Asian Century on a knife-edge, by John West

Book: Asian Century… on a Knife-edge: A 360 Degree Analysis of Asia’s Recent Economic Development” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). Download from here!

About Author: John is Adjunct Professor at Tokyo’s Sophia University where he teaches Japanese Business and Economy and Asia’s Economic Development. He is a Contributing Editor of FDI-Intelligence, a Financial Times magazine, where he writes on Japan and other Asian countries. He is also Executive Director of the Asian Century Institute. These current positions follow a long career in international economics and relations with major stints at the Australian Treasury as director of the balance of payments, OECD as head of public affairs and director OECD Forum, and Asian Development Bank Institute as a senior consultant for capacity building and training. John also taught globalization at the Institut d’Etudes Politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris.

Book Review: Prof John West’s book, “Asian Century on a knife-edge” takes a critical look at all major Asian economies and outlines a realistic scenario about the areas of improvement for them. We often read economic projections from different consulting firms and media houses which extrapolate current trends and come up with GDP estimates for 2030 and 2050. However, history shows that extrapolation rarely comes true as every economy goes through highs and lows. Prof West examines the political and social factors for Asian economies which are the constituents of an economy. For example, for an economy to keep growing, we need an open system which allows start-ups to expand and grow. This process has been termed as creative destruction, which is how new technologies are adopted by replacing older ones. Similarly, a snapshot of the population is a factor, which decides how many people productively add to the economy and how many need to be taken care of. The book describes the threats that are causes for concern for every individual economy.

An interesting point which many authors miss out on, is the effect on Asian politics. The US and EU have been peaceful without any military tensions since World War II. So, NATO can act as a significant pole in the world, led by the US. In Asia, the lessons haven’t been learned from WW II, and countries have a lot of military tensions. Some of them are run by dictatorial regimes. At least one behaves as an empire. Because of these factors, even if Asia grows much larger economically, none of the countries will be in a position to dominate. Also, if Asia grows much larger than the west, there is a risk of the world narrative moving away from liberal democracy.

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