The Centre for Strategic and Contemporary Research (CSCR) held a seminar on 25th February 2020, on ‘The Asian Century: A Schema of Grandiosity?’ in collaboration with the Department of Defence and Strategic Studies (DSS), Quaid-i-Azam University (QAU), Islamabad. The discussion theme revolved around the rise of the Asian century in 21st century. The CSCR decided to engage academics of Pakistan to predict and interpret possible futures for our new generations. The seminar was an attempt to expand Centre’s endeavour not only to econometric analyses and growth categorisations but also to deep investigations into the epistemological, cultural, racial, gender and historical dynamics of a possible Asian Century. Additionally, it was also aimed at identifying the menial spot where from, we can embark on this complex and multi-layered debate.
The half day seminar began with Assistant Editor CSCR Hamraz Ahmad welcoming the distinguished speakers and honourable guests on behalf of the Centre. The introductory remarks were given by Managing Editor CSCR Ailiya Naqvi. She deliberated that Asia is the rising continent in terms of its population potential and economic growth. Moreover, she also said Asia is rising in the 21st century geopolitical arena where the cooperation and contestation are two elements in the game of great power politics. Further, she elaborated about the topic which is on the rise of Asia or the Asian century. The aim of the seminar was to generate the necessary debate around the subject matter. She welcomed the esteemed speakers, respected faculty members and students and audiences.
The seminar discussion was commenced by the moderator Dr. Shabana Fayyaz, Chairperson of Department of DSS at QAU Islamabad. She introduced the speakers and their relevant topics for the formal start for the seminar.
The first speaker of the seminar was Associate Professor History Department, QAU, Dr. Ilhan Niaz. His topic of discussion was, ‘Cultures of Power, Governance, and Domination in a Possible Asianised World.’ He started by saying that we are now living in the final century of our energy-intensive civilisation. He said that the right-wing populism tendency all across the world will make states look inward and make the world more authoritarian in addition to the rising trend of left-leaning ecological dictatorships around the world. He also opined that intensive over-consumption, catastrophic secular decline and eco-collapse will also turn the societies inward as also stated before and pushed the communities to renouncing common identity. Talking about information and telecommunication technologies, he said that internet was considered as a source of spreading democracy, but it has failed to do any such thing. Dr. Ilhan said that it has become very easy for states to monitor their citizens. Giving an example of Chinese social credit system, he pointed out that the system is such where state judge citizens on the basis of their loyalty toward state. He concluded by saying that the future outlook is not very benign. Conclusively he was referring to the impossibility to sustain the political organisations like state in the Asian century. He presented two possible future scenarios – states turn to fascism/inward looking and state can turn into environmental technocracies.
Islamabad Policy Research Institute’s Senior Consultant Dr. Talat Farooq speaking on ‘Pakistan’s Place in the Asian Century: Choices and Way Forward’ said that Pakistan has a huge youth bulge and occupies a key geostrategic position. She said that if we need to bring positive change in society, then we have to revamp our education system. She quoted Paragh Khanna’s argument regarding the on-going tectonic shift in global power centres. Likewise, in 19th century, Europe was the centre of power. In 20th century, United States was the centre of power. Therefore, the 21st century will be the century of Asia. The reason for reordering of global economy as stated by Dr. Talat lie in upward demographic trends and rising Asian economies.
Furthermore, she stated that the rise of the Asian continent can be mainly contributed to rising China and India along with Indonesia, Vietnam and Bangladesh among others. The continent of Asia inhibits around 4.5 billion people and flaunts economic growth resulting from economic integration and demographic diversity. She argued that purchasing power parity (PPP) of Asians is even higher than the Europeans. Furthermore, the rise of Asian continent can, however, be hampered by factors of rampant corruption, oppression, violence, extremism, unemployment and ecological degradation. States are less likely to improve their governance model. The wealthy elites shall continue to govern while local communities are also expected to look after their own affairs in the 21st century.
Conclusively, she opined that the region of South Asia has not been able to achieve regional integration, quoting the cases of Regional Cooperation for Development (RCD), Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is window of opportunity for Pakistan which will open the doors for Pakistan to global economies. In order to fully achieve the gains that BRI entails, Pakistan has to develop domestic policy that counters extremism, non-state violence, political polarisation, furthering peace on borders, and meeting governance gaps by corruption. Concluding her argument, she said that Pakistan does have the potential to be a part of Asian century if capabilities are realised.
While talking about ‘State and Identity: Comparative Politics of the Asian Century,’ Associate Professor SPIR, QAU, Dr. Farhan Siddiqui was of the opinion that Asian political model can only become global if it has an appeal for outsiders. While talking about models of economic development, he pointed out to the fact that there exists an Asian model of economic development. He said for Asian model of economic development, we have to look at East Asia, primarily China and Singapore. While talking about the current state of democracy in West, Dr. Farhan said that democracy is declining in West and Western political scientists are also now talking about democratic recession.
On good governance, Dr. Farhan said that an efficient government is not formulated through democratic experiment but through technocratic or meritocratic experiment. While talking about experimenting with technocratic governance model, Dr. Farhan highlighted the four problems associated with this political system. These include abuse of power by ruling class, undermining of social mobility, legitimacy concerns and populism. Additionally, he also pointed out to the fact that case studies of technocratic governments are restricted to East Asia only and there is need for more such case studies. In the end, he said that cooperation among Asian countries is a pre-requisite for materialisation of Asian Century.
The last speaker of the seminar Mr. Waqas Saleem, Lecturer at Department of Anthropology, QAU, deliberated on the topic of ‘Asian Ideals of Development: The Anthropology of Change.’ He was of the opinion that the mainstream notions of development perpetuate un-freedoms instead of freedoms in the non-western world. Moreover, he deliberated that latecomers (with reference to industrialisation) have to build their own notions of development. He referred to Ellen Thomas for identifying the characteristics of developments as it is an all-encompassing process which has a direction either positive or negative. Arguing further, he divided Asia into advanced Asia and Emerging Asia. He further argued that the Asiatic systems provide base for imagining alternative development models.
After speakers’ presentations, there was a question and answer session. A participant asked that is it correct to narrate the rise of China as the rise of entire Asian continent? Don’t we need to revisit our way of naming the 21st century so? The answer to this question was given by Mr. Waqas. He said that economic prowess can certainly not be distributed uniformly across the entire continent. Some countries would definitely be ahead of other countries within the continent and yes it is okay to call 21st century as the Asian century.
Maryam Raashed (Research Assistant, CSCR) asked that is experimenting a political model of governance based on meritocracy/technocracy a viable option given the fact that forces of liberalisation are losing their strength. The answer was given by Dr. Farhan. He said that it is correct to argue that the Asian model of political governance based on meritocracy/technocracy worked well in an external environment that was based on liberal forces. However, I believe that liberal model has seeped in quite much and doing away with it is not as easy for states. Last year, United States imposed tariffs on its exports, however, it ended up providing subsidies to its own local producers.
Responding to a question by Hamraz Ahmad (Assistant Editor, CSCR) as to how would the Asian century be generating mechanisms to avert the necessity of Westphalian models of political organisation, Dr. Ilhan and Dr. Farhan noted that the exhaustible energy efficiency of the planet and eco-collapse coupled with different variants of fascism, ecological dictatorships and vertical meritocracies will render the current ideals of inclusivity unachievable. This would result into catastrophic secular decline and might make the state impossible. Dr. Farhan also referred to Oscars, foreign films and the US right wing’s response to it, in order to illustrate the expanding cracks in the inclusive fabric of globalisation.
On behalf of Vice Chancellor QAU, former director of SPIR, QAU, Dr. Nazir Hussain gave concluding remarks. He stated that it is right time with respect to how interdisciplinary approach is gearing up as far as the research is concerned in today’s time. He opined that we are standing at that point of history where every other subject is overlapping with every other subject. By this, he explained that now we not only study economy but political economy as well as we not only study history but economic or political history. All of the said tendencies are pushing us towards the interdisciplinary approach in the times to come as well. He said that never before such topics have been taken up by the research community and applauded the efforts of the Centre and the department alike.
While concluding the seminar, Executive Director CSCR Mr. Anas Abdullah gave vote of thanks. He presented his token of thanks to the respected audience and students as well as to the esteemed speakers and respected faculty members. He recognised the efforts made by his Centre and the team for timely putting forth the critical topic on the rise of Asian century along with appreciation to QAU and its DSS department. He also said that the Centre looks forward to such events for execution and arrangements in a timely and an efficient manner, whenever necessary.