Courtesy Reuters

An Asia-Pacific Consensus


Since the nineteenth century, the world economy's center of gravity has shifted steadily westward from Europe to North America and now to the Asia-Pacific. As the economic center shifts, the new locus becomes the main theater of global action. From the two world wars to the Cold War, the course of the twentieth century was determined primarily in Europe. In the 21st century, the Asia-Pacific will become this hinge of history.

As this century nears its end, it is distressing to see how few minds have focused on what needs to be done to keep the region on track. The constant attention to individual issues -- Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Spratly Islands -- ignores the dynamics of the bigger picture. In the past decade, the region has taken several big strides forward in terms of economic growth and political tranquillity, with only occasional steps backward, like the Taiwan Strait crisis last year. The Asia-Pacific can still take more steps forward, but only if the key players reach a new consensus on the region's future.

This consensus could rest on three distinct and somewhat unusual pillars. First, the current geopolitical order should be frozen in place. Under present circumstances no better order can be achieved. Second, all key players must develop a common understanding of the region's constraints and realities. Third, they will need a vision that draws out common elements from the region's tremendous diversity and so lay the groundwork for a sense of community.

It is easy to understand how Europe is being brought together by legal compact or how the Atlantic is united by a sense of community. But the Asia-Pacific, being more diverse, requires more consensus-building. The main reason Southeast Asia -- the Balkans of Asia -- has held together is through such consensus-building.

As the single strongest power on the eve of the 21st century, the United States will play a pivotal role. The United States has a window of opportunity to move

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