Left to right) Thailand’s Prayut Chan-O-Cha, Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh, US President Joe Biden, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen and Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo pose for pictures during the ASEAN-US summit as part of the 40th and 41st Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summits in Phnom Penh on Nov. 12, 2022. (AFP/Tang Chhin Sothy)
Europe, once a theatre of internecine wars, now has a robust European Union shaping the common destiny of its people. Although Europe is only a subcontinent of Asia as Arnold Toynbee had observed and as is visible to anyone looking at a map, we still not have a common Asian platform for economic and political cooperation.
It is high time Asia had its well mandated regional organization to secure a common Asian future, ending the costly hostilities and political egos. We can have the Asian Union even when the bilateral hostilities, unique to Asia, refuse to go away completely.
Asia is the only continent where there are live hostilities today: India-Pakistan and South-North Koreas; the conflicts in a few West Asia countries are, however, not openly bilateral. The China-Japan rift is more emotional than anything and could be more readily surmounted through sensible diplomatic endeavors.
The congenital rivalry within the two sets of twin sisters – India-Pakistan and South-North Koreas – may take more time to resolve, but would definitely be resolved in mutual interest once the common gains are in view and a once matured, forward looking political leadership is there to steer the respective countries. A pan Asian Union would make peace and economic progress in the region real.
Look at the history of Europe. Countries have been forming and reforming there for the greater part of its history. Violence was a daily reality in most of the prosperous countries of today. Factional disputes within its imported religion of Christianity – an Asian religion – was good enough for countries of Europe to go to war for a good part of its latter history. And to engender violence within its societies too.
Internal conflicts and violence within the European boarders drastically reduced with the launch of imperialist onslaughts. They shifted the theatres of war and violence to the rest of the world, turning most of Asia into its victim. Europe changed this rule only with the first and second pan
European wars, wrongly called world wars, and the second big war devastated the warring imperial countries militarily and economically, to our good fortune, resulting in their departure from the countries they had occupied.
If the countries of Europe whose history is rightly be termed savage, could shed their hostility, end wars and eventually give up a large part of their respective national sovereignty to create the powerful EU, cant the countries of Asia unite in our common interest. Incidentally, it is worth noting that the EU was created in 1993, marking 500 years of Colombus’ invasion of what was later called America and the subsequent occupation of the continent. The treaty signing was not held in 1992, the exact year of five centuries, to provide time for the political leaders and diplomats to engage in the Earth Summit process of that year.
There are greater reasons for Asia to unite than Europe had. To overcome the entrenched poverty, to build our economies based on our vast resources, to realize the potential of the immense human talent available, to protect the natural environment and more importantly to keep Asia peaceful and free of external interference.
A collective Asian position on economic issues in the negotiations with the West can end the skewed trade relations and mark an end to the post-colonial exploitation.
Asia is home to the ancient civilizations of the Arabs, India, China and Persia; it produced all the religions practiced on earth as well as Confucianism. The West has nothing even remotely comparable to the tremendous cultural, ethnic and linguistic diversity of Asia. It has not colonized countries – with the aberration of Japan, but has been victim of all the predatory imperialists of Europe and suffered massive theft of its resources.
Asia has survived the imperial onslaught, bounced back and chartered its development course that is already yielding remarkable results. And it is time to take it forward by forging political and economic alliance across the region.
Asia already has two good precedents to build upon: ASEAN in the east and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) in the west. Both these bodies are fairly concrete groupings and have yielded valuable lessons to their respective members in regional collectivity. The acronyms ASEAN and GCC appear on the daily conversations of the peoples of the respective regions.
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) had a modest start and continues to remain weak. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is emerging as a strong regional body with its expanded membership that includes Russia, and deepening its agenda progressively.
All these experiences can be creatively applied to establish a pan Asian body of 48 countries for political and economic cooperation.
One reason why Africa has no wars or self-defeating hostility between countries is, in great measure, the influence of the African Union. When Asia attains that level of maturity the world shall be a better place. The threat of NATO in the region can be avoided and the incongruous Quad can be done away with. Countries can trade among them in a number of currencies of the region and people can travel without visas.
Our democracies are at different stages of development; however, nearly all are on the trajectory toward maturity. The Asian Union can accelerate the process of deepening democracy across the region as the economic and social dividends of democracy would then become more obvious.
Japan may not be initially enthusiastic about the Asian Union due to its dependence on the US on foreign policy, but once convinced that the US is actually a dispensable burden and that the Chinese threat is largely imaginary they would want to join too.
The statute of the new union could be designed in a way that the reach of its mandate and the coverage of subjects could be incremental, and allowing room for accommodating the differences across countries. Europe’s experience vividly tells us that the neighboring country’s progress and one’s own is inextricably linked, which should be a compelling reason to shed hostility and envy toward the neighbors.
The government leaders, given to conventional thinking, may take a long time to address the goal of an Asian union. It would be the role of the civil society, political movements and the progressive media to take this up on their agenda and build a people’s movement to create the Asian Union.
The writer is an international environmental policy specialist and a United Nations environmental negotiator
S Faizi Trivandrum,
EDITOR IN CHIEF
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