"Power Is Shifting from West to East."
Not really. Dine on a steady diet of books like The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East or When China Rules the World, and it's easy to think that the future belongs to Asia. As one prominent herald of the region's rise put it, "We are entering a new era of world history: the end of Western domination and the arrival of the Asian century."
Sustained, rapid economic growth since World War ii has undeniably boosted the region's economic output and military capabilities. But it's a gross exaggeration to say that Asia will emerge as the world's predominant power player. At most, Asia's rise will lead to the arrival of a multi-polar world, not another unipolar one.
Asia is nowhere near closing its economic and military gap with the West. The region produces roughly 30 percent of global economic output, but because of its huge population, its per capita gdp is only $5,800, compared with $48,000 in the United States. Asian countries are furiously upgrading their militaries, but their combined military spending in 2008 was still only a third that of the United States. Even at current torrid rates of growth, it will take the average Asian 77 years to reach the income of the average American. The Chinese need 47 years. For Indians, the figure is 123 years. And Asia's combined military budget won't equal that of the United States for 72 years.
In any case, it is meaningless to talk about Asia as a single entity of power, now or in the future. Far more likely is that the fast ascent of one regional player will be greeted with alarm by its closest neighbors. Asian history is replete with examples of competition for power and even military conflict among its big players. China and Japan have fought repeatedly over Korea; the Soviet Union teamed up with India and Vietnam to check China, while China supported Pakistan to counterbalance India. Already, China's recent rise has pushed Japan and India closer together. If Asia is becoming the world's center of geopolitical gravity, it's a murky middle indeed.
Those who think Asia's gains in hard power will inevitably lead to its geopolitical dominance might also want to look at another crucial ingredient of clout: ideas. Pax Americana was made possible not only by the overwhelming economic and military might of the United States but also by a set of visionary ideas: free trade, Wilsonian liberalism, and multilateral institutions. Although Asia today may have the world's most dynamic economies, it does not seem to play an equally inspiring role as a thought leader. The big idea animating Asians now is empowerment; Asians rightly feel proud that they are making a new industrial revolution. But self-confidence is not an ideology, and the much-touted Asian model of development does not seem to be an exportable product.