Even in the 21st century we still tend to think of the majority of Asian countries as poorer countries – most take it for granted that western economies and cultures are far more developed than their eastern counterparts. In visiting Asian countries, we kind of prepare ourselves for a world without the creature comforts we know so well.
Things are about to change. In fact, things are changing for some time as the Asian economy gathers strength and is beginning to parallel western cultures.
The Asian Century
The 19th century was definitely the century of empire – and specifically the most powerful and wealthy empire was Britain. The last century saw the rise and domination of the USA both economically and in an economic sense. But as pundits look towards changes for the 21st century there is quite a major change forecast. Asia is expected to speed ahead of its western rivals and present the largest economy across the globe.
According to a study by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 2011, Asia could well be enjoying the same living standards as those enjoyed by Europeans by the middle of this century. There have been more independent studies as well. And this is nothing new. Economists and political scientists have been considering this new age since the late 20th century. They have even given it a name: The Asian Century.
Higher standard of living in Asian cities
The growth of cities in the modern world is usually a reflection of wealth, prosperity and high living standards. Statistics now show that Asian countries are quickly catching up with – and sometimes surpassing demographic records set in the west. It is perhaps a little surprising that of the 30 largest cities in the world, 21 are based in Asia according to United Nations data (UN). It’s also predicted that by 2020, the continent will be the home of 50% of the worlds middle classes. This is quite a change from the traditional view of Asia as an underdeveloped economy trading only in agricultural products.
Enhanced economic growth
It is over the last four decades that the Asian economic performance has truly accelerated in comparison with the rest of the world. By the turn of the century it was clear that the excellent performance of the Asian economy could not only be sustained but that it had a force and magnitude that could alter the distribution of power on the planet.
It has been suggested that the foundations for the changes involves more than financial elements and more to do with the fact that Asian countries have taken on different factors into their laws and cultures. These elements include free-market economics; an investment in modern science and technology; a culture of peace and a focus on law and education.
Continued productivity growth
The population of Asia is expected to rise significantly over the next 50 years (as populations in Europe and the USA decline) and contrary to normal expectations in these circumstances it is expected that the standard of living will also get better for Asian residents. This prognosis is down to the continued productivity growth in Asia. The ADB has suggested that “By nearly doubling its share of global gross product to 52% by 2050, Asia could regain the dominant economic position it held some 300 years ago before the industrial revolution”
Smaller countries making an impact
The Financial Times researchers found that it is highly likely that Asian economies, as defined by the United Nations conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) will be larger than the rest of the world combined by next year. To give an idea of growth in this century alone, Asia’s global output has increased by 26% since the turn of the millennium (from 14% to 38%).
And it’s not just the larger countries (such as China and India) which are leading the way. Smaller countries like Indonesia are thriving. If predictions are correct, in 2020 it will be the 7th largest economy in the world and by 2023 it will have overtaken Russia to take 6th place.
Vietnam is one of Asia’s fastest growing economies in a ranking of economies since 2000. The Philippines now has a larger economy than the Netherlands and Belgium. Bangladesh has overtaken 13 countries in the last 20 years. Japan and South Korea both show extra-ordinary economic growth.
Before the rise of the west it was Asia which had the most powerful economies. As we travel further into the 21st century it seems Asia will once again regain its status on the world stage.
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