Culture > Books

Asian century

Books | China and Japan are now the key economic players

Issue: "Stealth Bible," March 29, 1997

It has been often said that Asia will become the new center of global events. That seems likely as China's move towards freer markets unleashes the entrepreneurial and intellectual talents of over a billion people--who, however, remain under totalitarianism. Attempting to glean what that might mean for the rest of us is John Naisbitt, noted "futurist," in Megatrends Asia.

Some of Mr. Naisbitt's work has been superficial, but his new book highlights several important international changes: Nation-states matter less; traditions are yielding to new opportunities; government dictates are being buried by an expanding marketplace; agricultural and labor-intensive sectors are being replaced by urban and high-technology processes; and women are playing a far greater economic role.

The growth of Asia has obvious security implications, something addressed by the Asian Security Handbook. The book's strength is that it ranges widely through the region, exploring the potential security issues involving all of the major and many of the minor players. The volume disappoints, however, in its failure to reconsider the conventional wisdom that the United States cannot reduce its military role, despite the end of the Cold War.

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America's most important Asian ally remains Japan; the most important aspect of that relationship remains economic. How the two countries' economic policies meshed during the 1980s is the subject of U.S.-Japan Macroeconomic Relations. Admittedly a rather dry read, the book nevertheless helps explain the intricacies of investment and trade between the world's two largest economies.

Asia's destiny will be shaped not only by China and Japan, the region's most populous and prosperous countries, respectively, but by Russia, which has more territory in Asia than in Europe. Although Moscow's attention has been diverted from the Pacific by manifold crises elsewhere, some day its gaze is likely to again turn east.

What will happen then is hard to predict. But we still should feel blessed at the collapse of the old Soviet Union. Ariel Cohen's Russian Imperialism fills an important niche. No serious person today doubts that the Soviet Union was evil. Mr. Cohen shows how it was an empire. Thus, Ronald Reagan was right: The USSR was an "evil empire."

Someone who had to deal with the problem of earlier imploding empires was Herbert Hoover. President Hoover was an accomplished statesman before being elected president; in his third volume of The Life of Herbert Hoover, George Nash looks at his masterful handling of the problem of famine and relief in Europe at the time of World War I.


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