender, nationality and their place in the world. The trend is towards further glocalization, stemming from the cultural hegemonic West once again, which is a recasting of the global as the local.

The third and final trend stems from the problem of modernity again and is related to the nexus of identity struggles: the security problems facing Asian-nation states. While the U.S. and Europe have demonstrated an interest in non-nuclear proliferation and a less militarized Asia, China, India, Pakistan and North Korea are all nuclear powerhouses. The United States has actively engaged Afghanistan and Pakistan in fighting militant forces in the region especially after the 26/11 attacks in India. Add into this equation the ongoing territorial disputes and bitter histories between China-Taiwan, Japan-China, India-China, Tibet-China and so-on, the Western powers have been able to keep economic integration at bay by highlighting security issues and taking sides in conflicts. Identity is at the crux of most of these disputes and until the individual nation-states get a handle on this issue, greater economic cooperation will be deferred.

For any Euro-style currency to come forward, India and China must stop squabbling over territory and put economic prosperity at the forefront of their priorities. The Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea) must take greater responsibility in bringing about economic integration in the region. The greater struggle for Asia is now between economically integrating to deal with the problems of capitalist modernity or giving-in to the security tensions exacerbated by Western powers.

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