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Book Review: The Future is Asian: Commerce, Conflict and Culture in the 21st Century

Posted by Scott Holstad on February 16, 2020

The Future is Asian: Commerce, Conflict and Culture in the 21st CenturyThe Future is Asian: Commerce, Conflict and Culture in the 21st Century by Parag Khanna
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This isn’t a bad book. In fact, it’s pretty good. But I’m torn on what to rate it. On one hand, it could potentially deserve 5 stars for accuracy, a good overview, it being topical. On the other hand, I feel inclined to give it only 3 stars because it’s really rather late to the party, so to speak. It’s not like there’s much that’s new here, and tons of things have been written and published on this very topic for over the past decade. Indeed, some may argue it’s SO late to the party, the author may have missed some important signs. The CFR’s noted Director of Asia Studies, Liz Economy (whose own potentially more topical book, “The Third Revolution: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State,” was released last year) has been writing and publishing articles in most of the major foreign policy journals that China is actually on its way down — and fast! I don’t know that I agree with her, but others do and it’s no secret that China’s economy is in the midst of a serious slowdown — there was no feasible way China could sustain that GDP growth. Indeed, it appears India is poised to leap into that position as China fights a huge aging population crisis combined with the additional population crisis prompted by its one child rule, so its workforce will be radically impacted over the next 20+ years. Thus, those who adhere to Economy’s viewpoint — and there are quite a few — might give this book only 2 stars. I’m giving it 4 because I think it’s still currently relevant and probably will be for the next decade to come with much up in the air over that time as India strives to attain regional hegemony status, and while people are making noise over Indonesia’s possibilities in the region — Australian leaders are already discussing forming defense treaties with that country should the PLAN push further into international waters to its south… The ECS problem could turn into a nightmare should the CCP decide to do more than test Japan over the The Senkaku Islands dispute while South Korea is busy trying to match the PLAN with carrier strength buildouts while continuing to watch its northern neighbors. So, yes, the future IS Asian, but it’s faulty to assume it’s solely Chinese or will remain so because yes, it’s no longer a unipolar world, but then when people refer to a multipolar world, they’re no longer necessarily referring to the US, China and Russia. In addition to India, Brazil is trying to ambitiously strive for southern hemisphere regional hegemony status, and Britain has just sent a new carrier to the SCS while committing to invest more in such ships. The CFR’s Sheila Smith published a book last year on Japan mobilizing militarily for potential offensive purposes for the first time since WWII, largely contrary to the constitution we wrote for them since our current US administration is apparently leaving its longtime allies in the East to fend for themselves. Can we say powder keg? I think we can. Geopolitical observation and analysis have become all the more “fun” again, just as it’s becoming all the more frightening. This book is good but I doubt it stands out from a crowded field very much, but for those watching the eastward shift, it’s another good resource to invest in and thus, recommended.

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