Arguments pro and con for an increasingly integrated Asia morphing its way to full nation statehood
It has been argued in the Asia Times by David Goldman that a byproduct of the coronavirus pandemic is the beginning of an "Asian Century", and by implication a golden age for the intra-Asia trade.
Mr Goldman goes so far as to suggest that Asia will be transformed into as an economic zone as closely integrated as the European Union. That would imply, a structure that would be fast approaching the status of a nation state, such as imagined by the masters of the EU. Of course, that is precisely what a simple majority in the UK voters voted against by voting Brexit.
But such developments hold no terrors for Mr Goldman: "Economic historians may date the start of the Asian Century to May 2020, when most Asian economies bounced back to full employment while the West languished in coronavirus lockdown." he writes.
Google’s daily data on workplace mobility, he says, used smartphone location to determine the number of people going to work – by far the most accurate and up-to-date available reading on economic activity. As of May 13, Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam were to normal levels. Japan and Germany had climbed back to 20 per cent below normal.
The US, France and the UK remained paralyzed. Google can’t take readings in China, but the available evidence indicates that China is on the same track as Taiwan, South Korea and Vietnam.
Asian economic recovery is consistent with success in controlling the Covid-19 pandemic. China, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore have Covid-19 death rates a tenth of Germany’s and a hundredth of the rate in the US, UK, France or Spain.
The US continues to struggle to fully re-open its economy despite a much higher rate of new infections than the Asian countries or Germany. That entails substantial risk. Two Ford Motor plants in the US that had re-opened only to shut after employees tested positive for Covid-19.
Meanwhile Asia’s short-term surge followed its success in disease prevention. But the long-term driver of Asian growth is China’s emergence as a high tech superpower. The last session of the People’s Congress in Beijing passed a US$1.4 trillion of new government investments in 5G broadband, factory automation, self-driving cars, artificial intelligence and related fields.
Asia now acts as a cohesive economic bloc. Sixty per cent of Asian countries’ trade within Asia, the same proportion as the European Union. The Google mobility numbers confirm what we learned earlier this month from China’s April trade data. Intra-Asian trade surged year on year, while trade with the United States stagnated.
Mr Goldman says the surge in Chinese trade with Southeast Asia, South Korea and Taiwan shows the extent of Asian economic integration. China’s exports to Asia have grown much faster than its trade with the US, which stagnated after 2014.
China’s stock market meanwhile is this year’s top performer, down only two per cent on the MSCI Index in US dollar terms while all other major exchanges are deep in negative numbers, he says. The strength of China’s stock market is noteworthy given the escalation of economic warfare with the US, including a US ban on third-party exports of computer chips made with US intellectual property to blacklisted Chinese companies, and the threat to de-list Chinese companies on US stock exchange.
What is questionable about this positive interpretation, is that it ignores the circumstances in which the coronvirus outbreak occurred. The chief factor being that it came about in a US election year, and represented the last chance for the left, badly beaten on all a fronts worldwide, to destroy its arch foe, US President Donald Trump, and to a lesser extent, its other villain, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and his battle to keep Brexit on track and see that Britain leaves the EU on schedule January 1. This is precisely the outcome the European left seeks to avoid, and is disingenuously lobbying for an extention to the trade deal talks in the hope it will morph itself into a U-turn on the Brexit project itself.
Regarding the flu-panic, let us recall that in the Hong Kong flu of 1969 killed 100,000 Americans, but there was no talk of lockdowns or social distancing back then - certainly not at the vast gathering in upstate New York that year at the Woodstock pop music festival that drew 400,000 aggressively mingling young people. Given the growth of US population since - 202 million in 1969 versus 331 million today - the Hong Kong flu death rate was far more impactful than the Wuhan flu is today even though the numbers of dead are much the same.
So why is there so much more fuss today than there was then? As mentioned, the desperate effort to dethrone Trump and Johnson are major factors. Trump because he wants to decimate the vast US bureaucracy the left created and seeks to preserve and Johnson because he wants to do much the same by leaving the EU.
Other factors should be considered as well. The rise of offical feminism is one, coupled with the fundamental changes in the western media landscape. While feminism has lost ground among women as a philosophical belief, if surveys are to be believed, it still provides a rising number of jobs in the media, academic bureaucratic complex, where gender equality of outcome has been sought and increasingly enforced over the last 30 years. The result has been that the proportion of women in these occupational areas has proportionally increased over the years and massively so. And so has their power and influence, which is much more risk averse than men's.
This has divided women into two voting blocs: The larger, but weaker stand-by-your man contingent arrayed against the smaller but immensely more powerful careerist feminist contingent. But what the opposing blocs share is deep attachment to their families and their protection. Coupled to this is a female propensity to maximise fear of any risk. The risk averse nature the now feminised media, academic, bureaucratic complex was entirely absent in the risk-taking male power structure of 1969.
The left, having backed feminism from the start, and women's preference for indoor airconditioned work, has always favoured the creation of more such jobs, the enlargement of sectors that produce them.
As far as the female stand-by-you-man contingent goes, it tends to support Trump and Johnson because they share the same values as their husbands. But not if they have fears for their families's saftey. In this. they are little different from feminist careerists when it comes to fanning fashionable fears of negative outcomes.
This is what Trump and Johnson must face. They must appear to be as concerned about the Wuhan flu as the most hysterical leftist - even more so. That's because, leftist women will reliably vote for clinically impaired Joe Biden and British Labour leader Keir Starmer because they have no one else to vote for, no one who supports their positive attitude on state expansion.
Not so Trump and Johnson. If they appear to be cavalier about masks and social distancing, they risk losing that vital stand-by-your-man female tranche, which is vital to winning a close vote. In most western jurisdictions most votes are close because, about half the population sees the state as responsible for providing for the people while the other half sees it as the government's reponsibility to provide a climate of peace and security that enables the people to take care of themselves.
Given these dynamics, the year 2020 is hard to read, and any reliable mid-term forecasts will have to wait for clearer visibility that will likely come with the result of the US election in November and whether the UK has made a clean break with the EU in January. In any case, it does not look too likely that Asia will evolve into a nation state as implied by the projections in the Asian Times.