By Zhang Tengjun ( Global Times, 21 June 2021) – In many ways, world politics have now ushered in the “Asian Century.” In this context, the discussion that the West is no longer in control of Asia is very popular. To illustrate this point, we must first look at whether the dominant order in Asia has changed substantially.
Historically, the current order in Asia was established by the West, and is thereby an extension of the Western order. The Western industrial countries established a set of order in Asia that served their interests and values in various ways. After the end of World War II, this order was further fixed through institutionalization, and the dominant position of the West in Asia was not impacted by the Cold War.
In terms of the political order, the rule-based order structure established under the leadership of the US to a large degree still influences Asia’s political development. On the one hand, many political elites from emerging economies in Asia were educated in the West, where they learned about Western values such as democracy, freedom and human rights. So when they returned to home, they promoted the process of democratization in their countries.
On the other hand, as major allies of the US and Western democracies, some regional powers have inextricable ties with the West. These countries can barely shake off West’s influence when making decisions about major regional affairs. Thus, they have become roadblocks to the strategic autonomy of Asian countries.
In terms of economic order, the emerging economies of Asia, represented by China, India and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, are increasingly becoming important forces to promote the development and maintain the stability of the world economy. But frankly speaking, the economic structure of Asian countries still bears an indelible Western imprint.
First, one of the results of Western colonial rule was that Asia became merely a source of raw materials for the West. This situation has not fundamentally changed yet. In the eyes of Western countries and their enterprises, Asia remains a factory for low-end labor-intensive manufacturing for the West, a source of cheap labor and a market for dumped goods.
Second, as the dominant player in the global economic order, the West is good at using its economic rules and standards to shape the regional economic and trade system to fight against its competitors. For instance, after Joe Biden took office, he continued the trade policies of the former administration of Donald Trump toward Asian countries, including imposing tariffs and sanctions and restricting imports.
Third, many regional countries still regard economic ties with Western countries as one of their priorities. Due to the competition for regional dominance, some countries try to control the regional economic agenda with the support of the West, responding positively to the West’s economic demands.
In terms of security order, Asia is still not totally free from Western military control. A strong Western military presence is the most significant stumbling block to Asia’s autonomy. Asia cannot truly achieve autonomous development as long as there is a Western military presence in the region. However, more and more countries are starting to realize that tilting toward the US and other Western countries completely in terms of security is not in their long-term interests. This is why they have begun now to consciously resist the intervention of extraterritorial forces.
In general, as Asia strengthens its political and economic influence, the autonomous power of this region will grow. But the close-minded West is unwilling to give up its dominance in the region, or loosen its grip on the significant benefits which stem from its dominance. It still tries to intervene and influence regional affairs in various ways. It is becoming an obstacle to regional peace, stability and prosperity.
The Biden administration has been making frequent moves in Asia. It tries to tie the whole of Asia to the chariot of its strategic competition with China. But as the wheel of history rolls on, Asia has increasingly become the center of the world. It is impossible to return to the era when it was under the rule of the West.
It is the common desire of Asian countries to have their affairs decided by themselves. It is also the main driving force behind their continued resistance to Western influence. The West is already in tatters, so it is difficult to play the role of a global model anymore. Western countries should not hope for an Asia that will be fully subordinate to them. It can be said that Asia’s full autonomy will come about in a matter of time.
The author is an assistant research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies. [email protected]