What is Asia? 亚是什么?

Today I will start by sharing a book review that I posted over the week-end.

Interesting book thinking about the concept of creating an Asian Union, starting with a dream of a “copycat” of the USA, and ending with something that is actually closer to the European Union less the union side (i.e. more on the economic and social integration, but without institutions such as the European Parliament), embedding Asian history, concepts, and motivation- but focused on economic issues.

Caveat: while we Europeans usually consider “Asia” as what lies beyond the Urals and south of Constantinople/Istanbul, but most often call “Middle East” (i.e. non-Asian) most of the countries up to Iran, within the context of the book “Asia” has to be considered as stretching from basically the Egypt to the Pacific Sea.

The interesting point is early on within the book, at it echoes the rationale of creating after WWII what was to become the EU: peace between countries that have been at war with each other for centuries- and start by increasing trade between Asian countries.

Across the book, many of the options discussed can be more easily understood if you forget the European “chessboard approach” and consider instead the “territorial expansion and balance” that is typical of Go/Weiqi.

Overall, the book is an interesting “What if” exercise that, while being less than 100 pages long, is more informative as an introductory work on the regional challenges for non-Asians than books lasting few hundred pages on Asia written through a non-Asian perspective.

As you can find many books in my library focused on European Union issues, it is also interesting to see how the author compares his proposal for an Asian Union with the European Union, and why he considers that the solution for “West Asia” (i.e. Israel and Palestine) isn’t two, but three states, at least for one generation or two, and why it is better to see an economic zone blending North Korea with North-East China, expanding then to other areas in the region, than try to reunite the two Koreas.

A last interesting discussion is about the role of Russia and Turkey as “bridges” between Europe and, respectively, the Middle East or Arab world, and Central Asia.

How does the author suggest to implement it all? Not as a single union, but as a series of “clusters” with stricter cooperation within a cluster, slightly more relaxed between clusters, and trade-based with non-Asian countries.

It is just 80 pages long, at times difficult to read due to the unusual syntax (but the same could be said about my unusual syntax), but thought-provoking and worth reading.

PS Incidentally: the name of the author might or might not be true, as it is also, by accident or by choice, the name of one of the officers who lead the Dazexiang revolt 🙂

The author’s name? Wu Guang. The book? “United States of Asia”.

As I wrote above, we Europeans usually call Western Asia “Middle East”- and consider it within our sphere of influence, except when… it is time to talk about Turkey’s membership- then, Istanbul becomes a town between Europe and Asia.

In happens in many other domains: what you define or identify is based on a selective access to data- obviously, only those supporting your ideas are deemed acceptable.

Personally, as we Europeans often proudly talk of Alexander and the Roman Empire, I would advise others to do what I did when I was a kid (14 or 15): have a look at the “Itinerarium Provinciarum Antonini Augusti” (I had to go through a “rare book” library section to access a book published in 1519 in Venice, I think, while nowadays you can read it on your ebook/Acrobat reader for free; looking 18 at 14 helped).

So, if we say and accept that the origins of Europe are within the Greek and Roman tradition… we have to extend a little bit our concept of “Europe”.

Anyway, “Egypt to the Pacific Ocean” is quite a large region, and there are few (current, past, structural) trouble spots- so, I will keep the focus just on one of the few cases discussed by the author- North Korea, and the inclusion of Russia and Turkey within the Asian community.

Why this post now? Because Asia and Pacific will be at the center of attention this week: first, the APEC, then, the ASEAN, and, finally, the G20 Down Under.

Have just a look at few relevant news links that I shared this morning on @robertolofaro (while I read few more articles, e.g. on the tour de force that President Obama will do in the region this week):
“#APEC – #China #role within the #Pacific #region http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/11/09/actualidad/1415538995_794733.html #details http://www.faz.net/aktuell/wirtschaft/konjunktur/apec-gipfel-china-redet-wachstum-klein-13256968.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2 #diplomacy

#Iran – in #Oman for the next round of #nuclear #deal #meetings http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2014/11/09/actualidad/1415545047_675030.html #details http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2607156 #security #diplomacy”

There is a common thread across the book, a thread that, as I wrote within the review, reminded me of some situations within the game of Go/Weiqi (if you do not know it… have a look on Wikipedia), while for its “forma mentis” an old report from RAND is useful.

There was also a short book/research that I read few years ago, specifically focused on how Go and Chess differ and their impact on decision making, policy setting, and strategy, but last time I checked it was out of print.

Maybe I will eventually post something about Mahjongg and Weiqi, and add a bibliography (maybe GoogleBooks will scan it).

Back to the book.

The author often refers to creating a balance between two parties with conflicting interests, by adding a third party.

If you think in those terms, actually the “MAD” (Mutually Assured Destruction) of the Cold War was such a case: USA, USSR and… the atom bomb as the third party (see more on Campbell “Destroying the village: Eisenhower and thermonuclear war”).

The title of the book could actually be “Asia to the Asians”, and the solution proposed for Korea is somewhat unusual but understandable, under those conditions.

As re-uniting North and South Korea could be difficult, the author instead considers a two-stepped approach, starting with a free economic zone between China and North Korea, to develop both North Korea and the North East of China, to eventually attract investments also from South Korea and maybe Japan (more or less what was discussed in a couple of previous posts: Special Economic Zones 經濟特區 and 非洲 Africa).

And what about the “United States of Asia” of the title? It starts with invoking something similar to the US of America, extends to something closer to a European Union focused only on the economy and freedom of circulation, but in the end the solution proposed is to create homogeneous “clusters”

Again, something that reminds Go/Weiqi. My relationship with the game? Well, read more books than many players do, basically re-learning it once every decade, but… I never played against people, only against computers; nonetheless, when I attended by chance a Go workshop in Berlin, I was able to guess correctly most of the cases 🙂

Another interesting element discussed within the book is the integration of both Turkey and Russia within Asia, as “bridges” between Europe and Asia proper.

The author goes as far as “evolving” his own ideas on how North Korea could create a “cluster” with China and, eventually, Russia, again based on mutual development, and how Siberia (last time I checked, with 50,000 Russians and… 5 million Chinese inhabitants) could actually become an engine for regional development, attracting investment also from Japan and South Korea, while the land-locked Central Asian countries could turn into something more than mere providers of raw materials and oil.

News are, again, helpful, as today newspapers discussed the agreements reached between China and Russia.

Interestingly, most Western European newspapers focused just on gas and energy- ignoring other elements that are instead closer to what the author wrote, i.e. integration not just through the economy, but through shared infrastructure.

The news: “#China – #Russia will double the #gas #supply http://www.faz.net/aktuell/wirtschaft/wirtschaftspolitik/neuer-gas-liefer-vertrag-von-russland-und-china-13256821.html #negotiations #details http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2607226 in #RMB http://www.kommersant.ru/doc/2607177 ? #energy #diplomacy”

Yes, the “RMB” stands for the Chinese currency- as it is discussed as a potential settlement currency between Russia and China (when I wrote “infrastructure”, I wasn’t thinking just to nuts and bolts- also social, economic, and other forms of shared “operational” arrangements are, in my twisted organizational change view, part of what should be considered infrastructure).

As I jokingly wrote years ago, when I created a series of “press releases” for a fictional “United Hamster Front” working hand-in-hand with the UN to help Member States jointly manage “global commons” (from undersea communication cables to “space debris removal”), and re-iterated within the “Nine islands 九州” post: diplomacy beyond the traditional boundaries.

We are living interesting times, despite what naysayers and those making a living by predicting doom are writing, and even major crises such as global warming can actually generate the “push” to overcome our short-termism and bickering about past quarrels.

Any change includes some risks- but sitting still on the brink of a cliff is never going to remove the cliff- and, eventually, it will erode and ensure that we fall…

For the time being… have a nice week!

PS Please read the introduction to understand how to use this website 🙂

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