An Asian Century? By H.D.S. Green Way - IHT Published 29 January 2008
Davos, Switzerland:When the World Economic Forum ends its annual meeting here, the
high-test clientele drains away from this mountain town surprisingly
quickly. This year they left an impression that the power and influence
of Europe and North America were draining away too, inexorably shifting
from the West eastward toward Asia. The structures that the United
States had established after World War II were questioned as never
before. The old trans-Atlantic order of the last 60 years seemed less
relevant to many influential men and women who gathered here.
A general sense of pessimism wasn't helped by the fact that the
panic of '08 was occurring just as delegates were packing their bags to
come here. "Boersen Crash," was the headline of one German paper last
week, and a new word entered the French language when I heard mention
of "une crise subprime." Nor did the mood improve with the news from
France of the greatest bank heist in the history of the world, a sum
higher than the reserves of several nation states. As if in sympathy, a
brief earthquake gave this town a sudden shake.
Although the great source of strength that the United States had
been during the last six decades was not forgotten, the attention last
week was on the power and ability of greedy lenders and foolish
borrowers in America to bring down ruin on markets worldwide. The irony
of the United States still being a leader but this time "of a global
down turn," as one delegate put it, was not lost on the forum.
Although the erosion of U.S. power, both hard and soft, under the
administration of George W. Bush has been common currency in recent
years, it was still a shock to me to hear it said, and generally
accepted, that America was no longer known for putting a man on the
moon, but for Iraq and Hurricane Katrina, the "twin pillars of
incompetence" - a country over-stretched militarily that had squandered
its legitimacy to lead. The role of America "as the sun around which
other planets rotated" was changing. It was not a multipolar world
either, but a nonpolar world.
The simultaneous rise of China and India has been unprecedented, but
neither is quite there yet. The United States could no longer set the
agenda, either alone or with its traditional allies, as Europe and
Japan were no longer the players they once were. Europe's share of the
world's economy has declined in the last five years, while some were
predicting that "by 2025 Asia will account for 60 percent of global
We are seeing "an enormous shift of power and influence in the
world," said Singapore's foreign minister, George Yong-Boon Yeo. The
sooner China and India were admitted to the club of industrial nations
the better, he said. Others said that there should be a G-13 or G-14,
to include rapidly expanding economies.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has called for India to be
admitted as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council.
But when I asked France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, if the
European Union should be limited to one member on the Security Council
instead of the current two, Britain and France, he told me that would
be impossible because the EU member states couldn't agree among
themselves, "not on Kosovo, not on Iran," and, with a shrug, he implied
not on much else either.
It would be easy to nominate new members to the Security Council,
said Henry Kissinger, but difficult with the increased number of
vetoes. Condoleezza Rice spoke of hope and optimism, which she admitted
usually made international audiences "groan." She said Americans didn't
accept a difference between their ideals and their national interests,
yet she admitted that the United States had "no reason for false pride
and every reason for humility."
Most of the delegates gathered here still admire the United States,
were happy with its leadership, and sad to see it decline. "America was
the dream of the world," said a French delegate. After Rice had left a
young German said his grandfather had been a prisoner of war of the
Americans, but remained staunchly pro-American all through his life.
The young man asked: Would that be true of an Iraqi prisoner of war
H. D. S. Greenway's column appears regularly in The Boston Globe.
As the website states, this is not about making a statement, but to ask a question. I only scored 5 good answers out of 18...Click on the image to take the test and see if you can easily distinghuish between Japanese, Chinese and Korean people...