Wednesday 05 Oct 2022 | 15:24 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 05 Oct 2022 | 15:24 | SYDNEY

Asia: the biggest trend of all


Graeme Dobell

29 July 2010 08:45

Many moons ago when I was a Southeast Asia correspondent there were two sorts of calls from Oz I dreaded. One was the early call at o-dark-hundred hours that usually started with, ‘What time is it there?’. The other which provoked less anger but more angst was the request for an Asia ‘trend’ story.

If it was a half-way decent suggestion from an editor who’d done some thinking, I’d meekly agree while slipping in the proviso that I’d do the trends in the ten countries of Southeast Asia, not the whole of Asia.

Sometimes the trend idea didn’t make sense. (Hard to believe, I know, but editors with programs to fill can come up with strange notions.) With the odd-ball or the idiotic, I’d ask which bit of Southeast Asia they wanted to use as the start of the trend: the Malay Muslim Monarchy of Brunei, the Catholic anarchy of the Philippines; the Chinese island in the Malay sea; the communist bits of Indo-China...and so it went.

The difficulty of doing Asia trend stories meant I watched with forgiving admiration the effort to write about the whole of ‘the region’ in the Banyan column in The Economist.

Since kicking off 15 months ago, Banyan has tried to paint the Asian big picture. As with so many correspondents, often the effect is achieved by columns on individual countries that make up the mosaic.

As the initial Banyan has handed over the weekly task to another hack, the farewell column made a stab at the biggest trend of all. The argument is that Asia does exist. Banyan concludes that Asia is not a geographical accident nor merely a Western construct.

My version of this in a long ago trend piece is that Asia is more than a diverse pack of geopolitical all-sorts. No great federation project is in sight — USA will never stand for the United States of Asia. Ask Kevin Rudd about the search for Community or community.

Starting from that reality, Banyan picked this big Asian trend:

No serious project for integration is close to existing. It is inconceivable that South Korea or the Philippines would have cheered, say, Bangladesh in the World Cup, as most of Africa roared for Ghana.

What a huge chunk of Asia does have in common is a joint adventure, namely the pursuit of materialism based on rapid economic development. The optimism is striking. Tomorrow may look different from today, but everyone agrees that it is likely to be better.

All true. Banyan then picks up the ‘horizontal Asia’ insight crystallised by Anthony Bubalo and Malcolm Cook here and here.

The Asian economic miracle used to cling to the coasts, to be close to the shipping containers. Now Asia is going inland. Increasingly, Asia will be linked together from the inside, by roads, rail and pipelines. All this trend spotting led me to contemplate a few of the currents that have been flowing through The Interpreter in recent days.

The Asia thought offered by various pieces has been that China’s soft power is hitting hard times. The US is back in the game, whether stepping up to help in the tough times in Korea or securing its proper place at the new top table, the East Asia Summit.

The US had a good time at the ASEAN meeting in Hanoi last week but China was grumpy. China has been less than its harmonious-rising self in its narkiness about the US joining the EAS. Beijing’s tetchiness is merely another reminder of why Asia doesn’t want to be left home alone with China.

Asia joins with China in not wanting to be bullied by the US. Equally Asia (minus China) dreads being deserted by the US.

Photo by Flickr user Chris Taleye, used under a Creative Commons licence.