John Gong: An Asia of the Asians, by the Asians, for the Asians

  • Dr. John Gong, Professor at the University of International Business and Economics, China Forum Expert.

    This is the time for a simple and just vision, long overdue but which has still taken decades. In his famous speech at the 1955 Bandung conference attended by representatives from 29 newly independent Asian and African countries, then Indonesian president Sukarno said:

    “It is a new departure in the history of the world that leaders of Asian and African peoples can meet together in their own countries to discuss and deliberate upon matters of common concern. Only a few decades ago it was frequently necessary to travel to other countries and even other continents before the spokesmen of our peoples could confer.”

    That statement marked the beginning of a long journey that led to today’s vision of an Asia of Asians, by Asians and for Asians. With 60 per cent of the world’s population, Asia is the world’s largest continental economy by nominal gross domestic product and purchasing power parity – there is no reason to think of Asia other than by the “Asia by Asians” vision, or the visions put forth at the Think Asia Forum held last week in Singapore.

    At the fourth Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in 2014, China’s President Xi Jinping said that “it is for the people of Asia to run the affairs of Asia”. At the time, a wave of propaganda attack from the West labelled it China’s version of the Monroe Doctrine.


    Next year will be the 200th anniversary of US president James Monroe’s 1823 speech to Congress in which he warned European powers not to interfere in the affairs of the Western hemisphere. It is clear the Monroe Doctrine was rooted in a fight among world powers at the time over colonial territories in the Western hemisphere.

    Colonialism, as represented by its history of sugar plantations, coffee plantations, slave trade and the genocide of the indigenous peoples of North America, is the very reason Sukarno organised the Bandung conference.

    During the colonial era, Asia, barring very few countries such as Thailand, fell victim to colonisation. To equate the “Asia by Asians” vision to the Monroe Doctrine is the ultimate insult to our desire to determine our fate.

    Unlike the Monroe Doctrine, which emanates from the capital of a single country, “Asia by Asians” is a collective statement from Asian peoples, representing a diversity of histories, cultures, religious beliefs, and political and social systems. It is a multilateral initiative, not serving the national interest of one country, but the common interest of all Asian countries.


    Unlike the Monroe Doctrine, our vision is not set against the backdrop of the rise of a single superpower, but is about the rise of the entire region, including the rise of China, Japan and South Korea, the rise of India and Pakistan, the rise of the Gulf states, the rise of the Indochina region, and the rise of the entire Southeast Asia.

    Unlike the Monroe Doctrine, which is inherently about hegemonic ambitions and a geopolitical agenda, our vision promotes peace, security and economic prosperity among all peoples in Asia. We have no interest in seeking a sphere of influence in other countries; we merely want to live peacefully and happily with each other as neighbours.

    In 1996, Samuel Huntington coined the term, the “Great Divergence”, later popularised by Kenneth Pomeranz, which inspired an audacious view of the world’s economic history and challenged the Eurocentric orthodoxy. It says that as late as 1800, China’s Yangzi delta region and other parts of Asia including Mughal India, Tokugawa Japan and the Ottoman Empire were as developed as Britain and Holland, the two richest parts of Europe.

    Europe and Asia diverged, however, as Europe overcame premodern growth constraints to pull ahead, with the industrial revolution in Britain as its climax, while Asia stagnated and fell behind.

    Today, the great divergence is reversing into what I call the “Great Convergence”. The world’s economic epicentre is shifting back to Asia. From the robotised factories in China’s coastal cities to the desert oilfields in Saudi Arabia, from the artificial intelligence research labs in Japan and South Korea to the medical centres in Singapore, from the temperate grasslands in the Eurasian heartland to the rice paddies in Thailand and Philippines, Asia is coming back. It is time to Think Asia.

    (This article was originally published on South China Morning Post on Nov.11, 2022.)

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