Asia’s new order still forming

don-and-danThe inexorable rise of China will be severely curtailed by its own “Achilles heels” and the parallel rise of India, according to a leading specialist in international security affairs.

Dr Daniel Twining, Senior Fellow for Asia at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and a consultant to the US Government. He delivered this blunt assessment of the future for the Asia region in a lecture to Flinders University students this week.

He was a guest of the University’s School of International Studies. He is pictured (right) with Professor Don DeBats, Head of American Studies at Flinders.

“You are looking at a region in which power, rather than being concentrated in China, is more diffuse. This creates the possibilities for real pluralism in Asia,” Dr Twining said.

“China has great strategic and internal vulnerabilities that will complicate its ascendance,” he said, citing an unsustainable economic model of cheap, mass manufacturing as only one example.

“Chinese consumption is now only about 35 per cent of GDP… Their export model really isn’t going to work if all of us in the West aren’t flush with revenue to buy another generation of cheap Chinese products.

More problematic, Dr Twining suggests, are the “opaque nature” of China’s system, its rapid demographic decline, environmental decay and, above all, the country’s “political straightjacket”.

“Chinese leaders are not convinced that their country can make the transition to a world-class economy without some degree of reform and liberalisation of the broader political system,” Dr Twining said.

“Can you produce a culture of innovation in a country where people can’t use Google or Facebook?

“Politically, at least, China is an outlier – it is not a pacesetter. China isn’t a vision of the future; it’s a vision of the past.”

Dr Twining, who has previously served as a member of the US State Department’s Policy Planning staff and as Foreign Policy Adviser to Senator John McCain, said the US has identified India as not only an “antidote to China’s authoritarian otherness” but as being as important as China in the future of the liberal order in Asia and the world.

“The US and Indian governments have been playing catch-up over the past five to 10 years… really intensifying during the Bush administration which I worked in on these issues, where the US and India really tried to break open a new strategic relationship in which the world’s oldest and biggest democracies could put behind them decades of alienation produced by the rigidities of the Cold War,” Dr Twining said.

“It’s not just power politics that have brought us together but it is culture, identity, business.”

India’s growing strategic, economic and diplomatic ties in the region and its relationship with Japan, in particular, will help to diffuse regional power.

“India/Japan relations have moved forward in quite interesting ways that people who are singularly focused on the China story miss.

“There’s a very interesting economic relationship between the two, with Japan making the biggest foreign infrastructure investment in its history building the Delhi to Mumbai rail and industrial corridor.”

China-like economic growth rates of 9-10 per cent will help India solve a lot of its social problems, Dr Twining said.

“China is going to find it harder to dominate to the region. The first piece of evidence is the possibility of India’s success.”

Another visitor to Flinders this week was retired Major General Arnold Fields, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction from 2008 up until February this year.

He was previously chief-of-staff in the Iraq Reconstruction and Management Office, assisting in the co-ordination of projects worth more than US $1.8 billion. He has also served as Deputy Director of the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in the US Department of Defense.

Major General Fields gave an informal presentation followed by a discussion session with academic staff and postgraduate students from Flinders.

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