Gideon Rachman’s ‘Easternisation: War and Peace’

Daily: Daily Times
Date: 28.12.16

Decolonisation in Asia laid the basis for a shift of global economic and political power to
Asia. This is the central idea of the Gideon Rachman’s book, “Easternisation: War and
Peace in the Asian Century,” published by Penguin Random House in 2016. Rachman
worked for The Economist for fifteen years and is now the chief foreign affairs columnist for
the Financial Times. This opinion piece intends to discuss Rachman’s certain ideas
expressed in the book.

Rachman has defined neither easternization nor the Asian century, the terms adorning the
title of his book. Perhaps, he has left them up to a reader’s discretion to conjecture. The
term Easternisation can be understood more easily in the context of values, culture and
civilisation which make Asia relish conservatism and resist liberalism, whether the practised
religion is Confucius, Hinduism or Islam. Presumably, the Asian century embodies the 21st
Century which is third in the row of centuries began from the 19th Century of British
Imperialism and followed by the 20th Century of American domination.

In his book, Rachman equates the rise of Asia with Easternisation, as he writes on page 9:
“[Despite all occasional crises,] the rise of Asia has continued, and so has the process of
Easternisation.” In fact, Rachman links the rise of Asia in economic terms with Asia’s
gathering political clout, as he writes on page 10: “Over the long run, though, there clearly
is a strong relationship between economic might and international political power.” Here,
Rachman focuses on the political outcome of economic sufficiency: economic strangulation
may lead to political compromise. In a way, the book makes a case obliquely that economic
sufficiency of Asia — meant for ameliorating the lot of Asians — may be acceptable
embedded in the term “the rise of Asia,” but not its attendant political adequacy — meant
for disturbing the political order, regional or global — couched in the term “Easternisation.”

It was November 2011 when, as mentioned on page 69, “President [Barack] Obama
announced [in his speech to the Australian Parliament in Canberra] that the US was winding
down its wars in the Middle East, in favour of a new commitment to Asia: ‘After a decade [i.
e. since 2001 when the US facilitated China’s joining the World Trade Organisation] in
which we fought two wars [i.e. in Afghanistan and Iraq] that cost us dearly, in blood and
treasure, the United States is turning our attention to the vast potential of the Asia-Pacific
region’...‘Reductions in US defense spending will not — I repeat will not — come at the
expense of the Asia-Pacific. The United States is a Pacific power and we are here to stay’...
‘The United States will continue our effort to build a cooperative relationship with China’.”
Here, Rachman thinks that this was the time when the world heard the term the pivot or
rebalance, which was considered a brainchild of Kurt Campbell, the US Assistant Secretary
of State for Asia. Secondly, in this part of speech, the US not only asserted its role —
diplomatic or military — in Asia-Pacific but also demanded China’s cooperation in the name
of acquiescence. However, Rachman has overlooked the fact that in this part of speech
Obama affirmed that the US was as a Pacific power and not an Asia-Pacific one. This is
where the confusion in understanding the role of the US arises.

China defies West’s financial institutions is the point Rachman makes on page 230: “China’
s successful move in 2014 to press ahead with the formation of a BRICS bank [i.e. an
infrastructure development bank, of which Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa are
members] and an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank [AIIB, got operational in January
2016, of which the UK is also a founding member] — both of which were to be based in
China — was widely perceived as a reaction to the innate Western bias in the Bretton
Woods institutions.” Similarly, on page 78, Rachman writes: “The AIIB also looked like a
potential instrument for Chinese foreign policy, in particular, the ‘one belt, one road’
strategy building up new infrastructure across Asia, that would cement (sometimes literally)
the ties between Asian nations and the dominant economy in the region — China.” Here,
Rachman has tried to give the impression that China intends to offer the world an
alternative financial system. In fact, Rachman fails to value the importance of infrastructure
development, a thread common between BRICS and AIIB.

Interestingly, the US also considered the BRICS-AIIB duo a threat and consequently
introduced a new free-trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for the Asia-
Pacific region. On pages 79 and 80, Rachman writes: “The TPP covered twelve nations,
which were said to account for 40 percent of world trade and which included the US and
Japan — but very pointedly did not include China...Just as the US Navy was attempting to
stop China dominating the Pacific in strategic terms, so the TPP was intended to stop China
dominating the Asia-Pacific in economic terms.” Here, Rachman has highlighted the US’
knee-jerk reaction, the underlying reason for which Rachman mentions on page 76:
“Viewed from Washington, China seemed to be taking an ever more assertive line in a
series of territorial disputes, from the Senkaku Islands [in the East China Sea] to [Taiwan in]
the South China Sea and the China-India border.” In the first two disputed areas, the US
has offered security guarantees to Japan and Taiwan.

Despite having a vast experience working for financial dailies and magazines, nowhere in
the book does Rachman gives reasons for the economic rise of Asia other than its being
decolonized. This is why he has tried to see the rise-of-Asia phenomenon as a sudden
upsurge personifying monstrosity. In fact, the rise of Asia has taken place in stages. For
instance, Japan’s economic rise based on manufacturing sector for export purposes was
the 60s phenomenon; the rise of Asian Tigers (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and
Taiwan) inspired by Japan and helped by Multinational Corporations (MNCs) as investors
was the 90s phenomenon; China’s economic rise can be viewed in the wake of Hong Kong’
s joining it in 1997; and India Shining is a post-2001 phenomenon. On the other hand,
Russia is more a European power than Asia’s. After being rejected by Europe, Russia has
been trying to come out of the geographical bounds. However, Rachman thinks that Russia
is enhancing the political effects of Easternisation.

In short, Rachman has failed to qualify his presumption that in the rise of Asia lies the fall of
the West.

Back to columns in 2016