Monday, December 12, 2005

Hopes of an AU

Some people look to Europe and the fledgling EU as an example of how formerly adversarial nations can put common interests and the good of their people ahead of old rivalries. On of the regions of the world where this is frequently grafted to is Pacific Asia. Many people hope or believe it is possible for the powers of Japan, Korea, and China to begin moving towards and economic union similar to the EU.

I'm not so hopeful. I haven't been for quite a while, but it didn't come together for me until I read this piece in the Washington Post today. It's one of many recent articles talking about Chinese capitalists exporting business from China to lower-wage parts of the world in search of competative advantage.

There seem to be several reasons why the EU was so successful.

  1. It was begun as a very focused, narrow agreement by small countries on the continent: Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxumburg. Not the types of places that have a reputation as threatening or dangerous to their neighbors.
  2. It evolved in a geographic region where countries' priorities were relatively similar and the economic, political, and social institutions of the various countries were already fairly similar, fairly transparent, and fairly integrated; in many ways the EU is both formalizing pre-existing informal ties, and facilitating the deepening and broadening of those ties.
  3. Rule of law was generally applied, more or less uniformly across the countries, and could be used as a starting point for negotiating on points of difference.
  4. Last, and perhaps most significant, even the largest economic powers in the EU; Germany, France, and England, were 220 lb men in a 160 lb arena. They carry more clout, but are in the same realm of magnitude.
The reasons I'm not optimistic about the emergence of an Pacific-Asia Union type of arrangement are almost the same items in reverse.
  1. 1. The countries with the most to gain by beginning a similar arrangement have much larger barriers to conquer: Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand strike me as the most likely to have the incentive to develop a Benelux-style arrangement, but they would have major issues of developmental difference, divergent legal systems, and markedly different political regimes to navigate in doing so.
  2. 2. It would be an effort to bridge countries whose interests are presently seen more as competing than complementing or converging.
  3. 3. The concept of law and justice in most Asian countries is still based more on who you know than what a polity has determined to be appropriate conduct and proper remuneration for a deviation from standards. (ie, there isn't much in the way of a "modern" criminal justice system.)
  4. 4. The lack of parity, both developmentally, economically, and in population, lead me to believe that any Pacific-Asia arrangement is bound to fail. Using terms similar to those above, in the grapefruit league of Asian economies Japan, South Korea, and the island of Taiwan have jumped into the Major Leagues with some all-star years, and some .220 seasons. But there's this up-and-comer in AAA right now, China, who is working on learning all the signs. And once he can, the other three are going to be bumped out of the starting lineup.
Pulling away from what is probably a stretched metaphor, what incentive do Asia's existing powerhouses (Japan, S. Korea, Taiwan) have to encourage an economic arrangement that further aids China's goal of economic growth, unless it benefits them to the same degree? Further, what chance does any Pacific-Asia economic organization have without the participation of China?


Anonymous said...

From the rambling barrister, who can't find his password at the moment...

Let's keep in mind that the EU was really 50 years in the making, and was done to a certain degree to present a strong front to a perceived Soviet threat. It took 50 years of lobbying and chipping away at a well-educated, nationalistic group to bring the EU to fruition, and even then, it has stayed almost entirely as an economic entity.

I echo your thoughts-- given that most of the Asian countries are not nearly as educated as Western Europe, and there is no looming nearby threat, given the disparity in economic engines, it'll be perhaps 100 years down the road. But think of it this way: if 1900 to 2000 was the American century, and 2000 to 2100 is the Asian century, it only stands to reason that the AU will find its way at the end of it.

tegwarrior said...

5) Scale- Both relative and overall. You can drop the EU (at least the pre-former commies version) in the American West. Can't do the same with Asia.

The total populations involved would seem to matter as well.

Too many cats to herd over too great a distance?