There is much swirling debate at the moment about the rise of China, the cohesion of Asia and the writing of an alternative world order. Whether the threat comes from North Korea’s nuclear weapons or stealth espionage through the Chinese tech giant Huawei, the global commentariat is having a field day.
Their arguments range from high-minded topics such as democracy and authoritarianism to fine tuning terminology: should we talk about the Asia-Pacific or the Indo-Pacific, and what exactly is the difference?
What many of us may miss is that these issues now under the microscope stem from a very narrow window of history, a specific point around the middle of last century when the Second World War ended, the Cold War began, and Western powers withdrew their colonialism, but not their influence, from the Asian region. Even this colonial period lasted a relatively short few hundred years when the first European explorers arrived in Asia keen to export their religion and establish trade.
‘Modern nations need roots deeper than some twentieth century declaration of independence,’ writes Philip Bowring in his excellent Empire of the Winds, taking us with uninhibited flourish into other ages and cultures and exposing similarities between the ebb and flow of power then and what is unfolding today. […]