Global Asia

The aims of the Working Group

The Working Group on Global Asia explores development processes in Asia from an interdisciplinary perspective and from both an Asia-centred and a global point of view. Building on the main developmental challenges observed in Global Asia, the Working Group stimulates the scientific debate in EADI on the issues outlined below

Developmental challenges in Asia

The rise of Asia is certainly one of the most defining aspects of the 21st century. Significant economic growth, particularly in China and in India (but also in South East Asia), is changing power relations at global level. Yet, this rapid expansion also brings about significant political challenges, requiring a comprehensive assessment.

Three broad themes seem to be particularly relevant: i) the nature and working of Asian economies, with a specific focus on the variety of their capitalist processes of growth in terms of production structure and institutional framework; ii) the ‘quality’ of Asia’s development process, and in particular the evidence of the increasing social exclusion associate to economic growth as well as the related emergence of welfare policies; and iii) the economic, political and strategic consequences of Asia’s economic growth in a regional and global perspective.

Asian countries boast of specific patterns of economic and social organization, which in turn show variations at regional and local levels. These can be observed: 1) in the way in which production and markets are organised – in relation to the dimension of production and marketing units; 2) in the role of social institutions in regulating interpersonal and inter-firm relations and the intervention of the State in the economy; 3) in the pattern of local/global integration and the roles played by intermediaries in production and marketing; 4) in the working conditions and broadly in the capital/labour relations; and 5) in the nature of technical change and the introduction of innovations.

It is certainly true that economic growth contributed to improve the standards of living in most Asian countries; however, the nature of the growth process constitute an important challenge for most Asian countries. This aspect needs to be explored in relation to: 1) the dynamics of population – both for rapidly ageing societies (such as China and Japan) and also for those countries – such as India – that are experiencing a demographic dividend; 2) the quality and the quantity of jobs created by growth: here the focus is, on the one hand, on the pattern of jobless growth, widely documented across Asia, which is largely responsible for the insufficient increase in employment, and, on the other hand, on the wide spread of informal employment arrangements, which account for the large strata of Asian working class and of subaltern population living in precarious conditions.

Another feature which deeply impacts on the quality of capitalist development in Asian countries – requiring then a closer analysis – is the still high level of poverty and the increasing inequality across most of the Asian countries. There are few doubts that Asia’s economic growth has left behind a sizable part of its population. Indeed inequality is the single most important challenge for most Asian governments for its impact on equity and development. This evidence raises several key issues: 1) Asian societies are crossed by several modes of inequality – class, caste, gender, religion and ethnicity – which intertwine and reinforce each other, giving birth to complex social structures, while ethnic and religious minorities have often been kept at the margin of the development process; 2) gender imbalances are striking across the continent, including in India and China, where the sex ratio has been declining for at least two decades; 3) Increasing regional inequalities may seriously compromise the development process in China, India, and South-East Asia for their impact on social stability and may greatly reduce economic efficiency, excluding several productive individuals from the access to education and resources.

Finally, Asia’s economic growth poses important challenges at the international level too, influencing both the themes and the modalities of global governance. Here, three key aspects need to be mentioned: 1) Asia hosts some of the most polluted areas on the planet and it is considered as the fastest-growing contributor to global emissions; 2) this constitutes a major social and political issue, as Asian governments need to balance between the consumption needs of the (politically very influential) rising “middle classes”, growing concern among Asia’s civil societies about pollution, and international obligations within the fight to climate change; 3) Asia’s growing energy consumption has huge geopolitical implications, since the continent hosts both the largest suppliers (in Western and Central Asia) and the fastest-growing energy consumers (in East and South Asia); 4) the increasing need for growing energy supplies is generating a major change in Asia’s external policy, leading important countries – in particular India and China – to secure resources globally. This accounts for some major strategic redeployment, particularly in central Asia and in Africa, which shall also be addressed in our research programme.