Sustaining the Momentum of Growth: Asia in 2036

Manila Bulletin, March 8, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Sustaining the Momentum of Growth: Asia in 2036


Byline: EDGARDO B. ESPIRITU Ambassador of the Philippines to the Court of St. James

(Delivered at the Sixth Annual Conference of the Cambridge University Law and Business Association, Trinity College, Cambridge University, Cambridge, England, February 25, 2006.)

AM deeply humbled to be invited to join you today and I wish to thank the Cambridge University Law and Business Association for this rare privilege to share my thoughts with a group that has demonstrated interest in the current developments in and future directions of Asia. Today, our task is not necessarily to develop a predictive model of Asiaas future but to provoke and to stimulate discussions on the broad aspects of Asia in the 21st Century and try to develop, in keeping with the theme of todayas conference, an image of Asia in 2036.

The Present as History.

A possible subtitle for the conference could thus be, "will the promise of Asian global leadership be fulfilled for the next generation?" I believe that, barring any truly unforeseen major departure from current trends, there is enough reason for us to believe that this seemingly rhetorical question ought to be given an affirmative response.

Many writers and analysts of course, reckon the 21st Century as the "Asian Century." But this is not to say that Asia is only now beginning to occupy a prominent place in the world economy, history, and civilization.

Economic historians, for instance, tell us that as early as 1800, Asia was among the most open regions of the world and occupied an important position in the global economy not only because of its large share in world population and production, but also because of its high standing in terms of productivity, trade, competitiveness, and capital formation. Asia played an important role in ensuring global division of labor and intra-Asian trade was well developed long before Europeans arrived in Asia.

Let me stroke further the evolving feeling of fascination and trepidation by conjuring a recent event that seems to confirm Asiaas eminent role in shaping the world of the past. Last month, a copy of a map of the world dated 1418 was unveiled at the National Maritime museum in Greenwich. This map substantially matches the documentation in a book that appeared in early 15th century in China, The Marvellous Vision of the Star Raft. Both these documents radically alter our views of the past: It now appears that Chinese Admiral Zhengas circumnavigation of the world ante-dated Columbusa discovery of America, or Diasa going around the Cape of Good Hope, or Magellanas voyage around the globe. Indeed, could Asia, which is now in the cutting edge of current globalization trends, be merely re-asserting its previous revolutionary role in changing manas view of the world?

However, it is also true that Asia went through a period of relative decline, particularly in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, as it lagged behind the West in the so-called industrial revolution and was dominated by the western powers during the period of colonization. Thus, the picture of Asia that prevailed in the first half of the last century was one of poverty and economic backwardness.

But, as all of us now know, Asia has emerged in the last four decades of the last century as a region of unparalleled growth a" from Japanas post-war resurgence, to the rise of the East Asian tigers, and more recently, to the emergence of China and India as the new economic powerhouses of the region and of the world. Consider these unmistakable indicators:

l In 2004, Asiaas combined GDP grew by 7.4 percent, still the highest among all the regions of the world. Moreover, nearly all developing countries in the region grew at more than 5 percent. In 2005, China registered 9.9 percent, India at 8 percent, Pakistan at 8.4 percent, Singapore at 7.7 percent and Philippines, 6.1 percent.

l Asia is the global hub of economic activity.

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