Magazine Review: “The Pacific Age” by the Economist

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Introductory video:

The Pacific Rim, perhaps the most fickle yet dynamic arc in the globe, consists of frequent interactions of big countries like the United States and China, as well as other Southeast Asian and Latin American countries.  In face of China’s profound roar and rocketing boom, the United States, feeling wary of China’s political slogan of “Chinese Dream”, steadily shifts its focus by strengthening diplomatic alliances and advocating balancing strategy to Asia. Apart from America’s “Pivot to Asia” and China’s rise, the complexity of Asia-Pacific region can be ascribed to myriads of factors, with countries’ multilateral investment, the set-up of free-trade pact and territorial conflicts being the most apparent ones.

Starting from Japan’s “flying geese” model in 1970s, Asian industrialization has been in a full swing, if not miraculous.  By virtue of cheap labour and large quantity of factory goods, the uproar of “Four Asian Dragons” and the unprecedented speed of China’s “Opening-up” have contributed much to the manufacturing sectors.  Latin American countries, gazed with amazement, endeavoured to follow the developmental model of Asian footsteps.  Since the millennium, Asian and American economies, benefited from inextricable connectivity, have been going beyond merely manufacturing and fuelled with foreign investment.  Living thrived sevenfold in Asia and double in Latin America, which in turn, it is conceivable to witness the presence of middle class with their demand of multifarious products.  Free flow of products keep cropping up ranging from cutting-edged gadgets in the US’s Silicon Valley to Korean TV dramas under the influence of “pop culture”.  Besides, imports of (Latin) American agricultural products help quench China’s thirst for high-calorie food, in exchange pipes are built in Latin America under China’s assistance.  Additionally, under the creation of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and Maritime Silk Road, China is also pouring pockets of money for port infrastructure and shipping exchanges with Southeast Asian countries.  Embarking on the economic community is the current agenda of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN).  With the above commodity exchanges between Asia and America, such dense webs of interdependence further attribute to each’s potentially-promising economy.

At first glimpse, blessed with the above extending yet disentangled economic networks, the region seems prosperous.  Yet behind such rosy scenario, clamours over the formation of free-trade pact and territorial claims are aggravating.  The building blocks of commencing Free-Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) still exist.  America opposed China’s plan for a feasibility study of FTAAP.  Instead of relying on this new pact, the United States prefers regarding its-led Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a highly sophisticated trans-Pacific FTA.  However vigorously pushed by the United States, China would be reluctant to accept America’s rule on some issues like state-owned enterprises and internet access.  More importantly,  stirring rivalries in Western Pacific.  Regardless of ASEAN’s treaty on settling maritime disputes in 2002, tension still sparked when Vietnam and the Philippines were claiming over control of the Paracel Islands and Scarborough Shoal respectively, and Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands.  Worse still, China and the United States have been at loggerheads in the operations in Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) due to divergent interpretations of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  Meanwhile, in America’s perspective, China’s assertiveness over territorial claims like “nine-dash lines”, as well as its increasing military operations in East and South China Sea have jeopardized the freedom of navigation.  Thus for cementing maritime security through international law, America’s commitment in the region did not, and will not, waver.  Whereas, China is airing its grievance over the United States’s much-touted “Pivot to Asia” and its sense of its superpower status.  As a non-participant of current western-dominated system, China has been testing and challenging the American rule established since the Second World War.  Hence, due to the issues of maritime claims and security, it is no wonder that both and Asian countries’ relations turn choppy at times.

Despite America’s call for an immediate and lasting halt in recent days, China is still building spree around the disputed reefs and issued “White Paper” to enhance own navy capacities, blaming America for stirring up troubles.  No matter how they are at odds with each other in the West Pacific, yet paradoxically, one thing is certain: Both sides are bound to each other in some common grounds.  None of their economic exchanges would have been possible without mutual willingness.  In the midst of this 21st century, one of the world’s spotlights would presumably stay in the Asia-Pacific region, a region that will keep flourishing with enormous trading volumes on one hand, but is also cloaked by maritime uncertainty on the other. ♦


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