A territoriality aggressive China, North Korea’s nuclear hostility and a chaotic White House under President Donald Trump are key factors that could derail Asia’s steady economic growth.
The continent largely owes its massive economic ascent to the lack of major military conflict across borders, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a new Project Syndicate editorial.
But the factors that contributed to peace and stability in Asia “are now coming under increasing pressure,” Haas said. That jeopardizes the strategic situation that has facilitated Asia’s economic miracle, he added.
Unlike Europe or Latin America, Asia hasn’t witnessed a major war since the end of the Vietnam War in the mid-1970s, Haas pointed out.
Territorial claims have always dogged the region, ranging from Russia and Japan’s post-World War II island dispute to current South China Sea tensions, but they never escalated into war, “partly because no country has wanted to jeopardize economic growth by initiating a conflict,” Haas said.
Asia’s demographics also help explain decades of stability.
“Most Asian countries host relatively homogeneous societies with strong national identities, the chance of civil conflicts erupting and spilling over national borders is relatively low,” Haas said.
Moreover, decades of a deep-rooted U.S. military presence reduced the need for Asian countries to develop large military programs of their own, “and reinforced a status quo that discourages armed adventurism,” Haas continued.
Recent developments, however, threaten to sow seeds of conflict and disrupt Asian economic prosperity.
Chinese demonstrations of sovereignty, part of President Xi Jinping’s strategy to make his country a global superpower, are particularly worrisome, Haas stated.