Courtesy Reuters

Asia's Future

As Asia approaches the 21st century, three overarching issues preoccupy its leaders - issues that cut broadly across cultural and political lines. The first relates to the appropriate economic strategy for the years immediately ahead. Economic concerns affect virtually every society in the vast expanse known as the Pacific-Asian region, be it labeled an advanced industrial nation, a newly industrializing country (NIC), or a (hopefully) developing state.

Second is the clash between the requirements of political stability and the growing demand for greater openness. The demand for openness flows from the pressures of the emerging elites for both greater political freedom and increased participation in the decision-making process.

The third broad issue is how the nations of the area will relate to each other, and to outside powers, particularly the United States and the Soviet Union. Regionalism is growing, and local states are asserting increased independence from both superpowers. The danger of large-scale war is declining, and the prospects for peaceful evolution are stronger.

On the whole, there are grounds for optimism.

II

Only a few years ago, most of Asia's leaders exuded greater confidence in the economic policies being pursued. The socialist societies, essentially following a Stalinist "big push" strategy, proudly proclaimed their success, publishing reams of statistics that showed major quantitative advances.

Their claims were not without validity. The Stalinist approach - with its single-minded concentration of human and material resources upon industrialization, employing centralized command tactics and rigid political controls - produced significant initial gains, both in the U.S.S.R. and among its most apt Asian disciples. It represented a viable method of "catching up," if unevenly, with societies that had taken a more leisurely course. But at a certain point, diminishing returns set in. The innate staticism - the low evolutionary potential - of this strategy made itself felt in the weak initiatives, low productivity, excessive waste of resources and manpower, and poor quality that were the hallmarks of an autarkic system. It is the

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