Imtiaz Rafi Butt
THE present year marks the end of an era in two distinct ways. One, the life of 2019 has been altered for the foreseeable future by the pandemic Covid-19, and two, the dominance of the West is no longer the norm. The wheels of change are in full swing. Power circles are being redefined. Colonial powers have lost their supremacy and neo-colonialism is an entirely different story. China combined with the remarkable growth in India have unlocked the new emerging center of influence; Asia. The West is unable to cope with dynamics and so, futile resistance is response from many Western quarters. China is challenging the old order and ticking all the right boxes to achieve its intended objectives. Europe still hangs in the balance, unable to comprehensively choose a side between American hegemony and the Chinese promise of progress and dominance. In a few decades, tables have turned. The historical perspective for this turn-around is nothing short of outstanding and future equally promising.
China, as a region and nation has always been at the forefront of progress. Right from the civilizations of the Yangtze River to the developments after the 1970s, throughout history, China has been a prosperous region. It is only during the feudal and colonial period that the economic growth of China was repressed. It was always the home of inventions, trade and meticulous managerial techniques. The present day civil services across the world, owe a great deal to the meritocratic systems of governance in ancient China. Similarly, trade has been a hallmark of Chinese society, second only to agriculture. According to an analysis by Kishor Mahbubani, a leading geo-political analyst, China was ahead of nations in trade, development and GDP since the times of the Roman Empire. It is only in the last 200 years that European nations exceeded the Asian power and riches of China during the looting and pillaging of the colonial times. The manipulation coincided with the industrial revolution, which was, once again, a doctrine of Western Europe. In due time, this revolution was replicated in United States. This trend continued till the two World Wars ravaged Europe, and the power shifted to the affluent continental sized nation, the United States of America. This was a time of slumber for China as internal strife and monarchical orders delayed the process of national augmentation and development. After the red revolution, China rapidly revived itself and quickly mirrored the ideals of the Western world. The results are unfolding as of today.
The sub-continent has also been a similar narrative. Historians have often referred to the Indo-Pak region as the “Golden Sparrow”. It has been a confluence of religions, cultures, values and professions for centuries. People following major religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam have lived together in harmony in this region. Diversity, excellence, abundance and quality define the Indo-Pak sub-continent. From the times of Chandragupt Maurya and Asoka the Great, all the way to Akbar the Great, the Indian sub-continent has been a jewel of the world. The British colonial period bought a draconian time period. Under the veil of democracy and liberty, the region was subjected to the most oppressive of laws and treatment. Poverty was introduced on purpose and discord was spread across all corners. The Indian society was divided on religious, linguistic and financial status. The Rajas, Nawabs, Sardars and feudal entities were installed to propagate and maintain the British Raj. After 1947, the sub-continent began to heal from the wounds of the colonialism and it took several decades. As the older generation of feudal families was divided by subsequent generations, their power waned. Market forces began to take hold and before long India began to capture its former glory. The image that came to India a few decades ago was of snake-charmers and decorated elephants, today the image India portrays is of billion Dollar industries, Information Technology experts and doctors having weight across the globe. The industrial production, GDP and military strength of India dwarf many European super powers of the past. The western world is still in a fix to come to terms with two emerging giants from Asia. This revival owes a debt to the western world.
John Locke and his views on democracy and liberty shaped the vision of governance in the West. Adam Smith is also a prominent name, who gave the idea of modern capitalism and free market regulation. His theories of supply and demand along with collaborative, inclusive sharing of economic power hold true today. Europe saw enormous growth under the umbrella of these ideals. Human rights, liberal acceptance, freedom of expression and thought, protection of intellectual property in the form of trademarks, are milestones that ushered in a new life to mankind. Good governance was yet another strategy that has improved the lives of millions. The United Nations itself came about from the League of Nations, which was, at its heart an organization to keep peace in Europe. Through the UN, came about the concept of policy learning and technology transfer. WHO, WTO, World Bank, along with many other international government organizations encouraged under-developed nations to come forward and to learn from the developed world. China and India took their due education from the Western countries and used it to their advantage, something that Europe and the US thought, would not happen for many hundred years.
The United States of America was the clear triumphant party in the Second World War. But it also began the zest for competitiveness in the form of the Cold War era. The US remained the top nation until the fall of the Soviet Union. The Americans were best in trade, defence, research, art, economics and even diplomacy. The end of the cold war era became the reason of complacency instead of competition. After the 1980s, the world became unipolar and that’s when the cutting-edge of the West lost its vigour. And that complacency paved the way for the rise of Asian economies. China and India learned their lessons from their Western counterparts and capitalized on them while the Western nations were absorbed in luxurious and frivolous affairs. The second mistake that the Western nations, particularly, the US committed was the issue of meddling in regional conflicts and making them their own. The invasion of Afghanistan and the attack on Iraq in 2003 are the worst mistakes that the US committed. The military campaigns lead to massive economic burdens, not to mention the victims and casualties.
Instead of focusing on keeping the market leadership and competitive edge, resources were lost to fruitless show of military might. The most important principle of economics is “foregone cost” which was forgotten without foresight. The result came out in favour of India and China that focused their innovation, resources and strategy inwards to beat the odds. Today, Europe and the US are under billions of dollars of debt towards Asian countries. Asia is now the region possessing the financial as well as the human resources for becoming the centre of power. The emergence of BRICS(Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) association is yet another feat to which the Western countries have no answer. In his final moment, Adolf Hitler made a prediction that the disciplined man of the East would overpower the hedonistic white-man of the West. After 75 years, it appears that the revival of Asia is on its way and China is the spearhead, demolishing every hurdle in its way, one at a time.
—The writer is Chairman, Jinnah Rafi Foundation, based in Lahore.