The Asian century | Sunday Observer

The Asian century

20 August, 2023

There is hardly any doubt that Asia will be the economic powerhouse of the future. we are not envisioning about 100 years from now, but rather around 10 to 20 years.

Asia already has three regional superpowers – Japan, China and India, which will lead the global economy in the not too distant future. In fact, China is likely to become the world’s leading economy in a matter of years, overtaking the United States and the European Union (EU). India is not far behind.

Apart from projecting their economic prowess, all three countries are also powerful in military terms, though Japan is somewhat hamstrung by its Pacifist Constitution under which its Armed Forces have to be called Self Defence Forces (SDF).

Their upward trajectory is a lesson for other countries in Asia, Africa and South America. Whether we like it or not, there will be a new world order soon. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) alliance, which will be holding an in-person Summit this week in Johannesburg, South Africa following the virtual meetings they held during the pandemic has emerged as an alternative to the Western political blocs, if not the military ones.

But the bigger news coming from South Africa is that more than 60 other nations are trying to join the BRICS either as full-time or observer members. There is also a suggestion that BRICS could float a common currency, modeled in part after the euro used in the EU.

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which Sri Lanka intends to join soon, is another emerging trading bloc, with Member Nations hailing mostly from Asia, including China and Japan.

Since the RCEP already includes all ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries, it might evolve into a free trade and travel zone just like the EU.

The QUAD military alliance too has two Asian members – Japan and India. Moreover, many nations including Sri Lanka are part of the China-led Global Development Initiative (GDI), formerly the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The Western world has an alternative program called the Blue Dot Initiative (BDI), which too has infrastructure development in developing countries in the Global South as its main goal.

But one undisputed fact emerges from all these developments – that Asia will be the epicentre of the world within the next few decades, if not years. Thus it pays to be in sync with the synergies in the Asian continent.

It is in this context that President Ranil Wickremesinghe recently suggested at a function at Anula Vidyalaya, Nugegoda, that schoolchildren should learn Asian languages including Chinese and Hindi. It is indeed a timely proposal, given the prominence of China and India in the world political and economic order.

Although they have a combined population exceeding two billion, there will be plenty of opportunities for citizens of other countries as well to work for Chinese and Indian companies. A working knowledge of their main languages will be indispensable in such a scenario.

Apart from Chinese and Hindi, education authorities should add other Asian languages including Japanese, Korean and Arabic to the school curriculum from the early grades. Japan is opening up job opportunities (and possibly even migration) for thousands of Sri Lankans, while Korea is expanding their job program for Sri Lankans. There is already a huge demand for Korean language courses among youth who desire jobs in Korea.

Saudi Arabia has embarked on a giant development and diversification program under its Vision 2030 plan that includes The Line, a 170 Km- long linear city in the Neom region, Red Sea Development (a regenerative tourism destination, powered by 100 percent renewable energy, covering an archipelago of more than 90 untouched islands, dormant volcanoes, mountains and other natural treasures) and the all-new airlines Riyadh Air and Neom Air due to start flying in 2025.

Together, these projects will create more than one million jobs, with at least half of that going to expatriates from Asian countries. Fluency in Arabic will definitely be an advantage in this regard. Besides, it is widely spoken all over the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region, opening up further opportunities.

One must also keep an eye on emerging countries such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines for job opportunities.

This does not mean that children should be veered away from European languages such as French, German and Spanish. But the stark reality is that these “Old World” languages might have to play second fiddle to Asian languages in time to come. Moreover, those who are aghast at the prospect of brain drain as a result of job openings in Asia should seek solace in the fact that not all jobs will require physical relocation to another country. In today’s connected world, “digital nomads” can work from anywhere in the world, earning salaries in US Dollars. A new world order is definitely on the way and our future generation must be ready to embrace it.