NEW GLOBAL REALITIES AND CHALLENGES TO THE REGION: THE INSTITUTE OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN STUDIES SINGAPORE, 8 DECEMBER, 1992
We are now living in a new world. The order -- the political and the economic -- which held together the international community since the Second War has disintegrated. To paraphrase W. B. Yeats, things have fallen apart, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. In the light of these new realities, a shift in our thinking is imperative.
The success of this region is built upon the peace and stability our founding fathers created with great foresight and ingenuity. Thus we have been able to benefit from global economic expansion under the GATT-Bretton Woods system despite its limitations. For four decades during the Cold War our leaders in the region had to summon their best wisdom and courage to resist the attractions to partake in superpower rivalry. We astutely steered clear of the costly ideological struggle which stagnated if not impoverished many developing countries.
But the world has changed. If there is anything unmistakable in the confusing flux of events in recent history, it is the primacy of economic factors in forcing change in global power configurations. The grinding nature of the Cold War left the First World exhausted and banished the Second into history. With it, the military rivalry on a world scale and the threat of the Armageddon scenario, has come to an end, at least temporarily. The shift in the nature of the global contest for dominance, from that of military might to one of economic supremacy, will become even more pronounced as we approach the new century.
But the world economic order is in volatile disarray. Bretton Woods, which provided some measure of stability in the international monetary system, is defunct. GATT, which, for all its limitations, provided a forum for moving towards greater deregulation, more open, competitive trade, seems set to wither.
What sort of economic-centred order will emerge out of this chaos, we have yet to know with certainty. However, the progress towards greater symmetry in the economic size of major nations has brought with it a greater sharing of economic leadership. Such evolution suggests that any attempt to recreate a system of a single hegemon would not be viable. It is now apparent that to maintain stability, the future international economic arrangement in trade and monetary matters will require an effective process for sharing and coordinating the responsibilities of economic leadership.
But if there is anything that we can learn from the prolonged and protracted negotiations for the GATT Uruguay Round is that the preeminent nations on both sides of the Atlantic no longer consider the order, rules and values which bind the world together crucial to their interests. The sudden and ephemeral frenzy of pronouncements on the New World Order is more of an exercise to re-live the fading dream of aglorious hegemonic era than an attempt to create a better world.
We in this region must not come under the delusion that our vital interests will be duly protected should the major economic powers agree to construct a new global order. Unfortunately, despite being surrounded by these new and urgent challenges, we could feel the pervasiveness of complacency in Asean. While there is no immediate source of major conflicts that could destabilize the region, though there are points of tension, and while the economy is performing well to the envy of others, these are not reasons for complacency or contentedness. The culture of contentment, to borrow the expression of Galbraith, could be our greatest enemy. For it is that culture that anaesthetized the American establishment into neglecting its economic fundamentals, and more so the then Soviet leaders into ignoring clear signs of decay until the empire crumbled under the weight of internal contradictions.
If GATT is doomed to die, as prophesied by some, the consequences to the dragons and others in Asean whose fortunates are so much linked to export will be calamitous, unless we take radical measures. The path open to us is to deepen regional integration to its fullest possibility and move as a group to realize the enormous economic potential of South-South cooperation. It is only through feebleness of will or slavish adoration of the West that we could fail in our endeavour.
The political success of Asean is indeed laudable. But it seems to be unable to cope with the changing scenario fast enough. In a new international scene dominated by economics, the grouping is in danger of losing its relevance unless it pursues aggressively an economic agenda. In this regard, I view the fifteen year time-frame to realize AFTA unrealistically long. The Asean leadership must not allow short-term and narrow sectional interests to slow down the dismantling of economic barriers. It is in the common interest that we ensure our economies be more integrated, and promote intra-Asean trade and cross border investments. Impeding the process will only serve the minority whose interests are being threatened by new competitions.
For us, Asean should emerge as a cohesive force within the emerging East Asian regional order. In this context, the expansion of the Asean Six into the Asean Ten would enable the grouping, first, to effectively deal with efforts to integrate the less developed areas in the region into the mainstream of regional prosperity and, second, to have effective dialogues with countries such as Japan, China, South Korea and others.
The new realities demand that we in Asean think regionally in order to survive globally. Asean must come to grips with the new scenario. We must therefore, organize ourselves to demonstrate and argue against the fallacy of protectionism and trade bloc formation. But beyond making our collective voice heard clearly on the world stage, our survival depends upon our ability to act decisively and take pro-active measures. While each country must enhance its competitive advantage, it would be futile for any one of us to face the world heroically alone.
Nevertheless, while we aggressively pursue the agenda of economic integration and cooperation, we must not lose sight of the non-economic factors that are no less fundamental in its effect on our region. Unless we meant cooperation only to reap short-term gain, the question of sustainability must be central in our enterprise. Cross border investment must not become the excuse to relocate sweatshops or environmentally harmful industries to the lesser developed neighbours. The integration of Indochina into the mainstream of the region's prosperity will facilitate greater sharing of regional wealth. It is an affront to our sense of justice and Asian values to ignore the plight of our poorer neighbours.
East Asia, under its own internal logic, has emerged as an integrated and powerful regional economic entity. As the older industrial powers withdraw into blocs and groupings in the wake of competitions from younger and more vigorous industrial nations, the integration in this region will gain speed. We must do our best to accelerate the process without in any way denying access from other regions. This however, must not preclude strategic alliances with other developing regions. Our regionalism is without protectionism.
The preeminence of Japan in East Asia has given rise to fear that the East Asia Economic Caucus will be a Japan-dominated grouping. To the older generations, Japanese dominance always evokes the grim memory of the brutal and bloody Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere. The fear is further compounded by the widespread perception of Japanese business as motivated purely by greed and devoid of social concern and respect for ethical ideals. Of course, we who want to live for the future need to learn from the past, but we must not be haunted by it. We must have the new sense of realism to take full advantage of the regional environment. In any case, the rise of the four dragons, the dynamism of Asean economies, and the re-awakening of China, should convince us of the improbability of the emergence of a single economic hegemon within our region.
What we are anxious to see, however, is for Japan to exercise leadership commensurate with its economic stature. In this regard, unfortunately, the Japanese has repeatedly disappointed us. Japan's ambivalent attitude towards the EAEC is a case in point. But if the democratic tradition has taken root in that country, its leadership will be under increasing pressure to exercise firmness and uphold principled and honorable stands. We notice the growing frustration of the younger generation of the leadership, exemplified by Shintaro Ishihara in his immensely popular book, "The Japan that Can Say No." For Japan to take its place in the global community, it must neither be subservient nor throw its weight around like a superpower.
In the final analysis the progress of integration in East Asia will be beyond economics. The pursuit of progress and material well-being does not require us to abandon the positive aspects of our traditions. Neither must we tenuously hold on to everything from the past, particularly those unjust, wicked and retrogressive feudalistic practices.
As our societies grow more prosperous, it is inevitable that there will be increasing demands for greater openness and participation in societal and political processes. In the context of our plural and multicultural societies, we therefore have to learn to exercise greater tolerance in the face of diversity of opinions and conflicting views. We cherish universal human rights and democratic values which must be integrated with moral ideals and Asian culture. What we cannot tolerate, however, are the evils attendant upon prosperity -- greed, rapaciousness, corruption and moral decadence. Thus we need to inculcate moral ideals, ethical practices, transparency, accountability, environmental consciousness and social responsibility throughout the entire system of government, business and social institutions. I believe we can progress and develop without being wicked or destructive to the environment.
The pervasiveness of technology in our lives requires us to re-assert with conviction the human values which are universal and perennial. We must not lose our souls in the quest for what is material. Thus the promotion of intellectual and cultural flowering is also vital to keep our societies sane and humane. We are entering the age of robotics, but we will never succeed as nations of robots.
In coping with the new global realities we should harbour no illusions about the real challenges, difficulties and sacrifices that will be necessary to secure the future of our societies. Yet, recent events instruct us forcefully that peace and stability is a fragile treasure which we must all jealously cherish. In order to ensure and sustain regional harmony, we must rise above pettiness in relations between nations. Equality, mutual respect and good neighbourliness should be a value that cements us together into a community. If I can summarize our quest: It is towards an East Asian society, dynamic yet peaceful, prosperous yet caring, harmonious yet robust, free yet disciplined, liberal and tolerant yet fully moral and ethical.