[Beijing Forum (2007) Keynote Speech] Robert Anthony Scalapino:Challenges and Opportunities--Prospects for the 2lst Century
2012-08-08 |  |  | View 

Robert Anthony Scalapino

We are living in the most revolutionary time in human history. Never has the momentum of change been so swift, the dimensions of that change so vast, and the impact of change so extensive, encompassing every individual as well as every society.

In many respects, change centers upon the massive economic developments that are taking place in virtually every nation, whatever its stage of development. Powered by increasing economic interaction beyond national borders and the dynamism of modern technology, a global industrial revolution is underway, with the role of the private sector steadily expanding even as the government remains a vital force in the process. Significant systemic differences continue to exist, but in broad terms, the current economic revolution is drawing nations more closely together as well as providing a growing similarity of systems.

Thus, trade and foreign investment together with the adoption of the most modern equipment and production mode are critical elements in determining a nation's growth and the living standard of its citizens. Given the different stages of development and various domestic pressures, protectionism remains an important element in the scene, but barriers are gradually being reduced.

Inevitably, the economic revolution is having a political impact. The emergence of a larger, stronger middle class creates a rising interest in more extensive political participation, focusing on protecting and advancing one's interest. Further, as the gulf between and among classes and regions within the nation widens, grievances are more openly expressed. Thus, the government must respond to the newly created problems if stability is to be maintained.

While current trends are creating greater political openness in virtually every part of the world, a common political system is not emerging, nor is one likely in the foreseeable future. The concern about potential instability leading to recurrent chaos causes many within the political elite of certain countries to insist upon the continuance of authoritarian controls, with varying degrees of support from the citizenry. Nevertheless, the expansion of political openness is virtually universal.

In this connection, the advent of greater knowledge regarding the world as a result of the full range of modern communications and expanded travel has both a political and cultural impact everywhere. Among younger generations in particular, a more diffuse culture is emerging, product of a wide variety of external influences from music, drama and dress to values, life-style, and relations with others. Only a handful of societies have managed to prevent extensive external influence, and even they are now being challenged by the intrusion of cell-phones, television, and DVDs.

Naturally, the on-going revolution has affected every nation's foreign relations as well as its strategic policies. The legacy of the past still hangs heavily over such regions as Asia, complicating bilateral relations in certain cases, but in general terms, virtually all governments at present are seeking to achieve relations with others that are on balance positive, with a low level of tension, permitting them to concentrate upon handling the multitude of domestic issues that emerge in the course of the on-going revolution. At the same time, military modernization is a natural product of the times. Thus, modern weapons including nuclear ones in some cases are on the agenda. Consequently, in my view, a full-fledged war today among or between nations, especially major nations, would almost certainly spell disaster for all parties concerned. In this sense, the 21st Century presents a radically different picture from that of the 20th Century when major wars were still winnable, albeit, often at great cost.

Today, political violence is widespread, but it generally takes the form of militancy by non-official or quasi-official groups clustered around a commitment to some creed or cause, and prepared to sacrifice lives in an effort to achieve success. The rise of militant groups in parts of the Islamic world together with the increase of conflicts between sects or ethnic groups has produced a growing level of violence. That militants can obtain modern weaponry adds to the problem. An effective means of meeting this challenge has not yet been found, but clearly, political and economic as well as military responses are required.

Meanwhile, every nation must adjust to three interwoven and partially conflictual forces: internationalism, nationalism, and communalism. Communalism refers to the quest of individuals for a more meaningful identity, hence, closer affiliation with religion, especially fundamentalism; greater emphasis on ethnicity; or a stronger adherence to one's local community or region. Thus, communalism can contribute to separatism.

How a nation adjusts to these three forces will affect its stability and growth. Internationalism now takes a variety of forms, and is of growing significance. In addition to such global bodies as the United Nations and the World Bank, there are various regional organizations, with the Asia-Pacific region foremost in this respect. An effort to create an Asian Economic Community is underway. At the same time, however, nations are increasingly pursuing dialogues on specific issues at the level of six parties, four parties, or in bilateral terms. Indeed, it is at these levels that the greatest progress is currently being made. Larger international operations are useful in bringing leaders together and opening up discussions on key issues, but rarely can they produce a resolution of principal matters. At less inclusive levels, more results are being achieved, but we are still in the early stages of internationalism, with a considerable distance to be covered before true effectiveness is achieved.

In the years ahead, one critical need is for a concentration upon what has been termed "human security," with non-governmental as well as governmental bodies involved. Given the rising problems of global warming, pollution, resource management, and the aging of societies, these will be the truly crucial issues of the mid 21st century, requiring vastly more attention than is currently given them.

Meanwhile, nationalism has been rising in virtually every part of the world, primarily as a means of achieving unity and support for the government. Indeed, with the decline of ideology in its other forms in most states, nationalism has become ever more valuable in these respects. Yet how to control as well as use nationalism is a primary challenge for key nations today.

As noted, moreover, communalism must be closely watched. In certain forms, it can be helpful in providing stability, but in excess, it is the principal cause of division and violence today, both domestic and international. At present, the nation-state must remain the primary source of policy and adherence if continued progress is to be achieved.

It remains to apply these general principles to the major nations of our times very briefly. Let me start with an analysis of the key Asia-Pacific nations since this region is likely to dominate this coming century. The United States remains the most powerful nation in the world at present whether the measurement is economic, political or strategic, and that will probably continue for some decades. In economic terms, the U.S. shows continuing strength in terms of per capita income, overall growth, and interaction with the international community. But problems exist: the threat of inflation; extensive indebtedness; the massive trade imbalance; declining competitiveness is certain key fields, such as garments and automobiles; and protectionist pressures. Yet the American economy seems likely to sustain moderate growth in the future with occasional dips. Politically, democracy in its fullest sense is deeply implanted in the U.S. as Americans define this term: full political freedom; free competitive elections; and the rule of law. Here as elsewhere, however, the citizenry periodically indicates an unhappiness with leadership and the existent political parties, as has been the situation recently. Thus, interest in politics dims and a certain estrangement between the system and the people ensues.

At the same time, the ideological and nationalist elements have combined in recent times to promote American leadership in global affairs. Unlike the situation after World War I, the U.S. assumed a prominent role in post-World War II international relations. However, at home, a growing number of Americans have raised questions about both the costs of such policies and the logic underwriting them. A decline in unilateralism and an effort to show greater flexibility in dealing with complex issues appear to be underway, with the change most noticeable in Asia, although the future remains uncertain. Whether the United States can find a route to leadership in company with others and a sharing of policy-making and its costs at the international level satisfactory to it and to its colleagues constitute supremely important issues. In sum, the challenges involved in being the world's sole super-power are formidable.

It is logical to turn next to China, currently the most rapidly rising power. Chinese economic growth, between 9-11% in the recent past, testifies to the dynamism characterizing this nation, with its decisions to advance privatization and greatly expand its economic relations with the outside world a dramatic shift from the orthodox Marxist-Leninist policies of earlier times. China still faces numerous economic problems, among them, the wide division between the poor and middle to upper class citizens; regional differences; continuing state dominance in certain key sectors; rising pollution and extensive corruption. Moreover, China has a considerable distance to go before it reaches the status of a highly advanced economy. Yet its current economic performance is impressive, and testimony to the wisdom of shifting from the traditional socialist mold.

China also illustrates a critically important factor in the current global revolution: sustained economic growth at some point induces political change. The emerging middle class voices its needs and views with increasing clarity; the poor express their unhappiness via protests and demonstrations; and intellectuals, especially of the younger generations, show increasing evidence of the impact of globalization on thought. The fourth generation leadership in China, moreover, are pragmatists more than ideologues, and they realize the importance of placing a priority on domestic problem solving. Lacking charisma, they must depend upon performance, and seek to make collective leadership effective, center-regional relations balanced, and nationalism kept under control.

China's foreign policy has been characterized by improved relations with most neighbors and an expanded reach to global levels, especially the Middle East and Africa. Various issues remain to be resolved--some historical, others territorial, and with economic conflicts paramount in certain cases--but tensions are generally lower than at any time in the past. China today continues to face a wide range of challenges, but if it can hold to pragmatic policies at home and abroad, and live with problems that cannot be immediately resolved--such as the issue of Taiwan--its chances of continued economic growth and political development are good.

Japan is another major Asian society in the throes of change. Still the world's second largest economy and enjoying reasonable growth in the recent past, Japan must also face certain realities with new, innovative economic policies. The government needs to carry out major economic reforms, reducing state-bureaucratic controls further, opening the economy more fully to external interaction, and reconsidering its past employment policies. Japan's scarcity of domestic resources; its aging process, already underway; and the need to reduce protectionism, especially in agriculture, pose clear challenges.

Politically, Japan is a democracy in the full sense of the term, and recently, it has faced some of the problems of democracy: a growing estrangement of the citizenry from the government; weakness in leadership; and questions about the capacity of those in power to effect necessary reforms. A change may be underway at present, moving Japan from a one and one-half party system to a genuine two party system, with two competitive parties vying for power. In any case, however, the focus is on the political center, with some influence from the right. The left remains impotent, since Japan is a post-Marxist society.

Its principal challenge in foreign policy is to improve bilateral relations with the other Northeast Asian nations, relations that have been troubled since World War II. Efforts toward this goal, as you know, began under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. High level visits between Japan and China have taken place, with certain agreements reached. Abe also visited India as well as the Republic of Korea signaling an interest in both projecting and improving Japan’s international position. It is still too early, however, in my opinion, to judge the results. In the broader sphere, Japan has increasingly encompassed an international posture, taking an active role in East Asian regional organizations and being the chief aid giver to the region. Moreover, its strategic alliance with the United States is likely to remain intact, but with Japan expanding its security policies. Thus Japan will continue to play an important role in the Asia-Pacific region, and with the proper policies it can cope with the changes in its structure that are underway.

Russia represents the saga of a nation once militarily powerful and given its unity under a highly authoritarian system, capable of extending its economic and political influence outward. In recent years, however, Russia has struggled to adjust to collapse and the initial mistakes in economic policies. At present, this nation is returning to economic advance, largely due to its energy supplies. Yet it has a considerable distance to go. After a lengthy period of political instability, Vladimir Putin has reinstituted a more authoritarian and highly centralized government, with considerable public support. Russia's relations with the outside world vary: relations with China and India have improved as have those with most of the Central Asian states. With the West, both the U.S. and the EU, relations are more fragile, for both economic and political factors. At some point, however, Russia will reemerge as a major power, with its influence advancing across the vast Eurasian continent and beyond.

Meanwhile, another nation with significance to the entire region is India, a nation currently advancing at a rapid pace economically. India was unique in emerging from colonial status under a political elite that espoused democracy from the outset. At the same time, however, this elite supported statist, semi-socialist economic policies that inhibited growth. But that has recently changed, and prospects for growth in this coming decade are good.

Comparatively speaking, the nations of South Asia--apart from India--are currently in a less favorable position, with economic growth often lagging, political disunity widespread, and institutions weak, with the future uncertain. This is also the picture today in the Middle East and in Africa, with the future uncertain, but likely to harbor recurrent crises.

It remains to estimate the future prospects for regional and global tranquility and development, given the conditions still existing. Let me first outline certain reasons for cautious optimism. First, the on-going industrial revolution is certain to continue, with one of its consequences an ever closer economic bondage among and between nations. In this trend, moreover, the Asia-Pacific region will lead the way, but other regions--observing the results of the Asian revolution, will seek to follow suit in varying degrees. Both in its economic domestic order and the extensive reduction of national barriers, Asia is pursuing a course that others will seek to follow. As noted, problems--some of them serious--must be faced, including policies that inhibit fairness or equality in economic relations and in response, repeated efforts to strengthen protectionism. Yet despite contentions and periodic crises, the broad trend toward a sharing of technology, funding and investment, and market-oriented policies will continue.

The political implications of this fact are powerful. Whatever the tensions raised over economic issues, the increasing interdependence will serve as a deterrent to a total breakdown in relations, given the impact such a development would have on the economic health of the nations involved. Rather, the effort to create a truly international system with its own rules and channels of regulation will gain strength.

A second development of significance will be in the political realm. Market-oriented policies, the progressive opening of the economy to the outside world, and rising living standards will encourage a greater international political compatibility. It doesn’t imply that political institutions or systems will become identical. Differences will continue to exist, related to culture, stage of development, and indigenous challenges. However, greater openness will encourage a closer interaction between citizens as well as officials.

In this connection, it is important to realize that “pure civilizations” entirely indigenous and separate from external influences have ceased to exist. Every society is being influenced in multiple respects by others, from dress and cuisine to art and music, and in the realm of political and cultural realms, as will be noted shortly. In broad terms, however, the process of observing and being influenced by others—sometimes negatively but often positively—is steadily expanding.

Another factor of significance in the changing global scene is the rapid development of modern technology in all of its aspects. Not only does this encourage economic fusion, promoting massive foreign investment and the reshaping of production centers. In the strategic sphere, it greatly raises the costs of conflict as noted earlier. One may dispute the contention that nuclearization makes major war less likely, but here can be little doubt that the odds against anyone achieving victory in a combat among or between major powers are overwhelming, a fact now recognized by most leaders.

Thus, the case for cautious optimism regarding future relations among and between nations is strong. Logic is overwhelming on the side of those seeking harmony, the adjudication of disputes, and the building of new institutions across national boundaries that will contribute to economic, strategic and cultural cooperation. However, the existing threats to such a new order should not be ignored.

Currently, the threat of terrorism, generally initiated by groups within a society, not by the state or society as a whole, occupies universal attention and influences national policies in certain instances. The strength of fundamentalism, whether express via religion or a political creed, lies in the fact that it provides the individual with a deeply implanted security that comes from an all-encompassing set of beliefs that govern all aspects of life. In an age where change is omnipresent, values are in flux, and economic conditions subject to abrupt alteration, protection in the form of fundamentalism can be appealing, especially if it is encased in a broader cultural identity.

Extremism in its current form will not disappear from the political scene quickly or easily. It can only be reduced as economic and social reforms take place, accompanied by rising opportunities for the citizenry as a whole.

Meanwhile, another factor disturbing tranquility, especially in Asia-Pacific, is the continuance of two issues that have raised tensions and prevented close cooperation on various fronts, namely, the Korean and Taiwan issues. Fortunately, the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program has seen improved prospects in the recent past through the six party talks and the summer meeting. Therefore, we can be hopeful that on this occasion unlike the past, progress will be made. The Taiwan issue is different. While economic interaction across the Straits is expanding in major degree, political dialogue remains frozen. Whether a political change in the Taiwan presidency can result in new talks between Mainland China and Taiwan remains to be seen. Meanwhile, this issue continues to complicate relations between China and both the United States and Japan.

Finally, a supreme challenge to all nations is to take more meaningful and resolute steps to deal with the rising problems of human security. How such issues as global warming, resource use, pollution, and aging are handled will have a major impact on relations among and between nations in the decades ahead. It is imperative that a combination of innovative domestic policies and international cooperation via various dialogues and formal agreements be instituted quickly. The issues of human security will be the paramount issues of the mid-twenty first century, determining whether harmony and cooperation can prevail.

When the entire international scene is surveyed, it seems clear that while current trends favor a reduction of tension among and between major powers, continued economic advances in much of the world, and growing interdependence across national borders, the issues to be contained or resolved are not insignificant. In this respect, the role of non-governmental bodies such as the Beijing Forum is vital in stimulating governmental action.

Thank you.

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