Travis Kupp, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the sustainability of Asia’s economic growth in his second post for our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
What goes up must come down, or so they say. Asian economies have expanded over the last half-century, especially in the South and East, positioning the continent as the modern leader of global economic growth. Much of the rest of the continent has an imminent opportunity to benefit from this success in exchange for certain concessions. Regardless, the region must now discover how to make this position sustainable in two senses: maintaining its trajectory while weathering societal and political change and addressing the impacts of increased consumption on the environment. Contrary to popular belief, there exists no technological silver bullet to solve for this conundrum.
China is the posterchild of Asia’s economic potential. Since opening up to the world in the 1970s, its growing production and trade has lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty leading to a massive increase in standard of living and therefore, critically, consumption. India is on a similar course. In both countries, the rise in disposable income for these many millions has created an extremely attractive market for goods and services along with a favorable financial climate for entrepreneurship. A wealthier and better educated populace has led naturally to a rise in more skilled labor and associated jobs. Southeast Asia is set to reap the benefits of this shift as demand for its low-end manufacturing increases.
Asia’s growth has led to regional integration and a vast realignment of international economic alliances. If geo-economics is in fact war by other means, then China is rapidly becoming one of the most battle-hardened nations on earth. The state is simultaneously flexing its influence through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), so called “trade wars,” and other significant foreign investments while learning from its mistakes in each area. The BRI may project the benefits of East Asia’s growth more intensely into the Central and Western Asian nations. Then again, it could also entangle China in far-flung conflicts to protect its investments if it does not carefully manage its relationships, especially with its neighbor India.
The central importance of China to Asia’s economic hopes presents a major systemic risk. The rest of Asia, and much of the world, has become to varying degrees vulnerable to abrupt changes in the nation. Over the next decade, for instance, China needs to find a solution to its population’s declining birth rate and increased life expectancy. A more favorable policy toward immigrants could help mitigate this looming crisis but may require or introduce societal liberalization that could be politically destabilizing. Sudden regime change, however triggered, would create a significant hurdle to sustained economic growth across the region.
The deeper existential risk lies in the impact of growth on the environment. While modern technologies have made significant strides toward lessening the ills of industry, they are unlikely to keep pace with the increasing demand for goods. Environmental concerns only influence consumption patterns in wealthy nations to the extent that they are economically viable to the consumer and do not compromise standards of living. The question then becomes whether the ruling parties of Asian nation states are prepared to sacrifice their economic gains in the name of environmental stewardship. The broad multilateral cooperation required to effectively mitigate climate change and environmental degradation makes it is possible, and dangerously plausible, that continued development may ultimately win out.
Asian economic leadership has an uncertain future, but the outlook is not without hope. Even if the Chinese engine of Asia’s economic miracle stalls and internal and external political realignment ensues, it is possible that this could usher in a wave of more sustainable growth, in both senses of the word. New policies, rather than technologies, to address shifting demographics and a changing global climate are likely to be the key deciding factors of what future unfolds. Asia’s economy may have room to grow yet.
Tyler Mongan, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects change drivers that facilitate the Great Game in his second post for our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
It is estimated that the Arctic could experience ice-free summers as early as 2050.However, the changes in the region are not uniform, resulting in an uneven distribution of stakeholder nation accessibility to trade routes, fisheries, and trillions of dollars in natural resources. Although the Arctic is considered a single region, in reality it is a climate with diverse zones. The maritime areas are opening at a faster rate, specifically along the coasts of Norway and Russia. One of the more important geopolitical consequences of this uneven ice-melting is that the Northern Sea Route (NSR), which links Northeast Asia and Northwestern Europe, is rapidly increasing in accessibility. This will also reduce shipping times between Northeast Asia and Northeastern North America via the Greenland, Iceland, and the United Kingdom (GIUK) Gap.
The opening of the NSR has allowed Russia and Norway to expand their Arctic operations over the past decade with investments in gas and oil infrastructure, deep-water ports, and arctic ships, including ice-breakers, that are essential for navigating the iceberg populated seas. These developments increase the potential for the NSR to become a viable alternative to the Suez Canal trade route, and could cut transportation times from 15 to 10 days.
On the opposite side of the circle, the Northwest Passage (NWP), primarily linking Canada, USA and Northeast Asia, is opening at a slower rate. Infrastructure Investment and resource accessibility in the region is more limited. Opening of the NWP, or even a Transpolar Passage, would benefit China’s trade operations and increase its role in the region. The uneven pace of ice melting favors investments in the Russian and Norwegian owned regions, with investment in North American regions remaining more uncertain.
Even with the increase in ice-free zones in the Arctic and the promise of shorter transportation times, the steady increase in vessels utilizing the routes must factor in new costs and risks into the investment equation. Access to new routes will be subject to transit and insurance fees, depend heavily on ice-breaker escorts and infrastructure, and will have limited search and rescue support.At the same time, the Arctic routes offer shipping companies the opportunity to utilize larger shipping vessels.Currently, ship capacity is constrained by the Straits of Malacca, the world’s second busiest waterway. With larger shipping vessels utilizing the Arctic sea routes, companies could offset the increase in costs by reducing the freight cost per unit.
Along with continued opening of new sea routes, stakeholder nations are also looking for opportunities to extend their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to claim a future stake in the resources hidden below the melting ice. It is estimated that 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its undiscovered gas are in the Arctic. Current Arctic mining operations of minerals, precious metals, and construction materials (rock, stone, sand, and gravel) could also expand.
Due to warmer waters pushing into the High North and changes in nutrient conditions and water currents, Arctic fisheries are transforming. Some harvest sites are experiencing an increase in stock productivity, while others are seeing a decline as fish migrate north to find colder water. For example, Greenland has seen an influx of Bluefin tuna and mackerel into their fishing region, boosting their export revenue. With the melting ice, fishing vessels will be able move further north to follow the changing migration patterns, but this could result in disputes over EEZ lines. If history repeats itself, we could see Cod War like scenarios.
If the ice continues to melt in the Arctic, competition in the region is more likely to be about access to transportation routes, oil/gas deposits, precious natural resources and fisheries, than it is about claiming new territory. The borders of stakeholder nations in the arctic region are well established. However, current organization structures, such as the Arctic Council and the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), are weak buffers of potential Great Game conflicts.
The Arctic region is both an environmentally and geopolitically complex system; melting ice does not equal decreased costs and accessibility does not equal economic feasibility. A reversal of ice-melting trends would rapidly shift the trajectory of infrastructure development, sea route access, and fish migration patterns. And the hunt for trillions of dollars of undiscovered natural resources beneath the melting ice could be another Eldorado.
Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program checks the merits of leveraging talent in Africa through her second blog post in our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
In leadership and management circles, the term talent is associated with the aptitude, skills, and competencies of a workforce. And, collectively speaking, the year 2050 will see no shortage of talent in Africa. The culturally rich continent is projected to claim 25% of the global population in that year. The sheer volume of the talent serves as a critical and dramatic driver of change for a continent seeking to flourish in the next three decades.
When thinking of talent, African leaders may choose to embrace a strengths-based perspective. Leaders who embrace this perspective recognize that their collective workforce resembles the composition of strengths from the group. By relying on the principles of humanism, strengths-based leaders recognize that all individuals have unique value; and when used appropriately, their value betters themselves and the group.
A strategic way for a group to evolve over time is by investing in talent. One approach available to African leaders is to 1) craft a vision for a desired future, 2) recognize the strengths of their collective workforce, and 3) identify ways to develop the talent to align with the desired future. Alignment, in this sense, allows for greater potential. Leveraging talent is essential for any group working towards a long-term vision - such as unlocking African potential by 2050. Benefits of talent development include unraveling new thought patterns, an influx of collaboration, an increase in alternative solutions, additional skills afforded to the group, and unlocking unknown potential. Consider the unforeseen flourishing that may arise as African thinking infiltrates the liberal democracies and autocratic systems present within much of the developed world.
Empowerment is strongly linked to development. Currently, sub-Saharan Africa holds the title for highest out-of-school rates of children through to secondary school in the world. 2050 welcomes an era where the majority of students will have access to, be enrolled in, and actively participating in education – whether in person, online, or a mix method approach to schooling. Shifts toward greater gender equality offer a powerful force. Gender equality will impact education access as well as shift African family life. Consider the importance of empowerment to help combat rising inequality while encouraging social stability across a geography marked with notable tribalism and inter-group contention. As the Africa Rising movement continues to gain momentum and propel the continent forward, African empowerment may be shaped by influences such as persistence, endurance, diversity, cultural richness, a shared history, and more. The unique shared experience through the Africa Rising movement offers the world a new take on empowerment that is unprecedented to human civilization.
To unlock this potential by 2050, the future must evolve past the countervailing pressures that have stunted growth over the centuries. In the past fifty years alone, consider events plaguing Africa including the Ethiopian famine of 1980s, the Rwandan massacre of the 1990s, the Sudanese civil war of the 2000s as well as the Ebola outbreak and the HIV epidemic. A mixture of intra-continental forces along with monumental foreign forces, racism, and corruption have restricted Africa from truly flourishing.
Shifting is happening and will continue to happen as African talent advances. The shifting moves Africa beyond wars, conflicts, and disasters. The shifting embraces hygiene and healthcare; educational and vocational training; and entrepreneurial ventures. The shifting is a sign that a future of flourishing is possible. And, the shifting connotes a very different future to come, one far richer in human talent than the past century could imagine. By leveraging talent, Africa is better positioned to handle disruption, including the disruptive climate change looming within the planet.
Tyler Mongan, a member of our Emerging Fellows program initiates publishing a series of blog posts aimed at knowing if the Great Game moves to the Arctic by 2050. This is his first post in our EF blog inspecting the key players of the game.The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Melting ice is not the only thing to watch for in the Arctic region. Geopolitical stakeholders are positioning to take advantage of the newly accessible natural resources, fisheries and transportation routes in the high north, sending a signal that the “The Great Game” could be shifting to the Arctic.
The “Great Game,” describes the power struggle between great nations as a “game of sorts.” Originally it represented the geopolitical struggle between British and Russian Empires over territories, transit routes and natural resources in Central Asia. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1990’s, a “New Great Game” seemed to emerge, as Western Powers strategically befriended the oil and resources rich nations of the former Soviet Republics. Again, Central Asia became the center of geopolitical strategy and conflict, and this time with new players; Russia, China and North America.
Currently, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is expanding beyond Central Asia through the “Ice Silk Road”, while Russia continues to invest heavily in transportation infrastructure to support the opening trade routes in the Arctic region. There are signals that The Great Game is quickly moving outside the sphere of the Central Asian Heartland, all the way to the High North.
As ice-free zones in the Arctic circle continue to widen year after year, Russia, China, North American and European nations are quickly mapping out and implementing strategies to gain access to undiscovered natural resources, fisheries, trade routes, and strategic geographical and military positions. Unlike the original Great Game, potential conflicts may be mitigated by The Arctic Council, which was created in 1996 as a forum for promoting cooperation, coordination, and interaction among the Arctic states. On the surface it seems nations are cultivating a collaborative environment based on the rule of law, however, several nations have already taken strategic steps to secure and expand their piece of the Arctic, increasing the potential for conflict in the region.
Russia claims that the Northern Sea Route (NSR), which connects Northeast Asia with Northwestern Europe, has been historically established as part of the Russian Federation. With the NSR opening, transportation would be diverted from the Suez Canal, reducing travel time from 15 to 10 days. The NSR would also provide Russia with direct access to the Pacific Ocean, increasing the viability of extracting and exporting oil and gas and other natural resources from the Arctic.
China is forming strategic bilateral partnerships to expand its sphere of influence on the region. China claims to be a “near Arctic state" and in 2018 unveiled the “Polar Silk Road,” an extension of the BRI. China continues to legitimizes itself as an important player in the Arctic region through financial investments in Russia and expanding scientific research in Norway and Iceland.
The Western Powers are taking a more cautious and measured approach in the Arctic region. North American nations have established a 5-year moratorium (ending in 2021) on offshore drilling in the Arctic, due to growing environmental concerns and a shift in focus on renewable energy sources. The United States and Canada also favor stakeholder cooperation to ensure that transit routes remain open and safe for international trade.
Canada, Denmark and Russia have made well-researched claims of ownership of the North Pole, with the intention of extending their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to secure the future rights to newly accessible natural resources and fisheries. Norway has also petitioned the U.N. to extend their EEZ. Six Arctic indigenous communities have Permanent Participation Status with the Arctic Council. However, without a stakeholder nation champion, the role that Indigenous people play in shaping Arctic geopolitics may be severely limited.
As the melting ice opens up the Arctic region to increased exploration and exploitation, geopolitics in the Arctic region will continue to heat. Although Russia, China, North America and European nations claim to favor a rule-of-law based approached to Arctic development, there are signals that the Great Game is being played in the Arctic, with increasing conflict over stakes in future transit routes, fisheries and natural resources as they become more accessible.
Kevin Jae, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the drivers of migration in his second post for our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Migration is an overdetermined phenomenon. Unlike a science experiment, we are unable to identify a series of dependent and independent variables to construct a predictive framework. As with many complex, real-world problems, we can turn towards history for inspiration. History may not repeat itself in perfect imitation, but the present moment often sounds out like a variation of the past. With a patient ear, we may be able to detect a melody, a theme, a musical structure - this will help us better understand and contextualize migration in the contemporary world. The melodies of the pre-historic past are too faint to hear out. With this in mind, we can listen to the migrations of the past century for our purpose.
Migration can be roughly categorized into migrations by push factors and by pull factors. This conceptual framework separates the migrations that happen by necessity (the push factors) and the migrations that happen by choice (the pull factors). Push factors include poverty and military conflict. In these cases, migrants find the prospects of the unknown better than the present circumstances before them. An example of the former are the two million Italian migrants travelled to the United States in between 1900 and 1910. One case of the latter is the Vietnam War and spread Vietnamese diasporic populations all across the world. Pull factors include voluntary, long-term immigration for a better life and short-term movements of skilled labour across national boundaries. The former are immigrants to Canada and the latter are expats. However, whether migration happens by push factors or by pull factors, in none of these situations was migration a predictable and foregone conclusion. The historical circumstances that provide the impetus for migratory desires are elusive and they escape hard predictions. One must maintain constant vigilance to multifarious trends. The future is constantly being shaped and reshaped.
Historical circumstances are only one part of the dialectic. Migration does not happen in a vacuum: there is always a political and institutional structure that facilitates and guides the flow of these migratory desires. The German gastarbeiter (guest worker) program in the mid-20th century was created to address labour gaps, leading to the Turkish migration to Germany. One purpose of the European Union was for the creation of a free market for capital flows and labour. While history provides the drivers of migration, the political and institutional framework of the present moment directs to where migrants are driven.
On a more fundamental level, political and institutional structures define the discourse of migration. Above, migration was separated into those by push factors and by pull factors, but even this is an artificial categorization. Intolerable political and economic circumstances may push migrants away from the home country and pull them to one that will improve their situation, but there is no moment when migrants by necessity transform into migrants by choice. Participants of the German gastarbeiter program may have left because of a lack of economic opportunities and because of their desire to earn higher wages. Politics and clever framing play a significant role as an intermediary force. Additionally, institutions, whether national or international, provide the larger structure for migration. Even when migrants do not use these formal frameworks - by crossing illegally, for instance - these transgressions are negatively defined by the established institutional structure. Migration and migrants are ultimately a political category for analysis.
What are the drivers of migration in the past? Above, two separate dimensions that drive migration are discussed. The first are the historical circumstances that create the impetus for migration. While we can make careful conjectures about latent migratory events, one must be nimble and open to multiple possible futures. The second is the institutional and political structure. The institutional and political structure fundamentally defines the discourse of migrants and migration. Through it, migratory desires are directed to a tangible destination.
Martin Duys, a member of our Emerging Fellows program inspects the drivers of inequality among countries in his second blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The factor that plays the most critical role in determining a person’s income is the country in which they live. It has more influence than the persons parents’ economic circumstances (the second most important factor) and far more than any effort they may make to improve their situation through education. Geography is more important than class, or level of education, in determining income.
Between-country inequality has never been as extreme as now. Just before the start of the industrial revolution, the average income in the wealthiest countries (at the time Holland and the United Kingdom) was roughly three times higher than the poorest. Described as analogous to the ‘Big Bang’ rates of economic growth and average incomes exploded in countries that industrialised. Now the difference in average income between the rich industrial nations and those that have failed to industrialise is a multiple of one hundred.
From the second half of the twentieth century other factors have also contributed to driving between-country income inequality. The political and institutional instability experienced in some countries after decolonisation caused economic stagnation and in some cases, decline. In the Soviet Block and other socialist countries, socialism failed to lift income levels significantly.
There are factors driving a decrease in between-country inequality. Sustained economic growth since the 1980s in China and India has had an enormous impact. In China alone, the number of people whose incomes have doubled is ten times that in the United States over the same period.
In gross terms, the gap between rich and poor countries continues to grow. China's economy would need to grow by eighteen per cent to generate the same value created by a one percentage point increase in the GDP of the United States. This is an almost impossible task for any economy no matter how ‘on fire’ it is.
An assumption of neoclassical economics has been that globalisation would improve levels of between-country inequality. Poor countries with cheaper labour forces would attract more foreign direct investment (FDI), because corporations looking to increase returns by lowering production costs would invest. The result would be increased local income levels and decreased inequality. Emerging countries would also ‘slip-stream’ on the technological advances of richer countries by copying their innovations and avoiding the need for expensive research and development. They would also be able to avoid adopting dead-end technologies that proved unsuccessful or were quickly superseded by superior technologies. Unfortunately, these assumptions have not been borne out by reality.
In what is termed the “Lucas paradox” FDI has not flowed as expected from high-income to low-income countries. Instead, it has to tended to flow from high-income countries to other high-income countries, and even from low-income to high-income countries. Technology adoption by developing countries has not been an equaliser as expected. Royalty payments for new technologies tend to flow from the poorer adopting countries to the more affluent countries that own the intellectual property.
The failure of the focus is shifting to include institutional and cultural considerations. The goal is to create an environment fertile for innovation, technology, and economic growth. Whether this new approach improves levels of between-country inequality remains to be seen.
Johanna Hoffman, a member of our Emerging Fellows program detects the causes of climate change in her second blog post. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Climate change comes in two forms. There is the kind caused by natural processes, and there is the kind created by humans. The former has been happening for millennia, produced by a range of factors from the sun’s energy output to shifts in the earth’s orbit. Since the late 18th century, however, that type of climate change has been supplanted. The industrial revolution and its innovations in manufacturing, production, transportation, power use, and more has led to rapid increases of pollutants, carbon dioxide and other emissions that trap heat in the atmosphere, known as greenhouse gases. For millennia, atmospheric carbon dioxide had never been above 325 parts per million. By 1950, levels had blown far past. Since then, massive changes in land use, such as the proliferation of parking lots and other paved surfaces, have made land absorb more sunlight, which our increasingly greenhouse gas filled atmosphere cannot adequately release. As a result, global temperatures continue to rise.
Most of this warming has occurred in the past 35 years, with the five warmest years on record all taking place since 2010. Much of this increased heat and greenhouse gas has been absorbed by our oceans. Since 1969, the top 700 meters of ocean water have warmed more than 0.22 degrees Centigrade and taken in 25% of emitted carbon dioxide. While these numbers may not seem drastic, the impacts are significant. The great ice sheets of the Artic, Antarctic and Greenland are melting at unprecedented rates, with some scientists predicting that the Arctic will be completely free of summer ice within fifteen years. This melting is not restricted to the poles. All across the globe, from the Alps to the Himalayas to the Andes and the Rockies, glaciers are retreating. Satellites show that spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere has declined over the last half century, with snow melts starting earlier, putting fresh water access for hundreds of millions at risk.
As glaciers have melted and ocean waters have warmed, seas have continued to rise. Today, seas are roughly 8 inches higher than they were in 1900, making many low-lying countries such as Bangladesh and the Maldives increasingly uninhabitable. A deadly side effect of this rising and warming is ocean acidification. As the ocean absorbs atmospheric CO2, it becomes more acidic in its chemistry. Over the last 150 years, the acidity of surface ocean waters has increased by about 30 percent, creating harsher environments for wide swaths of animal life. Cetaceans, fish species, crustaceans and more are all adversely affected by acidic conditions, threatening the lives and livelihoods of all those who rely on our oceans for sustenance and support.
The climatic changes spurring these shifts mean more than melting glaciers and rising seas. They mean that the current fires devastating the entire continent of Australia will become the norm in regions around the world. They mean that heat waves and severe storms will grow in intensity. They mean that floods will grow more frequent and more powerful, leaving more people inundated for longer periods of time. They mean that more drought will threaten more of our food supplies. They mean that the world that we knew is changing into some more unpredictable and more unwelcome to human habitation that we have ever seen before.
Carl Michael inspects the underpinnings ofBelt and Road Initiative in his second post for our Emerging Fellows program blog.The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The desire for ‘silk’ provided the impetus for the Silk Road in the millennia past. Without ‘silk’ to be traded there would be no merchants and no customers and therefore there would be no silk road. In our generation ‘silk’ could be considered as the manifestation of highly desired trade goods as well as trade secrets. The underpinning ‘silk’ is also about the people who create it and provide it to others along roads, routes and journeys to distant places.
The BRI is further underpinned by China’s enviable position on the far-eastern edge of the Eurasian landmass, where the bulk of its people and economic might is situated. This position provides the starting point of the BRI, which ends in Europe, on the far-western edge of Eurasia. China’s advantageous location enables it to be both a land power and a sea power. Its geographical location provides it with the potential to dominate the pivot point in Eurasia while having access to warm water ports, a position not available to Russia until the advent of viable Arctic shipping routes. This geographical advantage that enables the BRI is often overshadowed by the focus on China’s economic power. China’s immense geographical size also means that one has to take into account the impact of geography within itself. There is a balance that the Chinese government needs to maintain between its coastal eastern heartland, with its huge markets and wealth, and the orbitals of its far-western inland ‘buffer’ regions which insulate it from the rest of the Eurasian landmass. The coastal areas and central plain have been governed for millennia by strong unified central authority. Ensuring this continuity is a core Chinese geo-political imperative, coupled with ensuring the unity of the entire geographical entity.
The goal to reinstate China's place in the world as a ‘Great State’ after centuries of relative displacement also underpins the BRI. This desire has been accompanied by exercising hard and soft power. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been ploughed into the initiative of becoming the world's premier military power by 2050. This hard power initiative is accompanied by the establishment of foreign military bases as part of the BRl as well as by soft power initiatives in culture, the arts, science and scholarship. At the same time, China's economic power in general and its growing domestic market have acted as a major engine for growth in East Asia making it the most important trade partner for most of Central, East and Southeast Asia. A Sino-centric regional economic integration model is now the reality in most of these areas. All this can be considered to have prompted a converged approach to refabricating and recreating the geopolitical world system covering the entire gamut from physical security, to the global economy and to the global monetary system. To this end it can be observed that China has sown the seeds for a multilateral framework over the last twenty years, challenging the accepted wisdom of the historical Westphalian model, with a thirty-year plan to bring the seeds of a ‘Tianxia’ Chinese model to fruition.
In a broader context, the BRl itself provides an underpinning narrative with which China can hold a mirror up to itself as well as explain its image of itself to others. This narrative could be viewed as being as significant as the BRI itself as it provides inherent meaning to China’s approach to its international relations. To this end the Chinese leadership has invoked the ‘Silk Road’ spirit and emphasised historical, cultural, educational and scientific cooperation and so the narrative of the BRl is clearly understood to be about more than mere economics. This underpinning narrative is crucial to the success of the BRl. In its absence, all the BRI would appear to be is a vast conglomeration of state and market geo-strategic profit-driven enterprises.
Travis Kupp, a member of our Emerging Fellows program initiates publishing a series of blog posts to inspect the widespread assumption that Asia is the rising star of this century. This is his first post in our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Many eyes lately seem to be on Asia, and with good reason. Over the last 30 years, few regions of the world have transformed as dramatically as the Asian continent. Its rise in global economic, political, and cultural influence a difficult reality to ignore. However, Asia is anything but a monolith and there is no guarantee that the next 30 years will unfold as a continuation of recent tendencies. The future of the continent will depend on how its constituent powers navigate their differences in light of forces largely beyond their individual control.
Where Asia was once, in eyes of the West, nothing more than the Eastern shore of the Aegean Sea, Europe and the world have come to better understand the significance of this third of the planet's total land area. The first millennium and a half of the common era saw Asian civilizations push the geographical limits of their ambition and develop the most important trade routes of Afro-Eurasia. Then came the centuries of Western colonialism and exploitation. Not until the tumultuous wars of the 20th century did much of the continent gradually emancipate from foreign hegemony and regain control of its destiny, though in a vastly different international playing field. The legacy of unbridled resource extraction, imposed ideologies, and poorly drawn borderlines left by alien governments challenges Asia to the present day.
From this starting position, the nations of Asia have stepped into the 21st century on different paths. Today, East Asia continues to emerge with China as an overwhelming center of gravity and North Korea as a potential radical force. The Southeast is taking the spotlight for low-end manufacturing and export growth. India still struggles with its neighbor Pakistan, the key to future of the South. West Asia, which makes up a large part of the Middle East, is redefining its identity for a post-oil future. Central Asia, meanwhile, sits at the literal crossroads of Russia and China with the potential to benefit tremendously from the latter’s Belt and Road Initiative. The majority of the Asian population resides in nations that have managed to integrate into the functioning core of the globalized world, namely in India, China, and few of their neighbors. Whether Southeast, West, and Central Asia follow suit, however, remains to be seen and is far from guaranteed.
Headlines of a flourishing Asia, on some metrics, mask the fact that this development has not been geographically homogenous nor is it entirely stable. Already the sustainability of broad economic growth is under question, especially considering the global environmental dynamics at play. China’s long reach West across land and South across sea has raised alarms locally and internationally, triggering realignment in trade and security relationships. The future holds additional challenges for the continent in the form of demographic changes driven by aging populations, and migration and more border disputes as resources become scarce and the effects of climate change intensify. All this in a part of the world where regionalism has historically had a distinctly different flavor from a European or an African Union, which begs the question of whether thinking of Asia as a unit is even a fruitful exercise.
The urgent global attention given to Asia is warranted. Each part of the continent has transformed uniquely in recent decades with ambitions of economic growth, political control, or technological superiority. Whether any given ethnic or ideological group in the region is able to manifest these dreams or not, the interaction of those pursuits with the environment and the world order—even if less connected or cooperative in some scenarios—will be a significant determining factor in the futures of all other nation-states. Though its future is uncertain, what plays out in Asia over the coming three decades will have decisive and lasting impact on planetary systems and the fate of humanity.
Sarah Skidmore, a member of our Emerging Fellows program initiates publishing a series of blog posts aimed at checking the possibility of unlocking Africa’s potential by 2050. This is her first post in our EF blog. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
Consider the modern history of Africa. Over the past 50 years alone, the continent has faced geopolitical clashes, wars, famines, genocides, disease pandemics in the midst of systematic tensions. Think of the missed opportunities, the squandered potential, the harm and devastation. In the midst of this trying and troubled timeline, hope is in not lost completely. Think of the entrepreneurial ventures, the growing human rights efforts, and the humanitarian and healthcare advances of recent years. Now, think to the future. A future with a thriving Africa affords continental opportunities but also open doors for unprecedented global collaborations.
With the abundant African population growing to nearly 2.5 billion individuals by 2050 and diverse mineral wealth throughout the continent, the possibility to unlock untapped potential in the next 30 years exists. Two themes that are significant for leaders working to unlock the continent’s potential include leveraging the abundant human talent and also preparing for disruptive climate change. In the midst of dystopian narratives and doomsday stories of the future, leaders must remind themselves that futures of thriving and potential are possible, even if they are not yet achieved.
Africa finds itself currently as, geographically speaking, the shining star of what is known as the non-integrated gap. In simplistic terms, this means that, excluding the country of South Africa, Africa’s presence in the 21st century world clamors for a miraculous peace, overall security, and an end to combat. Contemporary influences actively harnessing the minds and reshaping the decisions of leaders throughout Africa are the African Union and African Rising movement. Important themes that arise from these influences in Africa include intra-continental cooperation and local entrepreneurship. Consider the unleashed security and economic benefits that these themes offer the African people. Imagine a thriving Africa that provides the world with leaders who are peacebuilders, leaders who embody cooperation and collaboration, and leaders who embrace thriving.
Africa is currently floundering in challenges associated with lackluster infrastructure, food instability, and water insecurity. Systemically, the continent lacks the physical infrastructure, with 620 million individuals living without electricity. Basic infrastructure challenges critically influence the dire food and water scarcities that define much of life intra-continentally. In a continent where 70% of individuals believe religion is very important, values influence the conflicts associated with tribalism, non-state actors, and religious contentions. Leaders must prepare for the burdens of unprecedented droughts and floods radiating throughout the continent due to disruptive climate change. The list only continues. Overcoming these challenges is a duty for leaders who envision a future where Africa is thriving and contributing at the global level.
Africa could hold an influential role on the world stage in 2050. Today’s leaders must recognize how present decisions are actively - whether directly or indirectly - impacting the future. Current events and decisions are already shaping 2050. Within Africa, consider the lasting impact of civil conflicts between people groups and shifting forms of government within African countries. From an international perspective, consider the impact of the unprecedented foreign funding, specifically from Chinese investors. The African people represent more than a number. They represent a diverse cultural tapestry, an unrivaled human development opportunity, the largest global workforce, and new thought contributors. In addition to human capital, Africa offers the world rich natural resources including oil and gas. These resources already catch the attention of international players through the recent manufacturing revolution and pharmaceutical production influx. As the earth faces disruptive climate change in the coming decades, the natural resources found in Africa will strongly influence both state and non-state decisions. From an altruistic perspective, a thriving Africa is essential to the global citizenry in 2050.
Africa has moved beyond simply surviving and toward rising. In the coming decades, Africa once again has an opportunity – an opportunity to move beyond rising toward thriving. Thriving not only allows for Africa to flourish but allows for Africa to help the world flourish. This is a heavy call on the shoulders of leaders guiding this continent that is home to a complex tapestry of nations, tribes, religions, and languages.