(3 of 3)
Evidently, the process of decoupling is not without baggage many countries in Asia have a recent history of colonialism, and arguably went through a subsequent period of neo-colonialism where Westerns norms and standards were seen as the golden standard to emulate. Envisioning Asia striking out on its own, coming forth with alternative ways of global and domestic governance, economic models and environmental management etc. takes imagination, determination, and confidence, without lapsing into complacence. Decoupling also should not be defined by aggression, the desire to claim an Asian era or to undo past "humiliation". Most importantly, decoupling entails a great degree of innovation, getting over inherent inertia, and the courage to challenge and change the status quo. As evident from the above, decoupling is both a physical and mental transition.
Forging a Path Forward
Despite these challenges, decoupling is desirable, achievable and necessary. This would entail several concurrent developments. First, as the latecomer to the game, Asia has the distinct advantage of leapfrogging and it should learn and adapt from the experience of the West in their development. It should also maximize the advantage to go even further by applying currently available technology and cutting-edge thinking to leapfrog the West which remains hampered by investments and decisions made earlier in their own economic development cycle. This extends to all areas including infrastructure, environmental management and education. Asia should build upon what has already been done by the West, but decouple by constantly incorporating, adapting and reinventing.
Second, Asia should build and capitalize upon its own drivers and engines of growth. There are signs that this is slowly happening. Asian recovery from the recent crisis has been driven largely by the region's own economic demand and there has been a rebound in intra-regional trade. Although the region is less dependent on Western foreign capital than before, it is still reliant on export-led growth. Asia needs to cultivate an autonomous momentum of growth, by harnessing the rising purchasing power of the expanding middle class, continued investment in massive infrastructural development as well as apply measures to expand intra-regional trade and investment. Although partially limited by the "spaghetti bowl effect," the proliferation of free trade agreements do mark Asia's commitment in the right direction. Asian countries should also continue to focus on confidence-building measures and foster interdependence, given the presence of fault lines within Asia due to territorial disputes, historical conflicts, clashing interests and competition.
Third, Asia has to innovate on all fronts rather than merely benchmarking against the West or importing technology. There is strong consensus among economists that the biggest productivity gains stem from inventions. While Asia has been strong on investment-based growth founded on capital accumulation and imitation, it is very weak in innovation-based growth which stems from technological change and innovation. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, while the US is still the world's most inventive country, nearly 26% of all international patent applications last year came from Japan, South Korea and China. In addition, China registered a strong growth rate of 29.7% in the number of patents filed while the filing rate dropped by 11.4% in the U.S. and 11.2% in Germany in 2009. (3) This is a cogent indicator that Asia has the potential to push the frontiers of knowledge and innovation.
Lastly, Asia needs to perceive and carry out decoupling as a logical extension of its growth, and not a measure to break away from the West. This would be highly challenging, given the historical sensitivities and inherent competitive nature between the Asia and the West, and the disparate agendas of the different Asian countries. To reap the maximum benefits from decoupling and avoid a backlash, Asia has to tread consistently and work on a collaborative approach with the West.
Global interdependence will always be a part of international relations, and the difference lies in a matter of degree. Decoupling would foster an independent but cooperative Asia which would be beneficial not just for the region, but for the world. Asia is well-poised to take advantage of the current upswing in its development and whether it makes the necessary leap to decouple from the West (and successfully manages Western sentiments in the process) would determine its growth path in the future.
1. "Inequality in Asia: Key Indicators 2007 Special Chapter Highlights." Asian Development Bank. 2007.
2. Gruenwald, P., Hori, M. "Intra-regional Trade Key to Asia's Export Boom." IMF Survey Magazine. 6 February 2008.
3. "International Patent Filings Dip in 2009 Amid Global Economic Downturn." World International Property Organization. Press release dated 8 February 2010.