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posted on 20 February 2018

“Asian Century”: A Book Review

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John West has published a new book entitled “Asian Century”. It is a must-read for everybody who is anybody!

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John is a true expert on Asia, which is both good and bad for this book.

It is good because his knowledge of Asia is truly enormous, as is well documented in this book.

It is bad because he is not focused on the real deal: China!

I will highlight the book in four points as follows:

  1. "Asian century," really?
  2. John is correct in two big points.
  3. John is incorrect in two big points.
  4. John's worldview must be challenged!

Let me elaborate on each ...

1. "Asian century," really?

Calling the 21st century the "Asian century" is like calling the 20th century "the West's century" - It is correct, but inaccurate. Instead, we should call the 21st century "China's century", just like we call the (2nd half of the) 20th century "America's century" - It is correct and accurate!

2. John is correct in two big points

  1. No "new" Asian countries (e.g. China and India) will match the West (e.g. the U.S. and Germany) in GDP per capita.
  2. Asian countries face many problems, such as over-population (e.g. India) and aging population (e.g. Japan and China).

Overall, Asia is old and over-crowded. It would be a huge miracle for Asia to win the competition against the West, who enjoys the "new" world, from the Americas to Oceania.

3. John is incorrect in two big points

  1. Lumping Asian countries together as one. For example, China and India are totally different.
  2. Blindly embracing democracy as the best form of government.

Let me elaborate on each ...

3.1 China and India are totally different

Despite all the hype about India as a BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) country, India is not in the same league as China. Three examples:

  1. China has uniformity (e.g. one written language for the past 2,300 years), while India is ridiculously diversified (e.g. many languages and many religions). With 200 years of colonization, the British gave the best language to India: English. But right before they left in 1947 (i.e. India became independent), the British had to divide India into two countries: Pakistan (mostly for the Muslim population) and India. The problems in these two nuclear-armed countries are so big and the tension between them is so tense that it is possible that WW III may start from there. For more, read: Weapons of Mass Destruction.
  2. China has the best combination of capitalism and socialism (i.e. democracy), while India has the worst. For this reason alone, India is behind China in infrastructure by 40 Chinese years, which is perhaps more than 200 Indian years.
  3. The Chinese are far better educated than the Indians, in literacy and beyond!

In short, no knowledgeable Chinese takes India seriously as a competitor (although China likes India as a consumer), and no knowledgeable Indian would bet on India against China. For more, read: Emerging Economies: An Overview from 30,000 Feet.

3.2 Democracy

Like most westerners, John is obsessed with democracy, a tried but failed doctrine throughout human history without a single example of lasting success.

Nowhere is John's blind faith in democracy more obvious than his lumping China, North Korea, and Vietnam together as non-democratic and authoritarian regimes.

Here is my take:

  1. North Korea is a monarchy, with "crown by inheritance".
  2. China is an autocracy, which not only provides the world with a valid alternative model to democracy, but also is perhaps the best form of government, to be proven over time.
  3. Vietnam is doing the right thing by emulating China, so should most of the rest of the world (e.g. Egypt, Ukraine, and even Russia)!

For more, read: Towards an Ideal Form of Government.

4. John's worldview must be challenged!

Like most westerners, John's worldview is mostly western and distorted. Two examples:

  1. His solution to aging population in Japan (and China) is more immigration. Unlike Australia, of which John is a citizen, neither Japan nor China is a country of migrants per se! Instead, China has uniformity with one written language and one culture for the past 2,300 years at least. Japan is even worse by John's measure: 99% of the population are Japanese, and the same royal family has "ruled" Japan for the past 2,000 years! Bottom line: few migrants can survive in Japan or China, nor are they welcomed there!
  2. He is optimistic about India's demographics, which is young and fast-growing. China took painful measures to control its population. India has to do the same, sooner or later, or it will be a huge disaster - too many people, too few jobs, and not enough natural resources!

In short, aging population is a big problem for China. But it's nothing when compared with what China went through from 1776 to 1976. I am confident China will solve the problem over time, eventually bringing down its population to a desired number of less than one billion.

Now, why is John's western worldview so distorted? Failure to understand or recognize the history and the reality! Two main points:

  1. China is actually the greatest country in human history.
  2. The fortune of the West, especially when compared with China, came mostly after the discovery of the "new" world. Bluntly put, it is a [false] civilization based on plundering!

For more, read: China vs. America: Uniformity vs. Diversity.

In short, China is very different from the West. But just because it's different, it's not necessarily wrong. In fact, many big things China does, from urbanization to the One Belt One Road Initiative, have good reasons. So, stop criticizing them just because they are different. Instead, truly understand them and even learn from them!

Finally, as an American, I must point out that John has been too serious about the Trump Presidency, as if his policy is very new, long-term impactful. Two simple facts:

  1. The election of Donald Trump to the American Presidency is more a failure of America's political system than a success.
  2. Trump's MAGA (Make America Great Again) is really a retreat from the world, namely, the beginning of the end of the American Empire since 1945.

For more, read: Make America Great Again, Really?

5. Closing

"Asian Century" is long in the present, but short in the past, which limits its relevancy to the future.

In case you did not know, the past 50 years may be history for the folks in the "new" world (e.g. Americans and Australians), but they are merely the present for the Chinese, as well as many Chinese-Americans.

My criticism notwithstanding, John West has written a very worthwhile book. His worldview, while very different from mine, is clearly expressed in a very readable fashion. I therefore recommend this book to everyone who is concerned about how the 21st century may progress.

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