South-East Asia to become global economic focus

Wang Gungwu (王赓武王賡武Wáng Gēngwǔ; born 9 October 1930), CBE,[1] is an Australian historian of overseas Chinesedescent.[2] He has studied and written about the Chinese diaspora, but he has objected to the use of the word diaspora to describe the migration of Chinese from China because both it mistakenly implies that all overseas Chinese are the same and has been used to perpetuate fears of a “Chinese threat“, under the control of the Chinese government.[3] An expert on the Chinese tianxia (“all under heaven”) concept, he was the first to suggest its application to the contemporary world as an American Tianxia.[4]

In an insightful and captivating lecture, famous academic Prof Wang Gungwu shares his findings and predictions on China and South-East Asia. 

A BRIGHT and promising future is in store for South-East Asia with global economic shifts to China and India, said internationally renowned historian and specialist on East Asian and Asean affairs Prof Wang Gungwu.

Prof Wang, chairman of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, made this bold prediction in a recent public lecture: “South-East Asia will become more central if the economic power moves from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific.”

“The centrality of South-East Asia, by being located between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, means that more and more countries will pay attention to this region. Its position will become very, very different indeed,” he said.

 Maritime trade will be the main force driving the shifts, added the respected academic in his 90-minute evening talk on “Great Powers in South-East Asia and the Fall and Rise of China” organised by the Institute of China Studies of Universiti Malaya and sponsored by Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd.

Among those in the audience were the Sultan of Perak Sultan Dr Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah, Malaysia-China Business Council chairman Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting, UM lecturers, alumni and his former students.

After taking the attentive audience through world history, Prof Wang said the great powers laying their hands off South-East Asia with decolonisation was a great help to China.

“It takes away the major neighbouring threat (of the West) from the coast,” said Prof Wang.


Passage to success: China has used the sea to transport goods cheaply and further, leading to a remarkable economic transformation. — AFP

Passage to success: China has used the sea to transport goods cheaply and further, leading to a remarkable economic transformation. — AFP

He said that the whole of Asia has to be economically transformed, with the rise of China and India’s recent economic emergence, coupled with the tremendous economic power of Japan.

“That means the centre of economic dominance is shifting from the Atlantic (which dominated the world for 200 to 300 years) to the Indo-Pacific. I stress on Indo-Pacific rather than Asia Pacific because I want to emphasise the maritime nature of a global open market economy.

“For China, its whole economic development depends on being able to at least kick the sea open for itself.”

Due to its centrality, South-East Asia is going to be important and strategic for everybody, not just China, he declared.

Hence, there is greater pressure on the 10 member states to make Asean really work.

“If the 10 can really work together, think as one and speak as one, it will benefit everyone,” he said.

He observed that while Asean is one of the most successful regional institutions of today, it is still very much a “talk shop” and “has a long way to go” as it lacks a single common purpose.

Asean, with 600 million people that account for 9% of the world’s population, has a combined GDP of about US$2.5 trillion (RM11 trillion) .

In his lecture, Prof Wang talked at length about the features of the Roman Empire, feudal empires, commercial empires and national empires, as well as the various factors that caused China’s downfall before its recent rise.

China’s failure to understand the international law formulated by the West and the importance of maritime power, as it faced the western colonial powers which sailed to Asia to conquer territories and expand their empires, had led to its downfall.

The Middle Kingdom under the Qing (Manchu) Emperor was dismembered by civil wars between warlords, the emergence of new political parties Kuomintang and Communist Party of China (CPC) and the rapid expansion of the Japanese empire.

Concentrating on fighting intruders on land in the 19th century, the Chinese had no naval power to fight the westerners, which resulted in the British taking over Hong Kong and five treaty ports.

“All the time, China was only devoting a small part of resources to defend its coast. It did not recognise the importance of the navy and that the global open market economy was really maritime economy, which was dominated by the maritime trade and defended by a powerful navy,” Prof Wang said.

While CPC leader Mao Zedong did a “fantastic job” in unifying China’s one billion people, he almost destroyed it by reducing the country to great poverty and disarray with the Great Leap Forward.

It was Deng Xiaoping who laid the foundation for the rise of China. When he came into power, he saw the importance of economic development. He opened up the coastal areas and “let the sea be the guide in the future economic development.”

Deng was instrumental in China’s participation in the international system, joining the United Nations and sending his best talents to learn diplomatic and maritime affairs to deal with the world.

China has since developed what the French, British and Japanese had succeeded in the past, using the sea to transport goods cheaply and further.

As a result, this has led to a remarkable economic transformation in China as seen today, Prof Wang said.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *