The East Catching Up
The East Catching Up

The East Catching Up

The following is a Think Piece, required as part of my studies at the East West Center in the Asia Pacific Leadership Program.

With the west’s global dominance and eventual decline seemingly inevitable, it’s interesting to ponder how western nations will deal with the economic playing field being leveled? While countries like China and India have economies that are growing like wildfire, western nations’ continuing financial decline is helping to speed up this process.

In November 2009, Hans Rosling, presenting at TEDIndia, traced the global economic growth of India and China since 1858 and predicted that those economies will be equal to the United States in 2048. The presentation is not only entertaining and funny, but rather plausible. It really was only a few hundred years ago that all three economies were very close with one another. It’s never easy to part with what you’re used to and swallow the hard pill that you’re not always going to be top of the heap.

Even President Obama stated in a September 29, 2011 interview with a television station in Florida that America isn’t looking nearly as good as it once did. “The way I think about it is, you know, this is a great, great country that had gotten a little soft and, you know, we didn’t have that same competitive edge that we needed over the last couple of decades. We need to get back on track.” Will the US get back on track or have the tracks already been re-routed?

While China, India and Asia all rely on America continuing to succeed and be a strong economic force in the world, there seems to be little sympathy about their current decline. A November 4, 2010, Economist article, At America’s Expense, does a pretty good job summing-up why that may be. “Another historic burden Mr. Obama carries in Asia is the arrogance of American officials during the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. That caused resentment, helped burnish China’s image and inspired some scarcely concealed glee at America’s comeuppance a decade later.”

So, the question remains, how will the west deal with and face their inevitable decline and leveling of the economic playing field? It certainly will help if they come to grips with the fact they’ve had it too good for too long and Asian nations’ attitude will no doubt play a role in maintaining face, which just may become something more important to the west to nurture and preserve.


  1. tkuipers

    I think you’re doing 2 things:
    1) creating an false competition
    2) forgetting that it’s easy to grow quickly when you start from a significantly lower position, and the technology can be imported to kick start massive growth

    Over the past 30 years, the same oh-my-god-look-how-fast-they’re-growing-they’ll-take-over-the-world blather was talked about the Middle East, Japan, Taiwan/Korea, SE Asia, recently China and India, and now parts of Africa.

    It’s very cool to see both those countries change and reduce government oversight. That increase in freedom is directly responsible for lifting half a billion people out of abject poverty.

    At the root of what you’re talking about – this competition for who’s the most powerful nation on the planet – is nationalism, at the root of most of the wars of the past century.

  2. scottcoates


    Perhaps I wasn’t clear in my narrative but I’ve re-read it and didn’t mean to create a competition, nor do I think it reads that way.
    Everything in the piece is a statement of fact and opinions of others.
    I agree that nationalism has been the root of most many world conflicts and that’s certainly not what I’m promoting here. It’s merely interesting to see how the west is gradually losing its global dominance, and I’m curious as to how nations in the western world will deal with having to give up some things, likely not have all the perks they’ve grown accustomed to. Most interesting is if people will view the east’s rise as something that is okay, realize they have to share and if nationalism can be kept out of the dialogue.

    Technology has indeed played a major role in helping nations quickly develop and there’s nothing wrong with that. This is without a doubt the fastest period of growth the world has ever seen, regardless of how it’s happening and it will be interesting to see what the world looks like in 30 years and how all nations manage their egos, expectations and place in the world.

    I’m all for every country elevating their living standards, while creating a more peaceful and prosperous world.

    Thanks for your comment Todd.

  3. tkuipers

    Statements like: “It certainly will help if they come to grips with the fact they’ve had it too good for too long…”, and “likely not have all the perks they’ve grown accustomed to…” and ” realize they have to share” do suggest a competition, and a competition among nations, implying that some will win _at the expense of the others_. And again, statements like these have been made a myriad times over decades (and centuries) about the rise of Japan, Saudi Arabia, Taiwan/Korea, and even the US and Germany in the 19th century.

    To better communicate the point you’re making, my suggestion would be to avoid the use of these kinds of phrases if you’re not implying a nationalist competition. If “too good for too long” is short hand for the US’s heavy handing use of foreign and military policy, directly or through organizations (e.g. NATO, IMF, World Bank, etc.) then say so. It’ll help bring clarity to your narrative, and help you own and internalize what you’re writing – making it both more impactful and personal.

    If the US and the rest of the “West” have had “perks” they’ll lose, then name some of them. If the perks are the ability to bully through fiscal policy backed by military might, lay it out.

    Additionally I’d substitute something other than “West”, like “economically advanced nations”, or OECD, since Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and other advanced economies like Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore, are all eastern hemisphere. But be clear that the more advanced economies are not homogeneous and are not simple a substitute for the US, G5, G8, EU or the OECD. Too, understand the East isn’t the only region rising. Russia, Brazil, Mexico, and other countries in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East, are part of this rise out of nationally induced structural poverty. The use of East and West are better shorthand if you’re implying a US/China competition – if so, use “US and China”.

    If “have to share” implies the sharing of political, fiscal and military power, use those terms. If “have to share” means a sharing of resources and economic results because one group is intrinsically better at extracting and using, describe what you mean. (While keeping in mind that free trade abrogates the concept that there are winners and losers. If voluntary trade meant this, we’d all still be living like Neanderthals).

    (As for statement of fact – quoting others, and suggesting attitudes is not a statement of fact. All of those quotes and excerpts are centred on opinion and prediction, including even the immensely intuitive Rosling.)

    All the feedback aside, keep writing! I am enjoying the articles.

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