INTRODUCTION: THE MAKING AND UNMAKING OF PACIFIC-ASIA
Ravi Arvind Palat
[T]he Pacific Ocean will have the same role as the Atlantic has now and the Mediterranean had in antiquity and in the Middle Ages--that of the great water highway of world commerce; and the Atlantic will decline to the status of an inland sea, like the Mediterranean nowadays.
Marx and Engels ( 1978: 266)
By the late seventies, when one of the lesser-known prophecies of Marx and Engels appeared imminent with the eclipse of the trans-Atlantic trade by that of the Pacific, policymakers and business leaders, scholars and journalists, were all quick to proclaim the dawn of a new era--the Age of the Pacific. This prognosis was seemingly confirmed in the eighties by the high rates of economic growth registered by Japan and the "Four Dragons" ( South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore) amid the collapse of most other low- and middle-income states and the rapid industrialization of several Southeast Asian states ( Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia). Additional corroboration for this thesis came from the growth of industries based on new technologies along the Pacific seaboard of North America and the concurrent de-industrialization of the Midwestern and Northeastern regions of the United States. Finally, the chronological simultaneity of the rise of export-oriented economies along the shores of the Pacific with the collapse of autarkic, centrally planned economies--and the concomitant end of the Cold War--appeared to confirm the proposition that we are standing at a major geopolitical turning point in world history.
Despite widespread consensus on these issues, there is considerable ambiguity and confusion in conceptualizing the nature, constitution, and future directions of an impending Pacific Century. On the one hand, the very ease with which we can locate booming economies and plot the complex economic and political networks on maps endows the concept with an aura of obviousness ( Harris,