From a macro-historical point of view, learning from the lessons of history, we are enabled to clearly focus on Asia. In the legacy of a venerable history and civilizational development, Asia may be about to stir out of hibernation as it is stimulated from within and without. Forces from within are integrating international mutual differences for mutual benefit, facilitated by impressive industrial and economic growth. This civilizational integration, of largely eastern mysticism, will have a critical mass of educated professionals and cheap production processes mainly due to plentiful cheap labor. Forces from without are accounted for by these nations having already absorbed foreign technology and methods, and through having taken a foothold in international markets through a general opening up to the rest of the world. This has been made possible, and even catalyzed, by events and forces of the short-lived race for globalization (from the West) and its aftermath. This all portends a new world order in which the US declines and Asia as a conglomerate behemoth superpower (epicentred in Russia, China, Japan and India), synergistically unified in mutual difference, for mutual benefit, may vie for supremacy with the other looming superpowers of Europe, and the PanArab civilization.
This paper looks at the rising status of Asia in economy, politics and the military, and especially as manifested in the “Big 4” of Russia, China, Japan and India. Allegorically we may ask the following question: Are the Bear and Dragon reawakening, with the Rising Sun overhead, while the Taj is about to experience a welcoming revitalization? And will all of this be in the ascendancy of the venerable Asian civilization to looming superpower status?
A foundational focus in this paper is macro-historical. This is an approach the author has taken previously (Leigh, 2003, 2004, 2005) in articles on post-globalization superpowers and the new world order in the third millennium. Macro-historians support their work with insightful grand (general and expansive) views of human history to forecast, or at least consider, what future international scenarios may appear (Krikke, 2005) and particularly so on a scale with worldwide implications. Many well known and respected academics have taken this approach; for example Huntington ( 1996), Lewis ( 2002; 2004), Toffler and Toffler ( 1995), Taub ( 2000), Fukuyama ( 1992), and Churchill ( 1983).
This school of thought gives fresh impetus to the human perspective that is often too deeply specialized and loses the broad view, and therefore becomes unbalanced. So forward-looking wide-eyed macro-historians anchored by historical lessons, pursue their prospective view through “an enduring intellectual fascination [to] explain the development of human society from the earliest times to well beyond our own times” (Littrup, 2000, pp. 118- 120).
Macro-historians seek liberation from the labyrinth of myriad, seemingly unrelated, world events which incarcerate much of humanity in a bewildering mental confusion over current affairs. This liberation is sought through a worldview in much the same way as Churchill said something like the further back you can see the further into the future you vision will be.
The author of this paper has also meshed into the macro-historical perspective, a global geographical panorama to build a worldview through an integrated (historiogeographic) conceptual superstructure which can piece together world events toward an understanding of not only what they mean, but also what they portend, for the future of sojourning humanity on this globe. This present paper, the fourth in a series of five, is an outcome of this developing wholistic macro-historical and geographic worldview (Leigh, 2003; 2004; 2005).
Compared with recent world history, the speed of world geopolitical changes, and continental shifts in the global balance of power are escalating at a stunning rate as we see the United States of America about to plunge from its hegemonic apex, while the European Union may be poised to emerge as a budding superpower for all to see and contend with. At the same time another world superpower may be in the making – a behemoth eastern oriental superpower which nestles in its neighborhood of Asia. All this appearing as we potentially see the world fragment into continental-sized civilizational superpowers to replace the cold-war rivalry, based on ideology, which was only briefly superseded by a decade of rampant attempts to globalize the earth into the western mold (Leigh, 2004).
If we pause to look back into history we can see that the Asian human hearth has been home to once great civilizations with the peoples of Russia, China, Japan and India – referred to as the “Big 4” throughout the paper. Upon this legacy these modern nations may soon appear again in a period of civilizational power by combining their strength into a continent-wide conglomerate world superpower. Indeed the era of Asia may be imminently upon us all.
In the last decades, rapid dramatic events have stirred the Russian Bear and Chinese Dragon to the luminescence of the Japanese Rising Sun around the wonder of the Indian Taj Mahal, all working to the materialization of a behemoth conglomerate Asian world superpower.
The Russian Bear, endowed with vast reserves of most natural resources, expanded from humble beginnings rooted in Muscovy and its territories, under Tsar Peter I to become an imperial power enriched by the fur trade, gold rushes, and transcontinental railroads along with territorial expansion (taking over much of the Baltic, Eastern Europe and Caucasus central Asia) during the 19 th century. This was eventually followed by further territorial influence and expansion on the heels of victory in the Second World War and continuing forced dramatic industrialization in the 20 th century all working towards establishing the Soviet Union as a horde of nations making up a post-world-war superpower standing off from the US in a cold war.
However, recent social and political reform from the mid 1980s, brought in by Mikhail Gorbachev’s administration, through what proved to be “premature” policies of glasnost (political openness) and perestroika (economic restructuring), rivaled the centrally planned, command communist Soviet economy. These reforms plunged the USSR into economic implosion, and social and civil disintegration resulting in the prompt collapse of the Soviet Union and its empire in 1991.
This decline under Gorbachev’s administration forced the Soviet Union to allow the downsizing of its once great empire by relinquishing its Soviet republics, as they declared themselves independent in 1991. After all the Union had already been given no option but to forego its westward sphere of influence, by allowing corrosion of the iron curtain in Eastern Europe which set in and moved in parallel with Gorbachev’s early rise to power from 1985. More specifically a surging tidal wave of political scenarios, enhanced by Gorbachev’s policies, led to the destruction of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and German reunification in 1990 paving of the way for the “liberation” of the Eastern bloc. This pandemic failure of communism allowed a stunning opening up of the Soviet western flank of Eastern Europe to come under the influence of not only the EU but also the US.
Likewise the southern underbelly of the Union, with newly independent ex-Soviet states in 1991, became economic and political prey for the competing larger nations to incorporate into their spheres of influence. While the political changes have been relatively bloodless in Eastern Europe (excluding the Balkans), in the deep south of the Soviet underbelly, the changes are still in a state of flux and have brought instability, civil war and bloodshed to peoples there, while the grab for power was hastily and eagerly mounted. Thus the globe-girdling influence of the Soviet Union has been dealt a comatizing blow, at least for the time being (Rowntree et al, 2,000, p. 363; D’Encausse and Philip, 1992; Suny, 1993).
These dramatic emaciating changes have left Russia wondering where it should nestle for its geopolitical future to once again find greatness as a nation symbolized by the powerful Russian Bear. Further, as Russia spans Eurasia, it may not be completely clear at times where the future for this once great peoples belongs – east or west – in the EU or as part of an Asian conglomerate superpower. Meantime Russia with its large reserves of most natural resources, enjoys an escalating income due to the world’s short supplies of available natural resources, especially energy resources. For example, the rise in the price of crude oil, up from $ 22 a barrel in September 2001, to a hefty $ 63 in early August 2005 (and predicted to rise to $ 80 by 2005 year’s end), increasingly fills Moscow’s coffers at an ever faster rate.
The Russian Bear went into hibernation in the second millennium’s last decade. But is the Bear beginning to stir to the tune of increasing re-centralization under Vladimir Putin, and economic revitalization as Russian energy resources are sought after in international markets at an increasingly sought-after price? With its already burgeoning natural and energy resources sector, it may be that Russia will be able to revive its industrial sectors in machinery, aviation, automotive production, and military and space technology.
In East Asia we find the Chinese Dragon and the Japanese Rising Sun. This massive horde of peoples enwrapped in Neo-Confucian civilization, many would argue, in recent decades, looms large as both nations exert increasingly significant world influence, at least economically.
This East Asia region, historically one of the world’s ethnically diverse areas, but often culturally unified under Confucianism’s successive interpretations, has in modern history been ideologically and politically ravaged and ripped apart by savage conflicts and wars. Indeed such conflicts appeared between fascism and communism in the buildup to the Second World War and bitter rivalry between capitalism and communism in the latter half of the 20 th century. In spite of some lingering ideological differences, and geopolitical border disputes, the nations of this region have generally been coming closer together over the most recent decades. Further, in recent years this whole region has emerged as a centre of political and economic power with nations of huge fast-growing economies, like China, and Japan (having slowed in growth recently), on the one hand, and the tiger economies of small but vibrant nations of, for example, Taiwan and South Korea on the other (Rowntree, et al, 2000, p. 443).
The history of the peoples that eventually were incorporated into the Confucian belt is a colorful one. For example China is one of the world’s most venerable civilizations dating back more than three thousand years. The history of China has been characterized by repeated divisions and reunifications, often in fierce and bloody interaction with its neighbors. This history nestled in alternating epochs of peace and war often ushered in violent imperial dynastic changes. However, across the centuries, of often turbulent upheavals, China remains the most long-lived dominant civilization in East Asia. Even now China is remembered as a hearth of much venerable learning and the arts, and is the home for the four great inventions of paper making, printing, the compass and gunpowder.
However, with the coming of the 19 th century, China was not able to repel the intrusion of the Europeans and Japanese, so the Imperial Monarchy fell, leading the way to the modern era of China in the 20 th century. Eventually, in this last century China was again unable to resist another shock wave; this time the subjugation by the Communist ideology and its accompanying rigid and often brutal and bloody regime to squash any dissention.
Notwithstanding China’s previously long-held self-imposed isolation, since the late 1970s this great Sinic civilization has generally moved in the direction of liberalization and openness (Jisi and Sicheng, 1996). By the recent end of the last century China had generally attempted to place itself in a more interactive stance with the rest of the world for a market-led economy, to enjoy rising exports to boost the increasingly rapid expansion of its economy, which had well and truly awakened by the turn into the present 3 rd millennium (Wayne, 2005).
We must not be naïve however, as this apparent opening up of China has been blended with classical Chinese austerity leading to the full prompt return (upon expiration of leases) of Hong Kong and Macau in the last ten years and unless there is military support to assist Taiwan in its independence, the Chinese dragon will almost certainly clutch that island state back into the greater Sinic fold in fulfillment of the “One-China Policy”. The apparent opening up of China probably, as we shall see, is all part of a strategy to be strengthened and emboldened by trade, commerce and international agreements and pacts, to not only expand due to trade, but to also benefit from absorbing the high technology of the rest of the world, thus making a bigger and greater China possible at a rapid pace. China is obviously beginning to be a strong international trade force, for example in textiles and electronics, and China also possesses nuclear and space technology.
According to folklore, Japan was founded 2700 years ago when Chinese writing, Buddhism and other Chinese cultural elements were introduced from the Kingdom of Korea. Chinese influences maintained its hold as cultural practices and administration models were adopted. Interestingly, and also in the Chinese tradition, Confucianism was dominant in Japan until the 19 th century and this legacy has helped the Japanese to be hard working, frugal and accepting of their nation’s political leadership, often expressed in nationalistic and expansionist tendencies in the last hundred years or so.
In the mid 19 th century the Meiji Restoration adopted significant Westernization, with modern government, legal systems and a military, transforming Japan into a modern world power, emboldened to defeat China and Russia. Later in the build-up to the Second World War, allied with Germany, Japan invaded China, and during the war occupied much of South East Asia all the way to the Australian borders. Over the last century or more Japan has mounted military campaigns for territorial expansion against Russia and China and so there has been an ongoing problematic relationship with these two countries, and there remain some border disputes, and lingering distrust within neighboring Asian nations.
Since Japan’s decisive defeat in the Second World War, democracy and a pacifist constitution have been adopted, at least apparently. The post-war period has seen the stunningly rapid absorption of Western (mainly American) technology and a rebuilding of Japan – its infrastructure, industry and economy – to become by the end of the 1990s a modern fully industrialized state and the world’s second largest economy (after the US) with large industries in automotive manufacture, machinery and electronics, and of course Japan remains a world economic power even today.
The South Asian nation of India with the gracefully beautiful Taj Mahal, which for many is emblematic of the subcontinent’s civilization, has a venerable history of cultural arts and learning from antiquity with the Indus Valley Civilization which peaked for a few hundred years until about 1900 B.C. From around 500 B.C. kingdoms in the north and south appeared. Later from the 4 th century A.D. the Gupta dynasty, which patronized Hinduism, oversaw across northern India, the period referred to as India’s “Golden Age”. India came of age with advanced culture and developments in sciences, religion and philosophy.
By the early second millennium swathes of India were inundated by Islam. However, some indigenous kingdoms survived and thrived, and especially so in the south. India had become a religious patchwork quilt of Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist. During the middle of the second millennium European countries began to be interested in India for trade. However, during the 19 th century the British effectively colonized India until its independence in 1947.
India, with its long history of civilization (with culture and the arts), has also had the recent benefit of political, administrative, and some physical service infrastructures, inherited from the colonial days, to ostensibly integrate Hindu, Sikh, Moslem and Buddhist into the mosaic fabric of one multicultural state. Further, in more recent history, this nation has continually confronted the inherent titanic problems (e.g. overstretched physical and administrative infrastructures) accruing from massive ethnic populations and their associated poverty. However, in spite of this seeming paralyzing poverty, and some ethnic fragmentation, India has still managed to develop a large mass of university-educated professionals, across a wide area of technologies and scientific fields, in addition to its traditional clothes and craft sectors. And building further, entrepreneurs are seizing the initiative to establish themselves in niche sectors (like IT, expatriate medical services, consulting and call centres) in response to world market trends.
So, in briefest general summary we can see that there has been much interaction, through war and peace, among the Asian states over the millennia, which many would argue has led to a sea of both common understanding, and ideological and ethnic differences among them. In the present legacy of these Asian states we see some of the most geographically expansive nations, with significant to massive populations, offering a plentiful supply of “cheap” labor, beginning to effectively utilize (even if imported) natural resources, and their intellectual capital, across a wide range of technologies and industrial sectors in an overall continental context of high economic growth rates.
A retrospective focus on the world, delving into its history, reveals that major superpowers in various epochs have wielded international power and influence. In the western world we often hear of the vast and past world empires (Wallerstein, 1987) like Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome acting as forerunners of more recent kingdoms, empires or nations. In more recent western historical landscape, for example, we have seen Napoleon’s Empire, the British Empire, the Third Reich and the United States of America. From Asia we may remember the culturally and scientifically advanced Qin and Tang Dynasties of China, the Russian Tsars with their royal court and expansive lands across Eurasia, the Imperial Gupta Dynasty and its “Golden Age” in India, and the succession of often proud and great Japanese Emperors.
Ancient and more recent history attests to supremely powerful states or empires over the millennia of human experience. These powerful political entities may be termed world powers or even superpowers. Such powers would be termed superpowers, if they had the ability to influence far flung events or project power on a global scale. In more modern times superpower status implies a huge economy, significantly sized population, strong armed forces, with a sizeable arsenal, and probably nuclear weapons. Russia, China, Japan and India, singularly or combined could be classified with potential superpower status (Superpower).
This rise and fall of various hegemonic political configurations develop a drama, often written in blood, of the ebb and flow in the sea of human history. These historical tidal waves have given rise to the successive life and death, of often conflicting world powers. We have even been stunned witnesses to the dramatic “self-inflicted” political and civil modernization process which invited collapse of what was “the world’s only other superpower” towards the close of the 20 th century – the Soviet Union. However it appears that these painful Soviet experiences are but a prelude to its recent attempts of revival through recentralization.
China having withstood the brutal invasion of Japan in the Second World War, has subsequently risen to burgeoning world success and influence in industry and commerce, based at times on submission to a brutal government and on sacrifice and discipline – all leading to growing substantial international political clout. And of course Japan, utterly defeated in World War Two and suffering ultimate humiliation under the nuclear bombs’ mushrooms, rebuilt upon a basis of frugality and hard work, to be a world class nation in economic and trade terms.
Finally, India having weathered the birth pangs of nationhood and partition, and surviving massive “overpopulation” and poverty, has steadily developed as a democracy to now begin to enjoy the fruits of ingenuity and initiative in the nation’s policy makers and entrepreneurs; hence the increasing scale and viability in various production, high-tech and intellect-based industries, all of which have learned to thrive largely in a market-led competitive world.
A new world (dis)order may be in the making. The recent collapse of the Soviet Union leaving the world with one other declining superpower, the resurrection of the German Phoenix within the German-lead European Union, and the rising influence of a potential Asian power bloc, all alongside a growing civilizational identity in the PanArab world, is changing the globe in a way and to an extent we have never seen before. Do we now see an array of eager nations, coalesced into different conglomerate civilizational superpowers, waiting as reserves ring-side (to take up the slack, or fill the geopolitical vacuum), for their time and chance, to join the fray of looming superpowers in the making? For example, will the EU, Pan-Arabia, and a United Asia (of Russia, China, Japan and India) redraw the world’s geopolitical map?
Of course any redrawing of the map and jockeying for geopolitical advantage would be further facilitated if the USA falls from what was once, and briefly, its unrivalled economic and military hegemonic apex.
Not unexpectedly, we are now, some would argue, in a post-globalization era as the one potential world of globalization increasingly fragments into civilizational superpowers. If the sun is indeed setting over globalization, we will begin to see the competing centripetal forces, within the world’s major civilizations (with their corresponding ethnicity and religion), draw their peoples together into a multi-fronted intercontinental arena of competition and rivalry.
Such a world reveals that the proponents of globalization have not been able to successfully realize its objectives, to bring the world together under one economically infrastructured system, leading initially to international political and cultural acceptance, as the first phase of bringing the world together into an harmoniously interconnected political and cultural interactive web, all built upon economic integration from one universal free market.
Samuel Huntington ( 1996), of Harvard University, supports the idea of an emerging fragmented world, and argues that there is a great likelihood for intercultural and inter-religious conflict between future world powers, each united from within through culture and religion, in a multi-polar world. He rejects the idea that the world will easily succumb to Western globalizing forces which have been mounted to displace the interests of both Eastern and Islamic peoples. However, these non-Western peoples may aggressively pursue their interests through their newly emerging international power blocs.
Swartz ( 2001) comments generally in relation to Huntington’s book:
The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural… [T]he principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.
Asim Nanji (2001) gives a more definitive synopsis of Huntington’s world view:
Samuel Huntington attempted to forecast the nature of global relations in the post-Cold War world, arguing that conflict in the future world would be cultural rather than ideological .... Samuel Huntington talked about a cluster of civilizations ... One was, what he called, the Asian civilisational cluster in which he included China, Japan and East Asia. The second was the Western cluster ... [including] Western Europe. The third cluster that he refers to is the Islamic world.
Bosworth ( 2004) concurs with such a three-way split of power distributed among potential superpowers. He suggests that, “if writing systems [of course as manifestations and tools of each culture or civilization] are a measure of balance or imbalance of world power … then [the] … ‘tripartite’ composition is compelling.”
Huntington (1993) himself says his hypothesis is that the fundamental source of conflict in this new post-Cold War world will not be primarily ideological or economic, but the great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural. The principal conflicts of global politics, he elaborates further, will occur between nations and groups of nations of different civilizations - intercivilizational conflicts. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics and the fault lines between civilizations will be the future battlefronts. In the politics of civilizations, Huntington contends, non-Western nations, and their conglomerate blocs, will also become the movers and shapers of global contemporary history. This new world order therefore will not be based on (political) ideology, but on belief, or in traditional terms on “religious” faith systems.
A chilling comment, which highlights the rivalry of potential enemies, at least partly accruing from the brief post-Cold War period of globalization, was made by German political theorist Carl Schmitt. He said that the Cold War was a world of obvious friends and enemies, but the globalized world, by contrast, tends to turn all friends into enemies or competitors. Elaborating further Friedman declares, “… [in] globalization politics… [you] still have to worry about the threats coming from nation-states you are divided from… [Moreover increasingly] you have to be concerned with threats coming from those to whom you are connected” in the globalization process ( 2000, pp. 12, 269).
If we have moved beyond the globalization decade, and this is indeed a post-global world now with the legacy of that brief and now waning era, are we entering into the relationships of enemies and competitors which, as Schmitt suggests, were fostered by globalization? Certainly such a world will be challenging for any Asian would-be superpower to contend with. In such an unfolding world arena with a declining US, where could we expect to see the newly revived Europe, in the guise of the EU (Reid, 2004), and the behemoth Asian combine, along with a restless PanArab civilization superpower settle in the geopolitics of a newly emerging dangerously fractured world? Will this be a world of intercontinental schisms with civilizational superpowers, in which the real prospect of Huntington’s clash of civilizations ( 1996), with ubiquitous mass-destruction weapons, becomes the greatest threat to mankind?
In this prospective, uncertain and anxious fractured multipolar world context, presenting a potentially ominous period of civilizational clash, let us take stock of what inherent vitality and international clout would be expected of the Big 4 in Asia as they may be drawn together into a behemoth conglomerate Asian superpower.
The following tables show select and comparative population, economic, military and political data for the Big 4. This broad-scale cross-sectional view of the data shows that Asia, as a potential superpower, by comparison has developed to loom as a significant player on the world scene.
There is a well know fact in which Asia stands out among all the regions and civilizations of the world - its massive populations. China with 1.3 billion makes up almost a quarter of world population and if we add India with 1.1 billion, a staggering 38% of world population is accounted for, more than one in three people. The total population of the Big 4 accounts for an incredible 42% of the world’s people - that is almost half of the world population and nine times that of the US.
Even in the area of GDP, Asia already has the world’s attention. The Big 4 have a combined GDP of $ 15.7 trillion which amounts to 146% of the US economy. Even just China, with the largest Asian economy, has a stunning two thirds of the US GDP, and with India thrown in with China, both amass a combined GDP of $ 10.6 trillion, and incredible figure of almost the same level of the US figure of $ 11 trillion. These are impressive figures showing rapid recent growth. For example, the combined GNP of China and India, as published in 1995, was only $ 1.065 trillion, that is China and India with only $ 0.745 trillion and $ 0.32 trillion respectively (Whitaker, 1997).
While comparison of GDP and GNP figures is problematic, the present average annual economic growth rates for China and India of around 8% means economic growth doubles these economies about every 9 years.
The economic growth of the Big 4 is overall arresting with an average of 6.2% ranging from 9.1% in China down to 2.9% in Japan, with an average for India and Russia hovering around 6.5%. When compared to the world, the average growth for the Big 4 is 63% larger, and twice the growth found in the US.
Public Debt in the Big 4 is relatively high; overexposed in India and Japan, offset by relatively low public debt in China and Russia. Overall public debt average for the Big 4 of 77% of GDP is relatively high and vulnerable, amounting to 23% higher in GDP percentage proportion terms than what is found in the US.
The Current Account balances of the Big 4 are in the black with a total of $251 billion. This predisposes these economies to stability and strength and is a much better showing and confidence builder than the figure the USA musters, which has a debilitating Current Account deficit of a staggering $542 billion. While it is problematic to make comparison between positive and negative accounts, in order to show the contrasting difference between the Big 4 and the USA, let us take note that staggering difference between their Current Account Balances is nearly $0.8 trillion, in favor of these Asian nations.
So we see the Big 4 with massive total populations (largely from China and India) of nine times that of the US and 42%, almost half, of the whole world, a huge combined GDP (with China leading) almost 50% larger than the US GDP, and an impressive average economic growth rate of 6.2% (again with China leading), twice that of the US. However there is some built-in general economic vulnerability from overexposed levels of Public Debt (particularly in Japan and India), but conversely inherent economic strength from overall positive Current Account balances in all the Big 4, with Japan showing a very strong positive balance, China and Russia presenting medium levels, and India “barely” on the positive side.
Figures for oil imports and exports present an interesting economic picture for the Big 4. Obviously Russia is well placed here and potentially able to supply about two thirds of the needs of the other three based on these recent figures. Of course this places Russia in a strong position in the group. When it comes to this energy resource we see that the other three are extremely deficient and this would suggest therefore a potential high level of dependence on Russia.
The value of exports coming out of the Big 4 is staggering. Collectively these countries enjoy a total export value of almost twice that of the USA. China and Japan each have a value of exports amounting to more than 75% of the US value of exports. Considering that Japan was largely destroyed in the second World War, and China, in isolation, had a failing Communist command economy reeling from the war’s aftermath at that time, these figures are astounding to say the least.
An interesting view appears when looking at the military expenditures for the Big 4. China with the largest GDP spends the highest of 4.3% of GDP on the military, and this figure is much higher than the 3.3% of the USA. Next in line in percentage terms is India with 2.5%, followed by Russia and then Japan with 1.3% and 1% respectively.
In comparative percentage terms against the USA, total military expenditure for these countries is only 30%. However, a total figure of $ 148.5 billion for the Big 4 is considerably higher than the UK, France and Germany combined with $ 123.1 billion spent on the military (CIA, 2005). So in comparative context and in gross terms, the amount spent by the Big 4 on the military is quite impressive and substantial, indeed making up 20% of the world’s military expenditures.
The overwhelming share of the Big 4’s total military expenditure is taken up by China with 46% and then followed by Japan’s share of 31%. China and Japan each spend more on the military than France - the biggest spender in Europe (CIA, 2005). Likewise, if we look at the military expenditure of these Asian nations, in gross dollar terms, it is quite impressive and ranks with the biggest military budgets in the world.
When human resources are taken into account for the military in the Big 4 an incredibly stunning view is clarified. The total fit manpower in the Big 4 is an awesome 543 million, amassing to about 40% of the world total and over seven times the same figure for the US. Even in the world of hi-tech warfare, military occupation on the ground, as we have seen of late in the Balkans and Iraq, is still dependant to a large extent on the manpower available, as in foot soldiers, and conventional weapons, to take control at ground level.
In this Asian neighborhood, three of the Big 4, Russia, China and India are nuclear powers. Both Russia and China have comprehensive Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) systems, with intercontinental range of 13,000 kms or more. China is fast transforming itself into a hi-tech military force. Russia probably has 8,000 operational nuclear weapons and China about 400. India has nuclear weapons, but no comprehensive systems, and is without ICBMS as it only has missiles with a 2,500 kms range. However, as the basis for a formidable comprehensive nuclear system, Russia and China are already in possession of powerful weaponry and systems that have a worldwide reach if one factors in air and sea delivery (Gopal, 1998; Wikipedia; Varner, 1999). Even though Japan is not yet nuclear it is already developing a missile defense system to be introduced in 2007 (Kyodo News, 2005).
If we pause here and take inventory of these several indicators, we see that Russia at present is able to supply about two thirds of the required oil for the other three. The Big 4’s value of exports is an incredible close-to-double that of the US exports. Military expenditure, including conventional weaponry and a significant arsenal of nuclear ICBMS, is impressively backed up by a massive supply of fit available manpower.
The Big 4 have significant to huge populations. The huge population has been a problem, particularly in India, leading to pandemic poverty and overstressed services and infrastructures. However, when it comes to population growth, except for India with a population growth of 1.4%, these nations do not fare so well, even if immigration figures are factored in. Three of the four nations, China, Japan, and Russia, have very low, zero or negative population growth figures respectively. It is also interesting that Russia even with highest level of net migration, still has a negative population growth rate.
While these generally rather low to negative population growth rates may give a temporary reprieve on the demand for many services and increased infrastructure (excluding India where it would be particularly welcome), the long-term effect of this very low, zero or negative population growth would be one of decline, with an eventual aging population with a high proportion of non-productive geriatric cohorts. In the long run, the level of population growth that India has may be more beneficial and conducive to sustained growth, than the declined rates of the other three.
The Big 4, as shown by these indicators, amount to an impressive conglomerate bloc, if they are taken as one potential world superpower. In comparative terms these nations form a powerful economic, population and even military critical mass when weighed against the US and EU.
Russia with a looming problem of an aging population, and thwarted by dilapidated industry, has a recent superpower lineage with impressive levels of technology, industry and education, but within a communist command economy, which collapsed in late last century, draining levels of economic wellbeing for the nation, and many individuals, through the floor.
However, it now appears Vladimir Putin may be in the process of reviving this recently imploded economy but the process in this present revival has produced a climate where political uncertainty, and therefore civil and economic anxiety and fears abound. Many, both within and without the country, are anxious about how comprehensively and extensively the Kremlin’s political reach may become again in the Soviet tradition, even in the country’s economy. However, there is one trump card that Russia would have in the prospective Asian conglomerate superpower, and that is and abundance of natural and energy resources.
China has already embarked on a path to becoming a fully industrialized nation in the next couple of decades and has made some significant strides in the areas of electronics, clothing and technology in general, as applied to production processes and industry – in a spirit of opening up to the rest of the world in trade. This opening up to the world also ensures China of a steady supply of cheap resources, especially energy resources for which it is very deficient. China however must take care to be proactive against its looming aging population, even though in gross population numbers it is a huge market to be tapped as affluence becomes more ubiquitous, infrastructures expand and consumerism takes off.
Japan has reached first world industrialization and levels of affluence, as a highly developed economy, and is a leader in a broad spectrum of industrial and technological fields. However Japan has a lack of land space, with cramped populations, no resources and a looming crisis from its population shortage and ageing population.
India is increasingly impressive in hi-tech industries, software technology, technology in general and service industries (from call centers to high class hospital care for foreigners), and the effectiveness of these activities accrues from the excellent professional expertise and quality of service mounted with an abundance of “cheap” labour. However, India deficient in many natural and energy resources, and with seriously overloaded and inadequate infrastructures, will also be confronted with a huge young population in the near future. By 2020, extrapolating from present trends, almost half of the Indian population will be between the ages of 15 and 49, giving India the world’s largest working and consuming population.
These Big 4 countries are more or less geographically contiguous to each other and three of them have civilizations with many shared interwoven elements over the millennia. However, the Big 4 are also diverse in many other ways. But it may be in this diversity, at least in economy and population statistics that they will find their strength as integrated states of an Asian superpower.
It would be appropriate here to consider the likelihood of an Asian superpower in the beginning of this 3 rd millennium. A decade or so ago there were very few considering the possibility seriously, at least in the public domain. For sure, not even now, do all think the chances for this political conglomerate to appear is very likely, but the number of voices beginning to talk about this as a possibility and likelihood is growing fast and are now many.
Certainly a voluminous collection of the many pronouncements and reports coming out of universities and other academic and research institutions are identifying substantial preferential links and cooperation between the Asian Big 4, in the economic, political and military arenas.
An Asian axis, of a trilateral strategic partnership, comprising of China, Japan and India was suggested by Feng Zhaokui (2004), a researcher with the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Preetam Sohani brings Russia into that fold by reporting that “ China, India and Russia are developing a coalition that can challenge and balance the global security and energy crisis against the sole super power of America .... Energy-starved Chinese are looking at Russia’s northern oil reserves as a possible source to meet their burgeoning economy requirements .... Russians have oil and gas to share. Russia needs India and China in a coalition to counter the United States effectively” (India Daily, 2005). From a Russian point of view this would all help in a strategic alliance with China against the US (De Courcy, 2005).
So how may these countries mesh synergistically to forge the world’s largest (in just about every respect) world superpower of behemoth dimensions? Put simply, it appears that these Asian nations may need each other to fully realize their place of supremacy in the new world (dis)order. In this fractured multipolar world, the superpower blocs will be competing in intercontinental confrontations for economic, political and military advantage. Of course, any winner potentially becomes mighty as it attempts to take more of the earth’s bounty in these high-stakes confrontations. This assumes that the rivalry between continental sized superpowers, with victors and vanquished, will fall short of military world-wide nuclear mayhem, to avoid cosmocide (Leigh, 2005).
So with these four Asian nations cohered together into a conglomerate superpower a spectacular array of advantages will accrue. China has a nuclear arsenal and space technology. China and India will be able to proffer a large military, huge untapped market, and also a massive supply of “cheap” labour. India has an impressive supply of highly educated English-speaking human resources, a young dynamic hi-tech and expanding industrial sector filled with initiative, and a large air force. Russia already is able to supply most natural and energy resources in plentiful amounts, and also proffer a large nuclear arsenal, space technology and other industrial and technological expertise which it has as a legacy from the Soviet Union. Japan’s contribution with a large modern military and navy, and well established technology in a broad range of industries and hi-tech, will be an attractive part in the modernizing of the international group.
But one may ask how will they weld this all together? It could be that a vacuum will be left as the US falls from its heady heights as the world hegemon. Also the potential “threat” of a powerful European Union will have to be met with an equally powerful and influential Asia to avoid European manipulation and exploitation. This Asian superpower will also be able to withstand the Islamic insurgency which is increasingly being felt on the world stage, in an increasingly fractured world. This growing and emboldened, even strident Islamic insurgency is fueled by fundamentalist Islam seeking an expanding worldwide sphere of influence.
As we have seen, of more recent years, the possibility and even likelihood of an Asian superpower is increasingly talked about in politics, diplomacy and academia. In the Western world Huntington (1993; 1996) and Lewis (1990; 2002; 2004) have disseminated their ideas for a decade, or more, of the looming clash of civilizations, and Huntington is specific that this will include an Asian world bloc epicentred primarily in Confucian China and Japan. Further, a growing chorus of leaders’ and academics’ voices from within Asia itself, are declaring the need to unify and integrate into a power bloc. The sum of these voices, from within and without, include, as we have already seen, a clarion call for a massive and mighty quartet of Russia, China, Japan and India to form the world’s supremely large and powerful superpower.
Concerning Russia’s recent history of implosion it has been said that “a lion taking a nap is still a lion”. This comment suggests that the present declined status of Russia is only temporary. Russia maintains a massive nuclear arsenal, possesses knowledge and skills across a broad range of technologies and industries and has an abundance of natural and energy resources. It also enjoys the lingering status and prestige of the once great communist Soviet Union, the only other superpower for half a century in the cold war standoff between Moscow and Washington.
However, the post-Cold War decade has not been so indulgent of Russia, which has seen the loss of its Union and empire along its western and southern flanks, which beckoned political, economic and military incursions largely from NATO, Europe and the USA.
In order to regain its Soviet era greatness, Russia must reestablish itself in the three arenas of economy, politics and military, and of course against the peoples that it perceives as the greatest threat - the West, as manifested by the US and Europe.
The present unprecedented joint military exercises by Russia and China involving air, sea and land forces are serious war games that show the two countries are moving considerably closer in warming ties. This warming of relations is significant.
China and Russia have drawn closer together since the end of the Cold War after decades of estrangement united in their opposition to US dominance in world affairs .... The US Defense Department said in a report [recently] that China’s military was increasingly seeking to modernize and could become a threat to [ America] (BBC, 2005).
Probably the received wisdom of most is that Russia alone will find regaining superpower status too elusive. However if Vladimir Putin’s goals of creating a conglomerate superpower, largely centred in Asia, are realized, he will have succeeded by enrolling the mutual participation of other nations to form an even greater superpower than the Soviet Union.
Sudhir Chadda, of the India Daily newspaper (2004), comments that Putin is taking a lead role in putting together the most powerful conglomerate superpower in the world. The coalition consists largely of India, China, and Russia. This will challenge the superpower supremacy of America as well as the European Union. Russia, China and India are concerned not only about American worldwide influence but also the increasing stridency coming out of Europea. This Asian based political coalition would have the most people, the largest market, the most foot soldiers, an abundance of natural, energy and human resources, and a massive pool of technical and scientific talent, along with a plentiful and “cheap” labour supply.
Russia is also keenly aware that its reserves of natural and energy resources are not only to its economic advantage, but also gives it a powerful bargaining edge in diplomatic, political and geopolitical matters. Also much to Russia’s advantage, it has considerable reserves which could yet be developed to enhance prospects for revived national status (Oil and Gas Journal Online, 2004) within the Asian Superpower. Protected or guaranteed trade within the prospective Asian bloc would ensure Russia of stable, predictable and massive markets, free of unexpected competition from “outside”. Vagaries of external global market demands, and significant international events, or natural disasters, could result in fluctuating oil trade flows leading to insecurity in oil exports. Such events or disasters could even choke sea lanes thus limiting or hindering tanker transport on the high seas and shipments. Obviously this would be so potentially destabilizing for Russian revival, if unprotected and left outside the Asian Goliath of the Big 4. Further, in Asian terms, China, Japan and India will establish a stable source of supply for their raw materials needs which again would be secure from whatever vagaries the worldwide trade and political scene may throw up.
Then there is China. There is a wisecrack in Hong Kong that China has had a couple of bad centuries but it is now back (Johnson, 2005). In like vein the comment, “When China awakes, it will shake the world” is attributed to Napoleon (Bernstein and Munro, 1997, p. 203). So in more contemporary terms the slumbering giant has awakened, as anticipated by many for more than a century, and taking note of this arousal, Condoleeza Rice (US Secretary of State) has said that a transformation is going on in China, “a remarkable transformation” (Wayne, 2005) fuelled by a population that works hard and long hours for low wages and a frugal lifestyle.
This transformation means that China is rapidly developing its economy and military (Hynes, 1998), and therefore grooming itself to be a most serious challenge to the whole Western world in all levels of the economy, military and politics. Specifically, as China’s economy continues to grow at an amazing rate of around 9%, its political and military prestige is carried along (Varner, 1999). Based on the figures, highlighted in this paper, it is certainly consistent to argue that China, with a dearth of resources, and very low population growth and the concomitant aging population, needs Russia for the plentiful and cheap supply of resources, and the growing young populations of India to act as a steady supply of young low-wage workers and professionals across a wide range of fields. Also Japan, the only fully industrialized county of the Big 4, would be a good source for a whole range of industrial processes, hi-tech and electronic technologies and experience.
In short, the economic and military transformation is well underway, and China can more promptly realize its grand visions in terms of economy, politics and geopolitical expansion, only with a fair level of integration and harmony with the other three of the quartet. Interestingly, China already has substantial and deepening bilateral ties with Russia and India, which could be formed into a military alliance to further China’s expansionist dreams (Farah, 2005; Hynes, 1998; Varner, 1999).
The following comments suggest that such massive developments around the Chinese giant do not bode well for the rest of the world, and particularly the West. Henry Kissinger commented that once China “becomes strong enough to stand alone, it might discard us. A little later it might even turn against us” if its interests require it (Kissinger, 1979, p. 1091). And there have been many comments made by the Chinese themselves that unsettle the West. For example, Lieutenant General Mi Zhengyu, Vice-Commandant, Academy of Military Sciences, Beijing, has spoken what many Chinese have in their minds, when he said “for a relatively long time it will be absolutely necessary that we quietly nurse our sense of vengeance [against the US] ... We must conceal our abilities and bide our time ...” (Bernstein and Munro, 1997, p. 3). Varner (1999) realizes the spirit and power of the general’s comments by saying “ China is developing a modern war machine and sea control capability ... [while] attempting to build an ... anti-West alliance” among its allies.
Japan, the land of the rising sun, along with Germany, with its rising Phoenix, have been economic miracles in the post-World War Two period. Both these nations were devastated militarily, by the allies, in the Second World War and its aftermath of policies and treaties. However, at the same time their roots for economic might and military power survived the smoldering ashes of the war (Evans, 2005). By the end of the 20 th century, for example in 1995, Japan had the second largest economy in the world, and ranked as one of the most powerful nations in military terms, and the number two world naval power (Hanson, 2003; Whitaker, 1997).
These are incredible figures when we consider that Japan is a very small country in area terms, is deficient in just about all resources, and lacks a substantial population, which is not increasing, and therefore becoming increasingly aged. It is Japanese ingenuity and hard work and frugal lifestyle that have lead to a national economic revival, and “military” ascendancy in the guise of its constitutionally “legal” Self Defence Force.
Japan has two major related political problems. The first is its relationship with China, and the second is whether to maintain its political orientation to the West (primarily out of established Cold-War era loyalty to the US), or to look about-face and accept the Sinic orient with which it historically shares Confucianism, as a civilizational basis, and much more.
Nippon/Sinic relations suffer from the bitterness of military incursions into China by the Japanese, the last of which was in World War Two. This Chinese bitterness is sustained by the apparent reluctance of the Japanese to accept their actions as inappropriately brutal and thus avoid any sense of shame or guilt let alone seeking “forgiveness” for their past bloody actions. This strained relationship along with border disputes, which are hangovers from previous military conflicts with China, make the relationship appear to be problematic.
The other problem is that Japan has been a staunch ally of the US since defeat in World War Two and the accompanying emasculation its military self determination by the imposition of a pacifist constitution. This problem has left Japan as a lopsided limping giant, with a huge economy but lacking legal basis for this to be backed up offensively with its mighty military capacity. Certainly within the prevailing geopolitical realities, it seems Japan will eventually have to decide whether to be placed in Asia or with the US for its political orientation, home and loyalty.
With the looming collapse of the US (Reid, 2004; Kupchan, 2002), and the powerful rise of the Asian nations, Japan will eventually choose to be with the Asian winners and not the American loser, in order to secure its future and not to be threatened by its mighty neighbors, while being abandoned by its once supremely hegemonic North American partner. This realization will force Japan to change its attitude to China, as there will be no alternative but to take a more conciliatory approach to the awakening fiery Dragon.
Comments (Xinua, 2005) as I write, made by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi on the 60 th Anniversary of World War Two’s end would support the suggestion that this conciliatory trend will deepen and take root in increasingly warmer relations between China and Japan.
[T]he Japanese prime minister said [that] Japan had caused tremendous damage and suffering to Asian countries due to its colonial rule and military aggression .... [He spoke on Monday from a Cabinet-Approved statement] ‘We humbly accept this kind of historical fact and express our deep remorse and sincere apology .... Japan is resolved to contribute to world peace and prosperity without starting a war again.’
Lawrence Taub (2000) foresees that several factors will make the formation of a Confucian Union, including China and Japan, inevitable. He highlights that a shared cultural or civilizational heritage in an increasingly competitive world, along with growing technological cooperation and trade, are vital centripetal forces for this civilizational gathering.
Taub (in Krikke, 2005) clarifies specifically even further of how pragmatism will prevail over some lingering barriers for the formation of this union:
Despite a turbulent past and lingering animosity, [ China and Japan] speak the same cultural language, and their economies are increasingly integrated. [Further, in 2004] China replaced the United States as Japan’s largest trading partner.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee has said of his country, when he was Indian Prime Minister, “Together we are building a strong and resurgent nation ... Let nothing be done that would slacken the momentum” (Mitton, 2000). We have seen that this comment potentially stacks up well against the facts. India is becoming an economic powerhouse (Farah, 2005) and it is rising to superpower status as it offers a wide range of products and services - for example diesel engines, cell phones, pharmaceuticals, IT, biotechnology, businesses services and hospital care for foreigners, all with an economy growing at a high of around 9%. As the economy is well entrenched in sound economic principles many of the commercial and big players in industry want a foothold in the country. But India is different to many other countries. Instead of relying on a natural resource base, amassed wealth and developed adequate infrastructure, India is relying on its brain power and entrepreneurial initiative of its business leaders plus the contribution of its people who work for meager sums compared to the developed West. This brain power has been fueled for years by some of the world’s top flight universities and institutes in India (Mitton, 2000)
This igniting of the Indian output is not the only factor getting much worldwide attention. A growing trend in the building of confidence and good relations between India and China is a relatively new development with significant implications for the whole world. In this vein the Chinese Premier, Wen Jiabao, is reported to have remarked that when he shakes hands with the Indian Prime Minister, at a meeting in early 2005 “the whole world will be watching”.
India and China have strengthened their bilateral relationship in many areas as distinct as cultural and educational exchanges, military exchanges and cooperation, and science and technology cooperation - such moves would have been unthinkable in the recent past years. Along with this warming of relations, the two countries are also reaching mutual agreement concerning each other’s borders (Farah, 2005).
A final summary note here: It may that these 4 nations will find strength in their diversified difference and this will be an advantage in two ways. Firstly to give the impetus to integrate for mutual advantage and secondly it is precisely because of this diversity between themselves that this integration will make sense and actually facilitate the effectiveness of an coalesced conglomerate superpower.
Taking a view of the geographic expanse of the Asian Big 4 (shown black in the map) helps to draw some conclusions for the conglomerate’s geopolitical expansion. It would seem clear that Taiwan, the Koreas, Indochina, Nepal and Mongolia would be pincered into the superpower’s real estate, adding to an already huge swathe of the earth’s landmass. Russia’s southern underbelly neighbors, on the west of China, plus Bangladesh, with Islamic populations, could be clash areas between the Asian superpower and Islam. These smaller marginal nations, including newly formed central Asian countries having risen from the Soviet Union’s collapse, may not readily abandon the Islamic fold to be under the Asian civilization’s (of eastern mysticism) dominance.
The overwhelming numbers of people in three of the Big 4 countries’ populations (excluding Russia which is predominantly Eastern Christian) are what may be termed eastern mystical. Neo-Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and Hinduism are all mystical religions, in that they are oriented to the experience of transcendence in which the adherent mystic “plumbs the depths of the self and reality in a radical process of meditative self-discovery to discover the true nature of reality experientially” (Mysticism). This is the civilizational essence of “belief” and “ritual” that may cohere in tight bonding these peoples of China, Japan and India.
It would appear that Russia does not fit here on civilizational (religion, belief and ritual) grounds. And that would have to be conceded for this factor. However, Russia has vacillated between East and West previously in its history. Also the EU would not readily welcome Russia, with 143 million people into its geopolitical fold for fear that this would change the geopolitical balance of European power unpredictably, and definitely move it eastward from the Paris/Berlin axis. Moreover, Russia would certainly not nestle in a PanArab Islamic superpower. There would therefore, appear to be no eventual secure choice, in a frightfully fragmented world, but for Russia to team up with its Eastern Asiatic “comrades” to pursue once again its greatness, albeit shared, in a prompt manner.
A macro-historic perspective, rooted in lessons of history, and geography, confirms that humanity may have brought us to the verge of ushering in a new world (dis)order. This increasingly fragmented world may be about to give rise to continental-sized civilizational superpowers changing the world scene at a scale mankind has never confronted before. A supremely massive and powerful behemoth Asian superpower should cause us to gasp considering the titanic implications for the world balance of power and its associated peace and security.
This economically and politically mighty Asian superpower, drawing sustenance for its beliefs from its venerable eastern civilization, and economic and political strength from its new found integration of difference, will realize incredible international success and influence. This political conglomerate will be a fearsome contender in international and worldwide economic and political arenas. Such a sparing rival will pressure the EU towards maximum unity and integration to more fully withstand the threat from the East. Likewise, the PanArab Islamic world may also be nudged to greater unity to survive on two fronts, against east and west, that is, to withstand the influence and exploitation emanating from both the European Christian and the Asian eastern superpowers.
Will the world be stunned as it witnesses the imminent collapse of the US, already showing signs of emaciation in terminal decline of its civilization and economy? The resultant geopolitical vacuum could facilitate world polarization into three new superpowers rooted in the civilizations of Europe, Asia and PanArabia. Each in this trio will seek survival in the high-stakes intrigue and rivalry of a multi-polar new world (dis)order.
Are we entering an axial period forged on the anvil of History? In this crucial period global events may be giving vent to a dramatic new world (dis)order of a tripartite mix of continental-sized superpowers. This unfolding state of affairs will test the wisdom and resolve of humanity toward solving its perennial challenges, of living in peace and security - all in a sea of mankind’s newly-exalted modern hi-tech knowledge and skills. History, as it always does, will judge us to see if we are prepared, willing and able to prevail in this freshly formatted supreme challenge between nuclear civilizational superpowers.
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