What is the center of the world ?
As a child growing up in the Netherlands, I loved maps (and still do). We traditionally had the world map in our school (and in my room) displaying Europe as the center of the world. Going westwards to a dynamic ‘new world’, going eastwards to a mystical ‘oriental world’, and we learned ‘pity for the poor people’ going southwards. The extensive research, studies, analyses and opinions about the world produced in Europe and United States over the decades, whether economically, politically, culturally or socially, were the dominant Western perspectives being brought up with.
But how about a map with Asia in the center of the world ?
With Asia centrally located, the map challenges those traditional views in terms of geography, history, economy, culture or humanity. And definitely triggers much more study and research from different angles and sources.
First of all, there are more people living in the very center of this map than in the rest of the world (from China in the North, Japan in the West, Pakistan in the East and Indonesia in the South).
There are thousands of valid and valuable reasons on why to study and view from a different angle, whether culturally, economically, politically or historically. Though in the light of today’s negative spiral of geopolitical developments, especially regarding the Russo-Ukraine war in Europe and the growing conflict between the United States (with allies) and China, ‘centers of the world’ are at crossroads in respect of their intertwinement and perspectives thereof.
The Russo-Ukraine war has triggered 2 strong geopolitical senses; the first one driving in Europe and USA about at ‘whose side you are on’, separating the world in 2 parts. This sense has been pushed all over the world resulting in a growing second sense of assertion and self-awareness in other centers of the world that ‘this is not our war’.
A recent striking example of this second growing sense is when Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar responded following to a question on India’s official position on the Ukraine conflict (on June 2nd during the Globsec 2022 forum in Slovakia);
“Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe's problems are the world's problems but the world's problems are not Europe's problems. India is not sitting on the fence and it is entitled to pick its own choice when it comes to foreign policies instead of siding with other countries.”
Regarding the growing conflict between the USA (and its allies) and China, the operative term China being “assertive” was “upgraded” to “aggressive” at the recent Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore and the NATO summit last week has officially labeled China as a potential threat of its security. Even with obvious signals of expanding NATO influence towards Asia with Japanese Prime Minister having been invited to the summit.
Coming back to the map with world’s most populated center in the middle, how should Asia respond to the efforts of separation and military alliances and US-led Western anti-China policies and rhetoric ?
In contrast with the USA and Europe, Asian countries have achieved peace, friendship, cooperation and prosperity without being subjugated to any great power or ideology over the past 40 years. Certainly not a region without conflicts and humanity disasters but no single country has waged major wars to others in the region or anywhere else in the world since decades.
From an Asian perspective, this might lie in the policy culture called “musyawarah and mufakat” (“consultation and consensus” in Indonesian), now often called the “ASEAN way”, implemented at the founding of ASEAN in 1967. Another crucial ASEAN policy implemented at the founding was non-intervention (frowned upon in the West with a policy encouraging states to criticize one another on human rights, politics etc.). A third important policy was (and is) building intense networks of consultations and trade.
The ASEAN way has its roots in Asian culture and we see other similar examples of collaborative policy making in Asia such as the declaration of the Bandung conference in 1955, partly based on the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, worked out in negotiations between India and China in 1954.
During last month’s dialogue in Singapore, Singapore’s Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen emphasised the need to “learn the right lessons from Ukraine” to prevent the outbreak of armed conflict in Asia. Countries in the region are diverse and interdependent — the ideological battle between autocracy and democracy is not a core issue in Asia." In a speech titled “Managing Geopolitical Competition in a Multipolar Region”, Indonesian Defence Minister Prabowo Subianto said that Asia’s “common experience of being dominated, enslaved, exploited, has forced us now to strive to create a peaceful environment, one of friendship” and to resolve challenges the “Asian way”, which seems to provide much food for thought.
Even with conflicts and issues in the region or beyond; efforts and rhetoric of separation and war-provoking have no place in Asia.
Straightforward : No War in Asia
Sources and interesting reads
Framing China’s actions: From ‘assertive’ to ‘aggressive’
East Asian relative peace and the ASEAN Way
ASEAN: The way forward