The past year unfolded with Japan’s unprecedented triple disaster and closed with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s historic trip to Myanmar. Moving into 2012, Europe’s economy creaks along uncertainly and China gears up for a major leadership change. In an interview with the Ukranian magazine Glavred, political science professor Phillip Lipscy discusses landmark Asian economic and political events of 2011, and what they could mean in the coming year.
What was the most significant event in terms of Asia’s economy in 2011?
The March 11 Great Tohoku earthquake and tsunami: Besides the tragic loss of life and property, the disaster disrupted global supply chains and plunged the Japanese economy into a recession. The nuclear meltdown in Fukushima also led many countries to question the future of nuclear energy—this will have long-lasting consequences for global energy markets and efforts to deal with climate change.
What was the most significant political event?
Signs of political opening in Burma/Myanmar could have profound consequences not only for that country but for the rest of Asia as well. Hillary Clinton became the first U.S. Secretary of State to visit the country in 50 years. Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from detention and the National League for Democracy has re-registered as a political party. If this leads to democratization, it will be remembered as an important turning point.
What new policy and economic trends appeared in 2011? Which of them will continue into the coming year?
There seems to be a subtle shift in views towards China's economy. Chinese government officials are deeply concerned about the "middle income trap." China has reached a level of development where many countries saw their economic growth slow down sharply. Rising incomes are eroding China's advantage in low-cost manufacturing. There is much talk of multinational companies relocating their operations to even cheaper countries, such as Vietnam. This is an important transition for China, and it will remain an important issue in coming years.
In terms of people, who do you feel was the most notable, and who was
the most disappointing this past year?
The people of Japan, who responded with remarkable perseverance, order, and discipline to such a tragic natural disaster.
The most disappointing were the political leaders of Japan, who could not set aside
their differences and come together for the sake of their country.
Will China continue to spread its influence in 2012, and might any countries oppose this process?
China is now the second largest economy in the world and an important military power. It is inevitable that China will rise in international stature and influence. However, Chinese leaders also face some important challenges—rising inequality, an overheated housing market, and bad loans in its financial system. The focus of international attention should be on integrating China into the world order as a peaceful, responsible stakeholder—not on confrontation.
What impact could the economic crisis in Europe have on the economics and international policy of the Asia-Pacific region?
If the financial crisis in Europe is mismanaged, nobody will escape the consequences. Europe is a crucial export market for Asian countries, and European financial institutions are major lenders to emerging economies in the region. Equally as important, repeated financial crises and political mismanagement in the United States, Japan, and Europe could begin to undermine perceptions of democratic government and capitalism.
What will be most important event in Asia next year?
China's leadership transition, particularly given the many immediate challenges the country faces.