ASIA is very much on the move. It has a gigantic market of 4.4 billion people (60 percent of the world population) in need of just about everything – and by far the largest continental economy by GDP PPP in the world, combined with a wealth of natural resources and an entrepreneurial class with a voracious appetite for trade and investment opportunities in the wider world.
Moreover, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects that “emerging and developing Asia will grow by 6.4 percent in 2015, making it the world’s fastest-growing economic region, as it has been consistently for nearly a decade.” By 2030, it is expected that Asia will be home to over three billion middle-class consumers, who will account for over 40 percent of global middle-class consumption. No wonder they are calling it the new frontier with some of the most exciting economic prospects globally.
Even America has had to grudgingly admit that the dominant issues of the 21st century will be decided in that region. Hence, the Asia-Pacific’s economic gravity should not be taken lightly – and Saint Lucia together with the other OECS territories must of necessity pursue a vigorous foreign policy that undergirds economic growth and is pivoted towards the wider Asian region in a quest to improve, strengthen and develop economic relations and forge business and trade networks.
Since foreign relations are much more than diplomacy – and the success of specific foreign policies is now measured by their economic impact, the new zeitgeist of realpolitik calls for a combination of openness, imagination, strategic vision and political coherence to maximize the economic opportunities from our international interactions. Forget the nomenclature of what conventional foreign policy is supposed to be – economic opportunity should be the soul of our foreign policy. However, to attain the goal of foreign policy maturity and re-engagement, we need to specify objectives that serve our interests and develop a growth strategy that informs our foreign policy decisions. Above all, the Asian region should drive our foreign policy.
I have no doubt that Taiwan has a strategy to guide its dealings with our country just as China has a strategy to drive its engagement in the Caribbean. But do we have a focussed strategy which underpins our relations with Taiwan? Are we working to develop aviation and commercial ties with Taiwan and other East Asian nations? It would certainly be a welcome change to see our political parties provide some insights on their various foreign policy postures in relation to the Asian region, ahead of the general elections. This would be crucial particularly as foreign policy is now considered trade policy. Lest we forget, in the real world a misguided and feckless foreign policy can have unpleasant consequences and even lead to economic ruin. As John F. Kennedy put it, “Domestic policy can only defeat us, but foreign policy can kill us.”
Caveats aside, however, the establishment of an embassy in Taiwan recently is a progressive and portentous move that represents a strategic diversification in our foreign policy relations. Diversification is not beneficial in economics and business alone; it is also needed in foreign policy as it helps to buffer the impact of complex and unpredictable changes in bilateral and regional relations.
There are windows of opportunity in Asia, but they will be opened and closed quickly if we don’t act. Moreover, our local chamber of commerce should seek more international alliances in that region. Perhaps an idea would be to seek the assistance of the local Taiwanese and Japanese ambassadors in establishing an Asian-OECS chamber of commerce. Furthermore, educational and scientific exchange programmes are vital for the development of cultural ties which could later be strengthened into business and economic relations. The Taiwan Scholarship Programme that provides opportunities to young Saint Lucians to study in Taiwan for Bachelor, Master or PhD degrees is an idea worth its weight in gold. As several European nations have discovered, cultural connectivity is key to opening future trade and economic corridors.
Our long-term economic recovery at home can be bolstered by foreign direct investment (FDI) from the Asian pivot as well as the ability of local manufacturing firms to tap into the vast and growing consumer base of Asia. Given the deplorable absence in the United States and Europe of any signs of qualitative growth, the Asian region offers new opportunities for political rapprochement, economic cooperation and coordination of interests.
At the recently held United Nations General Assembly Session to mark its 70th anniversary, our Prime Minister and his delegation met with Indian Prime Minister NarendraModi for bilateral talks. That was indeed a welcome development and I saw much promise in the passionate handshakes and friendly gestures the parties showed towards each other. India has the potential to offer the Caribbean bilateral novelty, growth and coordination, especially as they themselves are seeking opportunities abroad.
Not surprisingly, every country wants to have a better relationship with China and the rest of Asia. The White House has indicated that economics is at the heart of American engagement in the Asia-Pacific, noting that nearly half of the world’s population resides there, making its development “vital to American economic and strategic interests.” The Obama administration’s strategic “pivot” from the Middle East to East Asia is a policy that represents a paradigm shift in American foreign policy, whose key areas of focus are “strengthening bilateral security alliances; deepening our working relationships with emerging powers, including with China; engaging with regional multilateral institutions; and expanding trade and investment.”
Just recently, the US and eleven other countries announced agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the biggest trade deal in a generation. As the Obama administration puts it, “Rules for trade and investment in the financial services sector in the TPP will ensure that American businesses and workers can serve all these varied markets, promoting economic growth and job development in the United States and throughout the Asia-Pacific region.”
According to Forbes Business, the Israelis are also moving in quickly on the growth opportunities in Asia: “When we think of Israel, we usually think of the Middle East (its neighbourhood), North America (its close ally the United States) and Europe (the long history of Ashkenazi Jews). Rarely do we think about Israel and Asia, even less about Asia as Israel’s new frontier… Yet, last year Israel called 2014 “the year of Asia in Israel.” The Israeli government sponsored an Asian Science Camp attracting over 220 Asian students to join nearly 40 Israeli students for a week long programme of lectures by world class Israeli researchers.”
The national interest of our country should boil down to trade benefits and economic advantages, as foreign trade can be a powerful tool used in alleviating unemployment and boosting development. As foreign policy scholars have long argued, a course of strategic ambiguity and agility is what’s required to expand economic horizons, widen and diversify markets and take advantage of capital and advanced technology for national development and modernization.
For comments, write to Clementwulf@hotmail.com – Clement Wulf-Soulage is a Management Economist, Published Author and Former University Lecturer.