A Pacific Century, Not Asian Century?


Words: Eugene Sebastian

21st century is not and will not belong to Asia alone according to experts.

The town of Locke is about 140 kilometres northeast of San Francisco. It’s the last surviving rural Chinatown in America. California’s ties with China go back to the gold rush of the mid-nineteenth century where large number of migrants came seeking their fortunes. At its peak, it had a community as many as 1000 to 1500 Chinese people living there.

A once thriving town is now forgotten as fortunes shifts.

What is not forgotten is the role and importance the United States plays in sustaining Asia’s rise.

It is with little doubt that Asia is projected to dominate the century.

As the region’s economic powerhouse looks unstoppable, a panellist of experts that met in Northern California recently suggest that the 21st century is not and will not belong to Asia alone. That it is more accurate to characterize this century as the “Pacific Century”.

In fact, “America will one-way or another play a role in [this century]”, said Orville Schell Arthur Ross Director of Asia Society’s Center of U.S.-China Relations.

“In doing so will require the U.S. to “re-catalyze its sense of ‘can-do/whatever-it-takes/get-it-done’ attitude, which in many paradoxical ways have migrated to Asia”.

Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council, agrees.

“While economic growth in Asia has been outstanding, the U.S also has a lot to gain but only if American assets are applied properly. “Asia’s growth will continue,” Wunderman noted, “and we want to be a part of it.”

Bruce Cain, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University noted that integration and trade between the U.S. and Asia will continue.

He however pointed out that the continued demand to learn English and U.S. global leadership in creativity, innovation and scientific expertise will continue to attract tremendous number of international students.

“Economies are driven by technology and innovation,” he noted, “and that is where we have the advantage”.

Professor Susan Shirk, expert on Chinese politics at University of California San Diego and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State during the Clinton Administration, notes the U.S. challenge of co-existing with China.

“China is an economic partner and not yet an economic competitor in the way that Japan was an economic competitor to the U.S. back in the 1980s.”

However, the regional economic intertwining and inter-dependency and its future growth can be undermine by the political instability especially related to territorial disputes.

Professor Shirk also agreed that “the innovativeness and flexibility of the U.S. economic system, the strength of its higher education, which remains very far ahead of higher education in Asia can enable a revival of America’s economic dynamism”.

While it is true that the U.S. is ground-zero for innovation, science, and technology in the world, there is also a small sub-set of American society that is not part of this economy.

The U.S. is creating its own “tale of two cities,” argued Dominic Ng, Chairman and CEO of East West Bank. “As much as American innovation is great, creating productivity, and benefiting the whole world, it does create a problem with what are we going to do with the rest of the people who do not have the same educational opportunities.”

Schell agreed, noting that it is possible that the future of this world will be “sliced not just according to national boundaries” but to new “striations and classes” of creative, innovative, and wealthy people who are benefiting from a globalized world and from those who do not even have a job.

The event was recorded for radio broadcast for BBC4. To listen go to the Asia Society Northern California website.

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