The Giants of Asia

Battle of Ideas festival 2012, Sunday 21 October, Barbican, London


With their huge populations and buoyant growth rates, China and India are two of the economic and technological powerhouses of the twenty-first century. And though many seem to forget it after the Lost Decade, Japan is the third largest economy in the world, the second largest developed economy and the world’s largest creditor nation. Its GDP per capita growth in the past 10 years still outpaced Europe and the United States. Nevertheless, all three countries have giant problems, too. China’s property and banking sectors raise some worrying questions. In Japan, Toyota is back, but to turn Sony round will require a miracle. In India, scandals around licences for 2G telephone networks, and the sale of coal assets, have reduced the state to impotence – while in the countryside, despite improvements, child malnutrition continues. Nor do the three giants get on. They dispute borders (China-India), as well as maritime boundaries and islands (China-Japan). Moreover, to its two rivals, China looks too friendly towards countries like Pakistan and North Korea.

For America, China saves too much, consumes too little, steals US innovations, engages in cyber-war, runs its currency too cheap, hoards rare earth metals, and tramples on human rights. For many environmentalists, the industrialisation and motorisation of China and India is a step too far for a fragile planet. Meanwhile Japan still takes flak for its resistance to inward investment, immigration, women’s rights and political reform. Despite the opportunities it sees in Asia, the West can seem fundamentally disdainful of the giants there.

The West perhaps underestimates China’s growing consumer class, and China’s powers of innovation. But can the country’s leader-in-waiting, Xi Jinping, control property and the banks enough to prevent social and economic turmoil – turmoil that Wen Jiabao, his forerunner, warned could be as great as that of the Cultural Revolution? Can Japan’s economy, now effectively nuclear-free, really avoid a third ‘lost decade’ of zombie banks and ineffectual governments? David Cameron has high hopes for UK plc in India. But can India’s own ineffectual government restore growth – or will the country’s general election, due by 2014, lay bare the country’s wasted years for all to see? Will the giants of Asia stumble in the face of the US rebound? And when might Asian production finally and decisively shift to low-cost Indonesia, Bangladesh and Vietnam?

Professor Barry Buzan

emeritus professor, LSE; author, The United States and the Great Powers: world politics in the twenty-first century

James Woudhuysen
visiting professor, London South Bank University

Dr Linda Yueh
fellow in economics, St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford; adjunct professor of economics, London Business School; economics editor, Bloomberg TV

Phil Mullan

economist and business manager; author, Creative Destruction: How to start an economic renaissance