Πέμπτη, 30 Οκτωβρίου 2014

A VIEW OF ASIA

By Nicholas A. Biniaris

"If the 21st century is an Asian century, then Asia's future direction will shape the destiny of the world." Narendra Modi India’s PM

For many history is a dead-end, a nightmare, as James Joyce said and for others, including Thucydides a lesson for future actions, which is rarely implemented if ever. Man creates himself and history as we found out with the rise of the Renaissance and the age of Scientific Revolution. Westerners, Europeans at that time, internalized, slowly but inexorably the lessons of science and went on to invent a new world for themselves and for the people they conquered and exploited. In the frenzy of applying progress on the whole planet they also plundered nature.
Asia was a huge fascinating unknown, an opulent challenge ready to be exploited and subjugated in many ways and for over three hundred years it was an open field for any kind of conquest. It was open but difficult; open but impossible to be conquered or manipulated to submission or wiped out from history as other peoples under the Europeans’ onslaught. Asia with its huge landmass and populations, its social, religious and scientific genius, was not the place to project cultural supremacy or historical depth.
We are now in the beginning of the century to be defined by Asia. Is there an Asian view of the world? But more importantly: is there an Asian view of itself?  In many ways it is as obvious as the mountain over the horizon but which is still covered by a civilizational haze. Can the lithe beauty of a Chinese landscape, the nuances of a Japanese Haiku, the Blue Mosque of Samarkand or the Angkor Wat be understood as a unified whole? Can the Bible, the Koran, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Pali Canon, the Confucian Analects the Zed-Avesta be studied and accepted by Asians themselves as their common tradition?  The diversity and creative spirit of Asia for thousands of years has created some of the richest and deepest spiritual traditions of humanity. Can these constitute a foundation upon which a new Asia can lead the world?   
These questions cannot be answered easily and are not even questions raised seriously but only by few and in close quarters.
Three of the major parts of Asia are right now reinventing themselves and world history: Islam, the Sinic tradition and the Hindu one. These huge chunks of Asia, demographic juggernauts representing half or the world’s population amongst them and a rising economic performance are introducing to the rest of the world their vision about themselves and the world. Is there a common component from them which can exemplify Asia as a whole? Or is there a future of strife, antagonisms and these three traditions are going to compete for the new world either as order or as chaos? Last but not least, Asia has a huge Russian landmass which represents a different but still Asiatic tradition possessing a large nuclear arsenal and can influence the shaping of an Asiatic paradigm in many ways. This fourth part of Asia is presently in a low intensity conflict with Europe and USA which may peter out or intensify with unforeseeable repercussions for Asia as a whole.  
Islam
There are over one billion Muslims living in Asia with the center of this tradition in Arabia and a nuclear Islamic state, Pakistan, as well as the center of Shiitism, Iran and Iraq. The conditions of the people living under Islamic political systems are not the best or even tolerable compared with what we are used to accept as modernity or the outcome of human progress. Besides the very rich Gulf Monarchies, and oil rich countries as Iraq and Iran the majority of Moslem states’ economies are not part of the modern economic paradigm. Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia are exceptions with the latter recently coming to terms with economic development and modernity.  Politically Muslim states are unstable and are still beset by military or authoritarian regimes. Pakistan sports a democracy but actually it is under tutelage from the army which has played a decisive role in governing that country.
For many analysts the social political imaginary of Moslem states is the outcome of colonialism; a direct interference in their internal affairs and also the outcome of the classic maxim: divide and rule. What is crucial for the rise of Islam, the hazardous way it evolves at this time in history is the question: why is it so explosive and at the same time imploding and what should be done about it? Any answer has to adhere to a set of historical, sociological and economic assumptions about the phenomenon. As the matter stands the West is again, after Obama’s speech on September 10, ready to react in the Middle East and lead a new coalition conspicuously against the Caliphate and in the long run against Assad. Without any actual planning or thought about the long term consequences of such an action USA is going back into the quagmire of Islam to secure its interests which is oil, Saudi money and the security of Israel. 
 The question: “How can Islam cope or adjust to a post-modern technological environment?” has no easy answer. From the “moderate” to the Salafist, from the political Muslim Brotherhood to the Caliphate, from the Sunni to the Shiite and the Sufi, and several other sects there is no single answer to this question. Islam lacks a hierarchy and a dogma, but instead has thousands of Imams, Sheiks, and Muftis who can declare one or the other interpretation of the Holy Koran and the Hadiths as valid or not. So both the Taliban (students of the Holy Koran) and the sophisticated Moslem intellectuals have equally valid and also contradictory interpretations about a religious tradition and a way of life which affects large parts of the planet.
In Asia Islam is posing a grave threat for the continent. In the first place the Pakistan-India conflict stands unresolved and with mounting tension. The two countries are exchanging artillery fire across the Demarcation line and at the same time India is protesting the financing of the Diamer-Bhasha dam by the USA, in what India considers the illegally occupied Kashmir from Islamabad. At the same time eight Islamist groups have signed a pact to liberate Indian Kashmir from New-Delhi. The two countries are armed with nuclear weapons and they are still at the trenches along a 400miles border which is considered the most volatile and dangerous border in the world. China is in the midst of a low intensity insurrection in the West by Moslem Uighur groups. Constant acts of attacks on civilians are reported and Peking is trying to put up a cool face but the nervousness is mounting. China was and still is a staunch ally of Pakistan. The Pakistan alliance was forged on two premises: the distraction of India and that Islamabad would be able to reign in jihadists in Afghanistan and Central Asia as to isolate China from an insurgent Islam. This last anticipation is not feasible anymore. Pakistan is turning into a failed state and so is Afghanistan which will keep a modicum of stability in Kabul with 10,000 American troops to be stationed in the country. The China-India confrontation is still a matter which keeps the two countries suspicious of each other but it seems that there is a will from both President Xi and PM Modi to resolve the border dispute although it doesn’t seem to be on the cards for the near future. China is taking its time to assess Modi and the latter is in no hurry to tar his nationalistic credentials. Up in the Siachen Glacier which PM Modi visited recently the Pakistan and India forces face each other 22,000feet above sea level. The Pakistan-India conflict is an ongoing hotspot between two nuclear armed countries which may turn to a nuclear war if the two adversaries do not engage in a conflict resolution dialogue with determination to avoid this disaster.
The western part of Asia’s Muslim states defies a structured analysis. Oil, the aspirations for a Caliphate, tribal and national aspirations, the unresolved presence of Israel in Palestine, Turkey’s ambitious Neo-Ottomanism and Egypt’s internal conflict, plus the case of Iran’s nuclear capabilities give any analyst a sense of the absurd or more precisely the chaotic. These conditions seem to be spilling over to all Muslim states one way of another in Africa and in Central Asia. What is most important though is the Central Asia states which predominantly populations and which may exert pressure on China, Russia and Iran. Local Satraps and warlords are vying for riches gushing from oil and natural gas and mujahedin try to make their move for power whenever opportunity calls.    
China
China started its great leap forward by accepting the economic challenge of the West. In an admixture of state capitalism under the control of the Communist party and adapting the capitalistic model of development went on to become the second biggest world economy (some calculations bring China as the biggest economy). Maoist China was transformed to a flexible and adaptive form of economic development which actually challenges the democratic model of the West and has left many analysts wondering if this paradigm can be applied to other societies besides the Sinic world. The question is not a theoretical one because it bears upon the future of world’s economy in relation to the aspirations of the West to establish the democratic model of capitalistic development as the only viable economic paradigm in a globalized world.
China possess a real and difficult dilemma: if it succeeds it may present a Thucydides-type state of affairs: the conflict between an old and a new rising power ends in a war, Athens versus Sparta. If it fails it will lead to an economic Armageddon because ‘’China is too big to fail’’. The world economy will go under together with the failed Chinese paradigm. So what is the appropriate reaction to China’s rise: the Pivot to Asia, the spreading of internal dissent and demands for democracy, a consistent engagement in economic, environmental and trade issues? The answer to this question is not an easy one and requires an in depth analysis which cannot be covered here. What is clear is that the West hasn’t made up its mind keeping an ambivalent posture and its options open.
Today if we want to talk about Asia we primarily talk about China. The country has become by default the Asiatic paradigm. Its economic success has offered to its leaders and its people the title of Asia’s representative although it is just on part of the whole. China belongs to the WTO and the G20; it has trade relations with the whole world and is an integral part of Western economy. China is also together with Russia the founders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a group of Asian states with security and economic objectives which nevertheless isn’t an Asian NATO. The organization has invited India and Pakistan to become full members and on October 17 Afghanistan asked the SCO for help to fight terrorism.  The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank was launched in Beijing on October 17th with twenty one member states. Russia isn’t part of it but China, India and Pakistan are. There are also three small Arab states Qatar, Kuwait and Oman.               
After the last elections in India President Xi is trying to woo India to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. He is also trying to lure India with substantial investments competing with Japan which recently has offered 33 billion dollars’ worth of investment to India. The very recent Hong-Kong protests poise a challenge to the one state two systems policy which may incur damaging political and internal consequences to the Sinic paradigm. This unrest plus the drift of political discourse in Taiwan aren’t very promising for Beijing. The profile of China for these two issues is very important for projecting both soft and hard power upon areas which it considers Chinese no doubt. The spat with Viet-Nam, Philippines and Japan over economic zones and oil exploration is not going to be resolved in an easy or summary way. The USA is involved one way or another as a decisive supporter of these three countries. An intra-Asian dispute has become the stepping stone for the Western superpower to put its foot in the half-closed door of Asia.

India
This motley country of many races, creeds and traditions is a state entity with a democratic system but also a caste system. The two are contradictory and socially constitute one the most complex riddles of present human history. The cultural and spiritual legacy of India is more widespread and better adapted to the modern. Buddhism has fertilized central Asia, China and South Asia long before the Islamic incursion.  However the cross-fertilization of this legacy with western democratic and technological inputs has still to produce a concrete paradigm which can advance a unique Hindu view of the world. The economic future of India seems to be inextricably linked with a number of social contradictions inherent in the social and cultural tradition of a diverse continent-like state. What India is destined to play is the stabilizing or the destabilizing player between Islam and Hinduism and a balancing force with or against China. Both are immensely valuable for the rise of Asia as an arbiter of our future. What is quite urgent is the stand of Hinduism and particularly under a nationalistic government towards Islam whereas India itself is the home of two hundred million Moslems.
On the other hand the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has agreed to invite India to become a full member.  Is Modi able to play such a trump card on the USA? If so, India under Modi, has the chance to change the balance in Asia, creating a more unified “Asian” perspective of the world. It can finally change the de facto conditions imposed by the West after the end of the Cold War: unilateral action all over world. India could either by joining China nip in the bud the American plans for a divided Asia, or keep its counsel, bide its time and try to get the best deals to be offered by America, China and Japan. The defense agreement between India and the USA renewed by Obama and Modi points to a policy placing the eggs of India’s position in several baskets. It still too early to see how a Hindu paradigm can rise distinct but still embedded in an Asiatic one.

Conclusions
Asia is not a unified continent. Actually it is passing through a transformation with no visible outcome. The hot spots for a war are open: the Pakistan India, the China India, the China Japan and South China Sea spat, the ongoing Syrian- Iraqi- ISIS- Kurds war. Asia has entered the 21st century in both a promising and a perilous condition. The three Asian traditions or cultures or civilizations have few element in common. They have not produced a new world paradigm as yet. Definitely they are too big and too entrenched historically and culturally to be bullied by the West. Still they can learn from each other. On the other hand the prevailing anti-western interpretation that Western Imperialism had accumulated all dysfunctions upon Asia and its parts is historically only partially true. A history of Asia before Western Imperialism appeared on the scene was also conflictual, exhibited lack of the rule of law and no discourse on human rights. The Chinese Imperium exhibited traits of stability and periods of peace and prosperity but these were just intervals among periods of civil and dynastic wars and invasions from the periphery. Asia is the continent which built civilizations, fabulous wealth and science but it hasn’t built yet an alternative paradigm to a faltering Western one. The three dominant groups of that continent are not in alignment. Economically, the Chinese model is proving up to now that democracy is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for economic development. Islam is providing a large dose of uncertainty and instability to its neighbors and at the same time is inviting successive Western interventions in weak states as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. China and India if they really want to shape the future of the world must be able to engage Islam and prevent a conflictual Central and South Western Asia, to distract them from their purpose. The Iranian nuclear program and Russia’s new confrontation with the EU and the USA are pushing Asia to further instability and perhaps internal divisions which may open the continent to further interventions and cause conflicts which may be too serious to be contained in a conventional way.
An Asia dedicated in recapturing its rightful position in world history as an economic powerhouse and as a broker for world peace could be a real new world order. This is not an immediate prospect to be realized since there are diverse and conflicting interests which invite Western interventions. However a modicum of a Chinese-Indian alignment will transform the role of Asia in the world.   China has many times over insisted that it was against a single hegemon in world affairs:  "Any attempt to monopolize international affairs will not succeed," he said [Xi]. "No one can sacrifice the security of other nations for the pursuit of the absolute security of its own."
Nicholas A. Biniaris Hellas October 30 2014