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'Asia is reshaping the planet'

Friday, December 21, 2018

The world is being irreversibly Asianized, Dr Parag Khanna geopolitical futurist, world traveller and bestselling author told TEDx Breakfast Salon attendees and Ronita Torcato

“Culture is what you teach your children,” says  Dr Parag Khanna  geopolitical futurist, world traveller and bestselling author whose books have been translated into more than 20 languages.  His new book The Future is Asian: Commerce, Conflict, and Culture in the 21st Century is slated for release in  February next year.  Dr Khanna has two small kids, a son Zubin who is all of six and a nine-year-old daughter named Zara who loves crossword puzzles. The fondness for cryptics  is inherited  since  Grandpa Khanna  is fanatical about solving crosswords, a cerebral activity that Dr Khanna confesses doesn’t excite him as much as  tennis and criss-crossing the globe does. And he has visited  most places on the map:  100 countries at last count and still counting…

Born in India, Parag grew up in the UAE, New York, and Germany. He has climbed numerous 20,000-foot plus peaks, and trekked in the Alps, Himalayas, and Tien Shan mountain ranges.  Some of his  journeys include driving from the Baltic Sea through the Balkans and Turkey to the Caspian Sea, across the rugged terrain of Tibet and Xinjiang provinces in western China, and 10,000 kilometres from London to Ulaanbaatar in the Mongolia Charity Rally.

He recalls “driving from London to Ulaanbaatar in a 3-ton Land Rover jeep was a memorable adventure! The steering wheel was also on the wrong side of the road for most of the trip! It was a very special experience to donate the vehicle as a field hospital to the Mongolian government“

In Mumbai to address a TEDxGateway breakfast salon, Khanna spoke about the rise of India and its significance for 21st century geopolitics.  TED is an acronym for Technology, Entertainment and Design and Yashraj Akashi, Senior Ambassador TEDx in India and Ralph Simon, global mobile trailblazer and innovator, convened and moderated the salon.

The world, according to Khanna, is being irreversibly Asianised. In the 19th century, the world was Europeanised.  In the 20th century, it was Americanised. Now, in the 21st century, the world is being irreversibly Asianised.  Asia is reshaping the planet, says Khanna  in his book, with two-thirds of the world’s mega cities,  one-third of the global economy, two-thirds of global economic growth, six of the ten largest banks, eight of the ten largest armies, five nuclear powers, massive technological innovation, and the newest crop of top-ranked universities. We want to know what this means for the poor, the marginalised and  rape survivors. (Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr Denis  Mukwege asserts that rape is terrorism)

In Khanna’s view,  “the process of social and economic development gradually gives greater voice to the poor and marginalised to claim their rights. This is certainly happening all across Asia and very much in India. Certainly, the media and transparency have exposed how appalling the situation is in India with respect to women's rights, but now this is being publicly acknowledged.”

We quote Nobel winner Mukwege’s lament that  the world is “putting commerce before victims" and US President Donald Trump's response to the Khashoggi killing is exactly that.  Says Khanna,”This has long been the practice of great powers such as the US and China, even Europe in Africa. The US behaviour fits into a pattern from which we will see little change.”

During 2007, Khanna  served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a senior geopolitical adviser to US Special Operations Forces. He has also been policy advisor for former US President Barack Obama's campaign.

“It was a very violent period in Iraq and Afghanistan during 2007-8 and a major learning experience for the US military.  In Iraq I was mostly moving around secure military facilities around the country in the midst of the "surge" period of intense combat. The Obama campaign, which was unfolding after I returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, helped me see the inside of the policy framing process, but sadly the financial crisis meant that Obama was not able to pursue the bold foreign policy that was expected of him.”

Khanna describes Pakistan PM Imran Khan as  "culturally conservative." Asked if this doesn’t sit oddly with Khan’s playboy image, Khanna says, “Khan is a product of both conservative Pashtun culture but also Western education and lifestyle. There are of course ironies in his past, but he has now devoted himself to the public welfare, and I think that is very promising.”

Khanna is hopeful India can forge amicable relations with Pakistan. “Imran Khan is genuinely interested in national development for Pakistan. He has consistently advocated spending less on military interventionism and more on schools and hospitals. The more stability there is between us as neighbours, the more he will be able to do that.” Khanna referenced  'positionalism 'and suggested “India should put itself at the centre like  Kazakhstan.” We want to know how self-interest works at the micro level. Religion and spirituality exhorts individuals to be altruistic and to put others before ourselves. What happens in a relationship where the husband would put his interests before the wife and children?

Says Khanna, “In diplomacy, states take their own interests first and then compromise where they must. There is nothing wrong with India having that attitude. It is also important for China to learn India's boundaries and adjust its ambitions accordingly. Not all religions preach subservience to a collective, so I do not in any case think that is a good analogy. Diplomacy is about adjustment and compromise, which can come in many forms.”

Some societies have a predilection for order, others for chaos. Why does India belong to the latter? “Because India is very heterogenous culturally, devolved federally, and democratic politically. So these conditions together make it inherently less controllable from the centre. When India was founded it had 14 states; today it has 29!”

Asked to elaborate on why the focus should be on poverty and not inequality, the widely cited  global intellectual says,’’ Globalisation, trade, and urbanisation will inevitably lead to higher inequality... but it will mean a much higher quality of life for hundreds of millions more people.”

At the salon, he says the “Asian Century” is even bigger than you think (it)  is a multi-civilisational order…China has taken a lead in building the new Silk Roads across Asia, but it will not lead it alone. Rather, Asia is returning to the stable multipolar order that existed long before European colonialism and American dominance, with India and Southeast Asia …reshaping business and culture. From investment portfolios and trade wars to Hollywood movies and holiday travels, no aspect of life is immune from Asianisation.” Doubtless, Khanna’s latest book will serve as a global strategic roadmap for decades to come.

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