By Jason Miks
GPS Editor Jason Miks speaks with Kishore Mahbubani, author of ‘The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World,’ about the prospects for stability in the region.
You wrote at the end of last year that 2013 was likely to see another resurgent year for Asia. Is there anything that knock the region off course?
My number one worry today is the relationship between China and Japan. Clearly, both governments want to avoid anything happening – they want to keep things under control. But sometimes events happen on the ground, and the fact that both sides have increased their patrols around the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands means that the potential for accidents rises, and that of course worries me.
How great a danger do you think there is that the row between China and Japan could escalate?
It’s always serious when countries increase their patrols in disputed areas. But on balance, if you asked me to place a bet on whether there would be incident, I would bet that there will be no incident, because both sides realize the costs would be too high for both of them. They have to posture for their own domestic opinion, but I don’t think there will be a direct clash.
One of the undercurrents in relations between Japan and China – and a growing factor in the region generally – is nationalism. How disruptive a force do you think this could be in Asia?
It could be a disruptive force. But it is also, for example in the case of China, a very natural development. The Chinese are beginning to be aware that they are the number two economy in the world, and maybe by 2017 they could be the number one economy in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms in the world. So obviously there is a sense of rising pride in what China has accomplished, and pride in turn gives its people confidence, and confidence in turn can improve national performance.
But at the same time, if nationalist sentiment becomes too strong, it could restrain the Chinese government from making the usual pragmatic adjustments China is famous for. Then it can be a problem for China.
Are there any other issues we should be keeping our eye on this year?
Apart from Japan and China, the other area where there is disputed territory is the South China Sea. There are many involved in disputes there – China has a dispute with Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. But the one I will be watching most carefully is the dispute between China and the Philippines – that’s where you have the greatest capacity for misunderstanding