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The Big Three in Asia
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Reviewed by Valerie Sartor

Bill Emmott, a slight, dignified middle aged man with a tonsured head and dark mien, is a career journalist. He's also the former chief editor of The Economist, a unique, thriving British weekly magazine that publishes astute but unsigned articles. This newspaper that insists on calling itself a magazine is read by some of the most powerful people in the world. Apparently in 2006 Mr. Emmott abruptly retired after 13 years to begin writing books that acknowledged his authorship; he has written six quite good books to date. His specialty covers everything Japanese and anything concerning economics. Mr. Emmott is known for identifying globalization, stable-macroeconomics and technological change as the three trends pushing global economic growth.

On June 11 at 7:30 PM the distinguished economist presented a talk at The Beijing Bookworm about his newest book: Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade (Allen Lane £20, 336 pages).

Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade

By Bill Emmott

Like many other experts, Mr. Emmott feels that Asia has already begun and will continue to dominate the global economy, as it did previously for hundreds of years before the English Industrial Revolution in the 18th century. Today many of the so-called Asian economic tigers are roaring, many having been fueled by Western (mainly American) investment after WWII and recent technological implants from around the globe. Japan, Korea, and now China and India are all showing remarkable economic growth and success. China's economy specifically has been doubling in size every seven years on average.

In his book Mr. Emmott addresses the business and political consequences of the Asian resurgence for the rest of the world by deftly acknowledging that Asia is a dangerous place but not because these countries will create conflict with the west but rather because the big three: China, Japan and India – may confront each other. Mr. Emmott sees this triad as rivals for global resources. Unfortunately none of the information in his book is breathtaking or innovative but his presentation underscores the fact that China, Japan and India are fast becoming "the single biggest and most beneficial economic development of the 21st century".

Mr. Emmott's book is organized along four direct quotations to make his point. Mr. Takuzo, a Japanese art historian, wrote a book in English in 1903 called The Book of Tea. In this work he postulated "Asia is One" – all Asian people are indelibly and spiritually united and all are opposed to colonial influences. Taking this premise Mr. Emmott demonstrates in his book that Asia is indeed uniting economically and in fact the Asian Tigers have all had similar experiences in building their economies. He pointed out during his talk that the Western World has been lax toward recognizing this phenomenon, citing a 1993 World Bank Paper on the "East Asian Economic Miracle" that blatantly excluded China – only to be followed up by a similar paper in 2007 citing China as the central entity in the East Asian Renaissance. He explained that Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Chinese mainland are all on similar economic growth paths – namely, investment led economies with considerable openness to trade. (Their political orientation has proved to be moot.)

Even more significant, according to Mr. Emmott, is the lack of mention in the 2007 World Bank paper of India. "In 7-10 years India will be another economic focal point," he said, smiling. "In the last four years India has moved away from an economy dominated by services and is now investment oriented, growing from 25 percent of the GDP to 35 percent. Finance by domestic capital and trade and manufacturing industries are increasing, and like China's history, are now growing faster than the service industries. The Indian economy is becoming an Asian type of economy."

Mr. Emmott elaborated and added that both China and India are budding rivals; both are creating an Africa policy to develop resources on that continent and both are very interested in sea-lanes. India is reaching out toward SE Asia for trade reasons. India, along with China and Japan should be grouped together because all of this area, from Delhi to Tokyo, is becoming one via economic integration. China and Japan are also beginning to court India and in fact the Delhi subway was subsidized and built by the Japanese while China, along with Singapore, Indonesia and Japan, pulled India into the East Asia Summit.

The second quote that Mr. Emmott used touched on the premise that this emerging configuration of China, Japan and India should be characterized by the word "rivalry" rather than cooperation. "The thing you have to understand is that both of us [India and China] think that the future belongs to us", he said, quoting a senior Indian official. "We can't both be right." China and India don't want to be overshadowed by each other, both are ambitious – and China and Japan both had a historical animosity (if not hatred) toward each other. Mr. Emmott quoted Taro Aso, Japan's foreign minister: "China and India have hated each other for a thousand years. Why should things be different now?"

For his last quote Mr. Emmott used a journalist named Frank Gibney, a now deceased authority on post war culture and business in Japan. He wrote a book called: Japan: The Fragile Superpower that described the atrocious and toxic pollution and environmental destruction that Japan endured as it headed toward becoming a first world country. Mr. Emmott asked the audience to note that many of the environmentally destructive practices that Gibney described in Japan – which are now successfully resolved – could equally be used to describe today's China. In effect he urged his listeners not to worry too much about Beijing's smog and China's still weak environmental practices.

The rise of Asia indicates that "globalization" is now reality and not just a cute slogan. But Mr. Emmott, despite his quiet charm and erudite book, has, in my opinion, missed a pertinent point. Where does Russia fit into this new Asian triumvirate regarding the precarious balance of power? And how will three emerging giants co-exist and avoid conflict given the increasingly scare resources? Mr. Emmott did mention in passing the USA's rather faulty policy and communications skills regarding the three countries, especially China and India. He noted Tibet and North Korea as sore spots in the new arrangement. This book, certainly well written and elegant, lacks any new insights toward the future of the world regarding these three competing rivals/allies/enemies. But it is still an excellent read and a wonderful primer, with his careful analysis serving as a good overview for anyone interested in this region.

(China.org.cn June 12, 2008)

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