The breaking sound right now is that of the end of the era of the white man. The Baton Passes to Asia By ROGER COHEN Op-Ed Columnist NYT: March 31, 2008
Asian statistics can be numbing. With one third of humanity, the numbers get big. There are now 450 million cell phones in China.
But take another — the likelihood that some 300 million people will move from rural to urban India in the next 20 years — and you get a sense of the shifts underway. By 2030, India will probably overtake Japan as the world’s third-largest economy behind the United States and China.
But in the end, transformation is not about numbers. It’s about the mind. Come to Asia and fear drains away. It’s replaced by confidence and a burning desire to succeed. Asian business leaders are rock stars. The culture of education and achievement is fierce. China is bent on beating the U.S.A.
What you feel in Asia, said Claude Smadja, a prominent global strategist, is “a burst of energy, of new dreams, and the end of the era of Western domination and the white man.”
Hong Kong purrs. Its efficiency and high-speed airport train make New York seem third-world. All the talk of Shanghai rising and Hong Kong falling was wrong: they’re both booming. Mainland Chinese tourists come here in droves to play and spend.
I went to see Frederick Ma, Hong Kong’s secretary for commerce. He’s suave in that effortless Hong Kong way, the shrewdness wrapped in a soothing patter of bonhomie. How is it that this is the only place on earth where people think of what you want before you’ve thought of it yourself?
He eased seamlessly from talk of mind-boggling infrastructure plans involving bridges and high-speed trains to a gentle lament for America.
“I am very worried about the U.S. economy right now,” he said. “When I was visiting last November, I asked a banker friend what’s going on, and she told me that a Wall Street problem was soon going to be a Main Street problem.”
Yep, it’s a Main Street problem all right when people lose their homes and realize overnight they’re illiquid and have 1930s visions as Bear Stearns goes “Poof!” in the night.
Everything passes. In the 17th century, China and India accounted for more than half the world’s economic output. After a modest interlude, the pendulum is swinging back to them at a speed the West has not grasped.
It’s the end of the era of the white man; and, before it even began in earnest, of the white woman, too. Blog: www.iht.com/passages