ASIA AT WORK (Issue nș 21)

by Serge Berthier

It seems a long time ago, yet it was only yesterday or the day before yesterday that Asia was for a reason or another making the headlines of the Western media. But in 2004 the fallout of the ill-conceived war in Iraq preoccupies the West.

Not so long ago, the American administration had labeled the Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mohammad Mahathir, the enemy of democracy, China a danger to the world and Pakistan a rogue state. Today, Mahathir has left the scene and his successor has won a landslide election (more on this in our next issue), China is asked to revalue its currency to protect jobs in the United States (who would have thought of this electoral stupidity only three years ago?) and President Musharraf is the favorite of the Pentagone. In the meantime North Korea has become nuclear and Japan a has-been economy that relies on the power engine of the Chinese one to survive.

But habits are hard to die. Not only do we continue to read anywhere that the United States is the largest world economy (it is Europe) but that Japan is the second economy of the world (China is nș3 and Japan nș4), while North Korea is about to collapse any minute.

Not to be on the radar screen of the media does not mean that the problems of Asia are gone or that things have changed. That President Musharraf is persona grata in the West does not change the reality on the ground. The triangle Pakistan/India/Afghanistan is one of the most unstable one can imagine. Yet, President Musharraf is so confident, as a General should be, that people seem not to matter much when he is telling us that the fundamentalists in the North of his country are a dying species. Like the dinosaurs in their days, they too are bound to disappear. Meanwhile, his latest clean up military operation ended up in another fiasco.

Why would President Musharraf do such a declaration while every pointer indicates a more complex situation? Beyond self-confidence, we believe that his denial is not based on delusion but rather on the fact that the real problem has not yet reached the front page of the newspaper. We want here to speak about the border problem between Afghanistan and Pakistan, the so-called Durand Line. Indeed, with Afghanistan looking more and more like a narco-state of South America in the 1950s, what will happen to that elusive border that was never recognized by the Pashtun population?

Maybe President Musharraf prefers to think that the problem will go away and will be diluted by a fratricide fight taking place across the border. But clearly the more Hamid Karzai would be secured in his position of American puppet and the more Pakistan can expect a variety of claims coming from Kabul. Hence the elusive answer of President Musharraf. The fundamentalists, whatever they are, are maybe not the essential problem of the Northern frontier of the country.

If the West border of Asia seems to be a hotbed of future problems, what about its Eastern part? North Korea has made clear that the Iraq lesson is that you should not trust the United Nations or anybody to save your neck. In other words, deterrence and self-reliance are pretty much the only way to stand on your own. We should not be surprised. Seeing the way Iraq was dismantled for the worst, without legitimate reasons, one can wonder what could happen next anywhere if the Bush administration had the conviction that it can get its way without paying for it.

We have asked the man considered to be the unofficial spokesperson of the North Korean regime to elaborate on the matter. To balance his view, Anthony Difilippo, the author of a very good book on the Japan-US alliance tells us if Japan is at last trying to look at the world through her own eyes. Unfortunately the reply is a disappointing no. Japan is still unable to conceive a world where her own interest might differ from that of the US. And thus, it is difficult to accuse North Korea of paranoia, when Japan is suffering from the same disease.

Neerja Chodhurry, a well-known analyst of the India society is giving us a quick briefing on the up-coming Indian election. She will analyze the results in our next issue. This election is the last one for most of the current political stars of India. Vajpayee, Advani and Sonia Gandhi are playing their last cards. Hence the importance of the trend that will emerge.

We have included in the issue a commentary about China. Nowadays it is hard to write about Asia without mentioning China such are her economic and political clout. The commentator is Jonathan Story who has devised a futuristic scenario for China in 2060.

Serge Berthier