Strong growth in recent decades and the relatively quick recovery of Asia from the financial crisis has sparked debates on whether Asia is decoupling from the West. But perhaps what is more pertinent is the normative question of whether Asia should decouple from the West and exactly what this decoupling process entails.
Loosely interpreted, decoupling is said to happen when two entities move in opposite directions, disconnect, or no longer has a direct effect on the other. This essay argues that Asia should decouple from the West, and that this process of decoupling will be the greatest challenge that Asia will face in the coming decade. However, a more measured definition of decoupling is used the overarching process whereby Asia explores, diversifies, and reduces general reliance on the West. The key is to engage and cooperate with the West but allow more room for Asia to find its own niche and maximize its potential. It is not a zero-sum game and it is certainly not about disengaging from the West or isolating Asia.
It might seem misguided to focus on the macro issue of decoupling when there are many other specific challenges plaguing Asia, spanning from environmental problems to instability in domestic politics. However, closer examination would reveal that decoupling is an overarching process that underlies practically all of these realms. Due to the eminence of the West in the recent centuries, its norms, values, standards and methods have become the de facto hardware and software of the world, and Asia is often at the receiving end. Continued reliance and benchmarking against the West in all these realms is not the way forward. Much has been written about finding the "Asian Way", but this is very much a misnomer and the concept remains nebulous. Truth of the matter is, nothing in this globalized and interdependent world is completely unique these days, and what we have are merely adaptations and improvements. What is suggested here is not a singularly Asian or "un-Western" way, but rather adaptations, improvements, and leapfrogging from what is already in existence.
Several qualifiers are necessary at this juncture. The usage of "Asia" and the "West" is not always meaningful, and suggests rather erroneously that the two are opposites, and each are coherent, homogeneous wholes. Clearly, this is hardly the case. The demarcation of "Asia" and the "West" is problematic in many ways. Asia, as used in this essay, refers to East Asia and South Asia. The "West" refers generally to the United States and Europe. While it is obviously futile to descend into steoreotypes, this essay does seek to highlight the fact that Asia is different in several ways, above and beyond dissimilar philosophies and the elusive term, culture.
First, what is tried and tested in the West has not always worked for Asia. For instance, during the Asian financial crisis in 1997, recommendations from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which were imposed on the Asian countries as part of the conditions for the loans did not alleviate the situation. Malaysia, which detracted from the recommendations was among the first to recover. There were also suggestions that the IMF recommendations for maintaining high domestic interest rates, liberalizing the economy and pegging currency to the dollar were what triggered the financial crisis in the first place. In addition, most Asian economies have achieved the greatest level of growth under semi-authoritarian regimes, and examples include Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and China. While economic growth is not the best yardstick to measure the overall health of a nation, there are definitely indicators that the Western definition of democracy and its accompanying multiplier benefits have their limitations.