Exchanges, Cooperation and Development
The challenge facing Asian countries
is to protect themselves from the adverse impact of globalization, accelerate
the pace of economic growth and evolve pro-poor development strategies
according to their own national priorities.
By Raja Muhammad Zafarul Haq*
Despite colossal challenges
of poverty, illiteracy and disease, the 21st Century has great pros pects
for Asia. Let us consider some basic facts to support this view;
- Asia’s total population of 3.8 billion is 65 percent of the
world’s population and represents the largest concentration of
human resources – the most precious of all resources.
- In the past 20 years, Asia’s economic growth rate has been faster
than any other region in the world. In fact, all the fastest growing
economies of the world during this period have been in Asia and include
China, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and more
recently India and Pakistan.
- The most spectacular growth performance comes from China which has
maintained an average annual growth rate of 10% for the past 20 years,
leading to a four-fold increase in per capita incomes. This performance
is unprecedented in human history and since China’s population
is one third of the Asian population, it had a very positive impact
on the economy of Asia as a whole.
- After emerging from colonial rule in the second half of the 20th century,
all the Asian countries have been giving high priority to education,
science and technology. This has had a dramatic impact on the volume
and composition of their exports to other Asian countries and to the
rest of the world.
Text of speech delivered at the 3rd International Conference
of Asian Leadership on Regional Security and Multilateral Cooperation,
Economic Growth and Social Progress and the Role of Political Parties
in National Development, Beijing: 3-5 September 2004.
There is need for an umbrella for Asian organizations to provide
links and avenues of cooperation among all the Asian countries either
directly or through their sub-regional organizations.
- Asia has been the cradle of many ancient civilizations and great religions.
It therefore contains within itself the richest cultural and social
heritage of mankind. With prudence and foresight, it has the best chances
of protecting itself from the onslaught of other cultures and exploitative
systems and in evolving a pattern of economic and social development
that combines economic progress and modernization with Asia’s
own rich cultural heritage and values.
These prospects can be realized only if we can, through collective efforts
and closer cooperation, remove the obstacles and constraints that stand
in our way.
The most serious obstacles lie in the area of Regional Security. Today
the world’s most serious flashpoints are in Asia. Due to the continuing
occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel; non-resolution of the
issue of Jammu & Kashmir and the ambitions of Western powers to
control the energy resources of West and Central Asia, we continue to
witness continuing turmoil in our region.
Another threat to Regional Security comes from the weakening of the
multilateral system. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early
1990s, the global system is dominated by the sole super power, which
is pursuing its own national agenda on the basis of unilateralism without
regard to the basic principles of multilateralism embodied in the U.N.
System, evolved with so much effort in the past 50 years. Asian countries
should work together to protect their vital national and regional interests,
perhaps by evolving common consultative mechanism on Asian security.
China, which has always identified itself with the aspirations of developing
countries, can play a major role in promoting a multipolar world order,
while following its commendable policy of peaceful co-existence, and
non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.
One specific area in this context which offers considerable scope for
greater cooperation is that of media and mass communication which is
currently dominated by Western nations. Systematic and coordinated efforts
are needed to counter the negative effects of this domination by developing
the capacity of Asian countries in this field.
The second major problem confronting many Asian countries is poverty.
Because of the density of population in Asia, two thirds of the worlds’
poorest people (about 1.2 billion) live in Asia. The challenge facing
Asian countries is to protect themselves from the adverse impact of
globalization, accelerate the pace of economic growth and evolve pro-poor
development strategies according to their own national priorities. Here
again Regional or Sub-Regional cooperation can play a major role because
the global system of trade and capital movement does not provide a level
playing field for developing countries. Even in W.T.O. the developed
countries, by continuing their massive agricultural subsidies, are not
practicing what they constantly preach to developing countries.
At present there are three sub-regional cooperative organizations in
Asia. The most successful of these is ASEAN – the Association
of the South East Asian Nations; then there is SAARC- The South Asian
Association for Regional Cooperation among the seven South Asian nations
and E.C.O. – the 10-member Economic Cooperation Organization of
Iran, Pakistan, Turkey and six Central Asian countries. There is also
A.P.E.C. – the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Organization,
which includes several Asian developing countries besides Australia,
New Zealand, Japan and USA.
History has shown repeatedly that a strong nation state can
be built only on democratic principles i.e. the assurance that the identity,
needs and priorities of each constituent entity in a federation or country
will be fully protected and the chosen leader of that entity will have
reasonable space to manage their own internal affairs according to their
There is need for an umbrella for Asian organizations to provide links
and avenues of cooperation among all the Asian countries either directly
or through their sub-regional organizations.
Democratic dispensations should have a policy of all inclusive set-ups,
at the political parties level, as well as, in the national institutions
so that our minority groups are not separated from the mainstream of
The Asian region needs greater communication to enhance cooperation
for development and in this regard the Shanghai Protocol signed in April
2004 for strengthening rail and road communications under the aegis
of UNESCAP, deserves our total political support.
Finally, the role of political parties in nation-building is of paramount
importance. History has shown repeatedly that a strong nation state
can be built only on democratic principles i.e. the assurance that the
identity, needs and priorities of each constituent entity in a federation
or country will be fully protected and the chosen leader of that entity
will have reasonable space to manage their own internal affairs according
to their priorities. Once these principles are followed, national unity
is assured and nations become stronger. If these are violated, nations
collapse and get divided into many pieces. Very often, external forces
and factors intervene in national affairs and disrupt the democratic
Greater interaction and cooperation among major political parties of
Asia, can play a major role in strengthening these parties and enabling
them to play an important role in national development and in regional