Asia Needs more Dialogue

By Shashwat Goenka and Frank-Jürgen Richter

Asia News Network, November 1, 2017

Many of Asia’s nations evolved from colonial influences by the 1950s – they are still young, yet several have ancient histories: India nurtured the development of several present-day main-line religions and while China was united as one nation for millennia it was rent by a civil war that, on cessation in 1949, gave birth to the current People’s Republic of China. Across Asia, its leaders, sometimes enjoying a relatively long time in power, are succeeded often by years of rapid change which unsettles their business leaders (who prefer stability so they may plan strategically), and it destabilises their staff who wonder if they will retain their jobs.

In general terms Asia is rising – its economies are growing and many of its turbulences are diminishing. Yet severe tensions remain – there are several border issues; and in Myanmar, a nation which in 2010 embraced democracy is challenged by the Rohingya issue. Across Asia religiously motivated rioting is commonplace, but ought not to be so in present times. Often social and economic changes play a major role behind the racial and religious conflicts, and sometimes reform movements spread across the country, changing the authoritarian regime into a democratic society thus causing individual trepidations. Asia’s people are naturally discursive using many tongues, and their discussions take a long time to reach consensus: persuasion is difficult as old beliefs are held to be still valid. Thus it is pivotal to deconstruct the logic of religious and racial discrimination often inherited from earlier colonialists if we are to put an end to conflict and violence once and for all.

To this end, and also to boost economies through dialogue and cooperation, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed in 1967. It is a regional grouping that promotes economic, political, and security cooperation having as its ten founder members – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam. In 1997 ASEAN Plus Three became a forum to include China, South Korea and Japan; and later still The East Asia Summit of 2005 expanded the above memberships to include India, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and the United States. Gradually we see ‘Asia’ emerging as a massive economic geo-located grouping with certain more remote ‘observers’ within the discussion group.

Oversight is currently very important as North Korea and the US exchange verbal abuse: China, Russia, South Korea as well as the UN Security Council attempt to diffuse the tension while at the same time attempting to persuade North Korea not to continue on its path of nuclear warfare development, a path to which it is committed. Again we see the need for regional dialogue to raise the prospect of peace and economic development. It is tempting to imagine a United Asia as an emergent construct creating a forum for wide-spread development of economies, social reforms and better governance.

ASEAN at the moment, collectively, may be the world’s seventh largest economy with a combined GDP of $2.6 trillion (in 2014) which is projected to rise to fourth by 2050 but it has not yet achieved its major goal of economic integration. The establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 was viewed as a step towards addressing this, but it still lacks a common regulatory framework, ultimately preventing ASEAN from becoming a major economic player. However, ASEAN’s AEC Blueprint 2025 which provides extensive broad economic directions and strategic measures over the next decade also focus on economic integration. But it must overcome its long-running Human Rights issues to meet its own declared goals as well as those of the UN. And it must advance strong views about better governance among its highly verbal members who seem to lack a strong mandate from their own people, who themselves perhaps fear losing their identity within the larger grouping.

Asia is thus a broad reality having five major regions – Southeast Asia, East Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, and Southwest Asia (also known as the Middle East) and is home to 4 billion people. Their economies are defined as developing like Afghanistan and the Central Asian nations or graduated developed like China; or developed like Japan, South Korea and Singapore; or remaining undeveloped like Bangladesh and Myanmar. Depending how one interprets national statistics these classifications alter… Yet one aspect remains outstanding – with increased and equitable trade all economies can grow.

Discussions about trade is one major aim of the forthcoming Horasis Asia Meeting taking place in Kolkata over 26 – 27th November 2017. Herein CEOs, Ministers and academics will engage in open dialogue on many matters pertinent to Asian growth. To foster this aim delegates will engage in open dialogue to explore options that could invigorate trade and nullify missed opportunities. Ministers can explain their choices, business leaders can reveal their strategies, and all might reverse the uncertainty created by President Trumps’ scuppering of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the globe’s largest trade deal ever.

As mentioned above, business leaders need stability to plan and to develop joint ventures with others – this takes time and is predicated on a modicum of political stability. Developing the TPP involved several ministries and the heads of state of 12 nations over many years of discussions to acknowledge the needs of 800 million people, and to mobilize business leaders into far reaching aims. The Horasis Asia Meeting will go a long way to rectifying the TPP void through its plenary and panel discussions and especially through its more intimate boardroom dialogue discussions which new accords might be built.

There are two new, very broad, multi-nation developments that will be subject to many discussions. One is China’s Belt and Road initiative created by President Xi Jinping which reaches by land from China through central Asia to Europe, and by sea to Africa and again to Europe. President Xi is hopeful that these multiple roads and sea routes will stimulate growth and innovation hubs along its paths. India too has aspirations, having reached an accord with Japan to create an Asian-African corridor that acknowledges India’s African diaspora and will also act as an innovation conduit. Naturally under-developed nations might be wary of these moves even if conjoined in their development, while developed nations might consider negotiating trade accords to enact new pan-Asian or Pan-European agreements. All in all these two developments deserve discussion, and will get it in Kolkata.

We strongly believe in dialogue, promoting frank presentations of Ministerial and CEO’s viewpoints and beliefs that will help guide governments and businesses in their future plans. This guidance can reduce apprehensions through an appreciation of the others’ views, and jointly new ventures may be developed with greater confidence. The Horasis Asia Meeting in Kolkata will confirm of our beliefs.