What Is the Asian Century?

What Is the Asian Century?

The term the Asian century refers to the dominant economic and political role that China, India, and their neighbors are expected to play in the 21st century. The concept gained credence following the rapid economic growth of China and India beginning in the 1980s, which propelled both nations into the ranks of the world's largest economies.

Key Takeaways

  • The Asian Century refers to the dominant role that Asian nations are expected to play in the 21st century due to their fast-growing economies and youthful demographics.
  • Asia's growth is being powered by China and India, two of the biggest global economies, as well as by smaller neighbors including Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Bangladesh.
  • By 2030, the world’s 10 biggest economies will be made up largely of today's current emerging markets, according to global bank Standard Chartered.

Understanding the Asian Century

Asia was a major driving force in the world's economy for much of human history. In the 19th century, western economies dominated, powered by the Industrial Revolution.

Over the past few decades, the expectation that Asia will regain its place as the engine of global economic growth has gained momentum. Many believe that the 19th century belonged to the United Kingdom and the 20th century to the United States. Now economists are speculating that the 21st century is destined to become the “Asian Century.”

In the 1950s, Asia, home to more than half of the world’s population, contributed less than 20% of global output of goods and services.

Much of that growth can be attributed to the continent’s rising population of middle-class consumers. Asia, home to more than half of the world’s population, will soon house half of its middle class.

In the late 20th century, companies used Asian nations as a source of cheap labor to produce goods for sale in the West. Now, those same corporations are working to boost revenues in the region. As incomes and living standards rise, so too does the demand for upscale goods and services.

Special Considerations

In purchasing power parity (PPP) terms, China is now a bigger economy than the U.S., accounting for 19% of global output. The People’s Republic is widely expected to pass the U.S. in gross domestic product (GDP) as well over the course of the next decade.

India, which currently sits in fifth place in the GDP rankings, is also breathing down the U.S.’s neck. British bank Standard Chartered believes India and China will both leapfrog U.S. GDP by 2030 and forecasts that the world’s 10 biggest economies will by then be made primarily of today's emerging markets.

Other countries that have expanded rapidly include Indonesia, which is predicted to become the world’s sixth-largest economy in PPP terms by 2023, as well as Vietnam, the Philippines, and Bangladesh.

Criticisms of the Asian Century

Not everyone agrees that the 21st century should be described as belonging to Asia. Critics note the frailties of some of its political establishments. They also note that Asia is by no means a single entity, and there are tensions and a lack of cooperation among nations.

After years of startling economic growth, China and India both are experiencing a relative slowdown. Skeptics point to such recent hiccups as another reason why neither should be defined as a model for developing countries to follow.

Article Sources
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  1. World Bank Blogs. "The size of the Asia and the Pacific economy based on purchasing power parities."

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