Asia rising, Asia falling?
July-September 2017
By: Andrew Phelan

  The End of the Asian Century: War, Stagnation and the Risks to the World's Most Dynamic Region
By Michael R. Austin                        
(Yale University Press, 2017, 304 pp)

Reviewed by
Andrew Phelan

Wait a minute. It’s supposed to be Asia’s century – and now you’re telling me it’s over? Isn’t “the West,” caving in to a groundswell of populism, in terminal decline? What about Australia’s 2014 white paper on its future in the Asian century? Where is that paper now? Figuratively, gathering dust on a departmental shelf? I recently pulled that paper off the shelf and reviewed its almost 300 pages. It is comprehensive, and it takes Asia’s rise, especially China’s, as a given and projects it has some way to go yet.

So where is Michael R Auslin, the former Yale professor and present American Enterprise Institute scholar, coming from? Surely this book’s title is a signal in the noise of today’s media designed to grab your attention and sell a book? Or perhaps it’s a reassuring pat on the back for those within the Washington beltway: “Don’t worry, it’s really not all over for Pax Americana.” So, who’s got it right?

This book is a timely stock take and a risk assessment tool for the dynamic state of play in our region. It’s an ambitious project given the vastness and diversity of a region where at least 60 percent of the world’s population lives. Oh, and by the way, let’s make sure we have the nomenclature right. Just when everyone was getting nice and comfortable with the “Asia-Pacific,” Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the United States Pacific Command, uses the term “Indo-Asia Pacific,” which, while accurate, is a bit of a mouthful. So let’s settle on the “Indo-Pacific.” This does the narrative far greater justice because it brings India and the East Indian Ocean into frame, and it better serves the cultural legacy of India in Indochina, as well as Indonesia. It also makes sense for Australia and Indonesia, which both have vast coastlines in the Indian Ocean.

Auslin has peered through what Lawrence Summers, the former US Treasury secretary, called “Asiaphoria” – the idea that the sun has somehow shifted hemispheres to shine over Asia’s inexorable rise. If that were the case, the sun’s rays would struggle to penetrate the density of particulate matter shrouding megacities such as Chongqing and New Delhi.

Please login to leave a comment