The game is afoot
By 2014, China was already the world’s leading manufacturer and its largest exporter. China was also the biggest export market for forty-three countries in the world; whereas the US was the biggest market for just thirty-two countries. (Twenty year earlier, China had been the largest market for just two countries in the world, and the US was number one for forty-four nations)
The term easternisation can be understood as a phenomenon embodying the economic rise of the countries in the east. A few centuries ago, especially in the wake of Vasco da Gama’s effort to discover a sea route from Europe to India in 1498, the economic potential of Asia beckoned Europeans who vied with one another for gaining a foothold on Asian lands to monopolise raw material to feed European industrial complexes.
After the Second World War, Asia took over the reins of destiny. Japan was the first to express its economic prosperity, followed by the second wave of opulence launched by South East Asian countries named Asian Tigers. Both these waves espoused capitalist policies under the auspices of the US military hegemony in the region. Nevertheless, in the 1990s, China initiated the third wave of economic sufficiency, which India joined quickly. Generally, not only did the expansion-cum-diversification of local industry based mostly on raw material, but also the shifting of multi-national companies to Asia in search of cheap labour contributed significantly to the economic surge of Asia. The growth of the software industry offered an additional benefit to all to utilise human potential contributing to Asia’s economy.
The implied idea in easternisation begrudged by many is that it is happening at the expense of the west or westernisation. In this regard, Gideon Rachman’s book, “Easternisation: War and Peace in the Asian Century,” published by Penguin Random House in 2016, says that easternisation not only reflects the dwindling significance of European countries but it also reflects their burgeoning troubles ravaging various spheres of life. To put this point across, Rachman writes on page 167: “The process of Easternisation means not just that Europe no longer controls large swathes of the globe. That has been the case for decades. It also means that Europe is increasingly vulnerable to political, social and economic trends in the rest of the world that it cannot control – but which pose direct and indirect threats to European stability, prosperity and even peace.” That is, today’s Europe is beset with a two-pronged challenge: first, the loss of political clout to reframe its calling in resource-rich areas of the world; and second, to devise a way to stop the inflow of troubles affecting various spheres of European life. Unfortunately, when extant, both these challenges reinforce each other.
In 1956, when the US ended the hegemony of two European powers, the UK and France, on the issue of the Suez Canal, Europe started shrinking into its fold. In this way, the primary challenge to the west or westernisation came from the west itself. Years afterwards, the economic crisis that visited Europe in 2009 debunked the reality that European authority over the world was moribund. In this regard, Rachman writes on page 167: “By 2009, when an economic crisis erupted in Europe, the age of European imperialism in Asia and elsewhere had been over for roughly half a century…[M]ore and more economists are giving voice to the idea that competition with low-cost producers in Asia, in particular in China, has contributed to the European economic malaise.” In fact, Chinese cheap industrial products undermined the residual monopoly of European manufacturing industries and funnelled European money into the Chinese economy.
Whereas the year of 2009 can be considered the time when the existence of easternisation became noticeable, the realisation got itself reified into more palpable results in 2014, when China spearheading the phenomenon of easternisation surpassed the US. In this regard, Rachman writes on page 6: “A symbolic moment was reached in 2014 when the IMF [International Monetary Fund] announced that, measured in terms of purchasing power, China was the world’s largest economy”. Similarly, Rachman writes on page 8: “By 2014, China was already the world’s leading manufacturer and its largest exporter. China was also the biggest export market for forty-three countries in the world; whereas the US was the biggest market for just thirty-two countries. (Twenty year earlier, China had been the largest market for just two countries in the world, and the US was number one for forty-four nations).” In this way, in 2014, the world finally recognised the presence of easternisation. In the post-2014 era, the world is supposed to be stretched between retiring westernisation and mounting easternisation, whether the two phenomena are coterminous or not.
The economic challenge posed by easternisation is just one dimension of the issue. There are two other dimensions. First, economic sufficiency cannot be seen in isolation from political adequacy. In this regard, Rachman writes on page 6: “It is economic might that allows nations to generate the military, diplomatic and technological resources that translate into international political power.” Second, like westernisation, easternisation is non-sparing in asserting its history, values and practices. In this regard, Rachman writes on page 29: “Yet while attitudes to the West vary across Asia – between countries and individuals – there is little doubt that a widespread process of Easternisation is underway, as Asian nations reassert their own histories and heritages, and scrape away some of the accumulations of Westernisation.” In fact, losing grip over economic and political affairs of the world and getting vulnerable to crises of various types express the worst fear of Europe.
Whereas China is heading the post-2009 wave of easternisation, the US has been trying to challenge China in the Pacific by developing a pivot to Asia since 2011 with the help of Japan and India. The cases of Japan and India are different. Japan experienced the humiliation of defeat at the hands of the US and later developed its economy on capitalist lines under the supervision of US military. This relationship is more a patron-client one than a partnership of equality and respect. On the other hand, the bonhomie that thrived between the US and India is a post-1998 phenomenon, which expressed itself in October 2008 by signing the 123 Nuclear Energy Agreement. It is still difficult to say if India – which is also part of easternisation – is ready for being an active frontline partner of the US in the pivot to Asia plunge.