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Mapping East Asian Futures 2030

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  • February 05, 2010
    Fellows' Seminar
    1030 to 1300 hrs

    Chairperson: Ramesh V. Phadke
    Discussants: Srikant Kondapalli and P. K. Ghosh

    The research objective of this paper is to develop and explore a broader range of plausible scenarios for East Asia in 2030 for flexible policy planning and strategic thinking. According to Ishida, the paper does not make any predictions but provides alternative possibilities. For this purpose, Ishida poses four research questions which are: What are the key drivers of the East Asian region? What kinds of future scenarios are plausible towards East Asia in 2030? What will be the implications of future scenarios for policy planning and what are the key strategic challenges, risks, uncertainties in the region?.

    The paper begins by explaining the regional geo-political characteristics and historical background of East Asia. Ishida points out that geo politically, China, Japan, the United States, Russia and India are the major players in the region but since the end of the Cold War Russian power and influence have rapidly declined while the influence of China and India has rapidly increased because of their high economic growth.

    The author analyses contemporary trends and debates on East Asia where he discusses changing geo-politics, economic liberalization, democratization and its challenges as well as regional cooperation and regionalisation. After this, the main drivers or key forces have been identified and explained. The author has identified four key drivers: great power geopolitics; globalization, politico- economic liberalization; regionalism and regionalization; energy, resources and the environment.

    On the basis of these key drivers, various scenarios have been developed in a broad spectrum. The author has drawn nine scenarios: 1. Progressive East Asian community: It portrays high optimistic trends of peace and progress at all level. 2. Chaotic East Asia: this depicts extremely negative trends where East Asia will fall down into a vicious politico-economic resulting chaos and disorder. The first two scenarios have been put under a non-polar category. 3. Concert of Great Powers in East Asia: this scenario assumes stability in East Asia will be maintained by the concert of great powers such as China, Japan, the United States, possibly together with Russia and emerging India. This shows the positive trends of great power politics. 4. Tragedy of great power rivalry: This scenario shows the negative trends of great powers’ rivalry and competition. It assumes that East Asian geo-politics will become increasingly competitive thus leading to severe and dangerous arms races and potentially direct military conflicts. Scenarios four and five have been put under the multi-polar category. 5. US-Japan Liberal Pacific Union: This is an optimistic scenario characterized by international liberalism where it shows that the US-Japan will maintain primacy; China will face severe domestic troubles as well as ASEAN will become more liberal-oriented towards US and Japan. 6. US-China Strategic Condominium: This scenario assumes that the United States and rising China will dominate East Asia with their growing political- strategic coordination while the role and influence of Japan, Russia and India will be marginalized. 7. New Cold War between US/Japan and China: This scenario depicts the negative trends of great powers relations where East Asia will be dominated by competition and rivalry between hegemonic US and rising China. Scenario fifth, sixth and seventh have been put under bipolar category. 8. American Hegemony: This scenario shows that the United States will continue to maintain its primacy in East Asia while China’s rise and Japan’s role will be constrained by the rivalry between them. 9. Return to China-centric East Asian Order: This scenario assumes Chinese domination in the East Asian geo-political economy and projects that China will establish its hierarchical regional order which will result in a weakening and decline of the US- Japan alliance.

    In the last section the paper, author has discussed key strategic challenges, risks and uncertainties which largely influence the future course of East Asia. The author has mentioned following points. 1. East Asia region has immense stakes in China’s stability and external relations. 2. The future of US-Japan remains uncertain. If the alliance is considerably weakened or collapses, the East Asian region will face drastic and unpredictable changes. 3. The stakes are immensely high, whether changes in international relations will happen in a peaceful manner or with military conflicts among great powers. 4. The East Asian nations need to overcome excessive nationalism to enhance any durable reconciliation, mutual understanding and trust. 5. East Asia faces some of the most serious military flash points such as the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan Strait and the South and East China seas. 6. With rapid economic growth and resurgent nationalism as well as competition, East Asian nations are heading towards a slow and steady arms race which includes weapons of mass destruction and a space arms race.7. To deal with potential conflicts and crises, multilateral security cooperation is essential to ensure East Asian security. 8. With deepening globalization and regionlisation, the Asia-Pacific region faces various emerging security challenges such as international terrorism, maritime security, energy and resources, illicit drugs and human trafficking and climate change. 9.With widening and deepening globalization and economic interdependence, the regional economy and finance remains fragile to shocks and instability as evident in the global financial/ economic crisis of 2008.

    Ishida has provided maps depicting of East Asia and key areas of dispute, figures on China’s military size, state of economy, political freedom, economic freedom, prosperity etc in Asia accessed from various sources as part of appendix. However at the end of his presentation, the author notes that a conclusion is yet to be added in the paper.

    Points Raised during the discussion

    • The paper broadly deals with liberal theory. However ‘Balance of Power’ and ‘Critical’ theories are missing in this study.
    • The paper does not suggest any policy options. The author does not provide his own views on the topic. The paper is heavily relies on survey of literature.
    • Too many scenarios have been projected in the paper. It should have been just four scenarios. The wild card scenario is also missing for the paper.
    • The key drivers in the paper actually are not reflected in the scenarios.
    • Mapping of Comprehensive National Power (CNP) is another key area which has not been covered in this study. The study conducted by the Chinese academy of social sciences and Ashley Tellis could have been utilized.
    • Though the size of the whole Asian economy is huge it is still not a match for the Transatlantic region of the world. So many problems still plague Asia such as hunger, poverty, malnutrition, unemployment etc.
    • The United States is still a dominant power in the region and remains a wild card.
    • Demographic changes have not been touched upon in this paper. China and India have a large young population which should have been analysed. Similarly young Turks in Japan who aspire for change in Japanese politics could have been discussed.
    • The paper points out that India has little security interests in Taiwan Straits which may not be appropriate.
    • In the future, India may also be included in the six party talks since it is an emerging power. This aspect could have been included in the scenarios.
    • Technology and its impact is one the biggest drivers which has to be mentioned in this paper.
    • There are domestic players and factors as well which highly influence foreign policy making such as the issue of Okinawa or the change of government in Japan which could have been cited as an alternative scenario.
    • Poverty in going to be the major issue in 2030. The leadership question is also important.
    • The author point out that a progressive East Asian community is the most optimistic scenario but this requires more explanation.
    • Mapping East Asia 2030 is an important task. The author needs to mention which futures are important and how it can be arrived at.
    • While building the scenario, no time line has been given. The paper also lacks imagination of events.
    • However the survey of literature is commendable but the author’s own voice is missing.

    Report prepared by Sanjeev Kumar Shrivastav, Research Assistant at the IDSA.