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Bill Emmott sees proof of this emerging rivalry in the hedging strategy of the world superpower. The United States can no longer rely on a regional triangle with one ally, one competitor and one neutral third party: they need to ally with two powers in order to keep the third one neutral. This is why Bush, in his landmark visit to India in March 2006, chose to sideline concerns about nuclear proliferation and signed a deal for extended cooperation with India, including in the field of civil nuclear energy. India is a country with the potential to balance the rising power of China, and it is courted as such by the US, but also by Japan and the ASEAN countries which agreed, against all common geographical sense, to include the South Asian giant in their new East Asian Summit caucus.
Although the rivalry thesis is worth considering, I found the whole thing a little bit oversold. For a start, it is by no means the only thread to the story, but rather an editing gimmick that provides a catchy headline to a book that is basically a survey about the three great Asian powers. The individual chapters on China, Japan and India are valuable in their own right: they are written in the no-nonsense, right-to-the-point style that is the hallmark of The Economist, where they each could have been included as special country surveys.
There is an interesting discussion on Chinese statistics, where one learns for instance that in 2005 twenty-nine out of thirty-one regions reported "higher than average" growth rates. Contrary to the myth of unlimited labor supply from the Chinese countryside, the author thinks that the combination of higher incomes from agriculture and low birth rates will likely lead to less migrant labor and rising wages. Emmott today encounters in Beijing the same lack of transparency and accountability, the same feeling of self-confidence and even arrogance among senior officials, the same over-investment and misallocation of capital that he used to confront in Japan twenty years ago. Now Japan worries whether its credit rating will fall above or below Botswana, and it is dismissed by foreigners as a greying and declining nation.
The author of The Sun Also Sets nevertheless thinks that Japan could rebound if it succeeds in reinventing itself, like America did during the decade of the "new economy" which brought a sharp and unexpected jump in its productivity levels. He also thinks that with the right reforms, India could achieve growth of more than ten percent for at least a decade, provoking a transformation of a magnitude comparable to what China experienced in the last twenty years. As he notes, "the process of economic growth is in part a process of removing obstacles, rather as the dredging of boulders from a river will permit the water to flow more smoothly. There are a lot of obstacles to be removed, so there is a lot of potential for improvement."
Rivalry between the three Asian powers is therefore not the whole story. Indeed, it could be argued that the rise of new powers, like China and India, is more likely to lead to stabilization and peace than to disruption and war. China's trade (imports plus exports) is equivalent to 67 percent for GDP, whereas the ratio is 22 percent for America and 28 percent for Japan. The greater openness of China's economy, although it is still smaller than Japan's, means that China has more trade and investment with its smaller Asian neighbors and with the rest of the world than Japan does, often resulting in greater influence, as the flag follows foreign trade. A few decades ago, neighboring countries viewed the rise of Japan as stifling their economic independence. There was a time when European multinationals marketed themselves as an alternative to an exclusive reliance on Japanese firms. Now many view the rise of China as creating competition and thereby liberating them. Contrary to Japan's, Chinese trade is a two-way street, and it offers a great market for exports from its neighbors.
As Bill Emmott notes, Asia is piled high with historical bitterness, unresolved territorial disputes, potential flash points and strategic competition that could readily ignite even during the next decade. But the potential for cooperation is also great, and the sweetener of commerce should soothe nationalistic hurdles and instead promote a healthy spirit of competition in which all partners will gain.Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade Overview
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