Parag Khanna: “The future is Asian”

The future is Asian, says Parag Khanna. In a talk jointly hosted by Vontobel and the Asia Society Switzerland, the geo-strategist described his vision, also depicted in his most recent book. In an interview with the Gottlieb Duttweiler Institute, Khanna summarized some of the topics of his talk.

Parag Khanna

GDI: The title of your book is “The Future is Asian”. When will this future begin?

Parag Khanna: I believe this Asian future has already begun, but our mentality lags behind reality. Already Asia is more than half the world population and half the global GDP (in PPP terms). This Asian system has been coming together since the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly 30 years ago and will continue to evolve rapidly.


GDI: How can we talk about Asia as an entity, when there are such a huge surface and so many different countries and cultures?

Parag Khanna: Asia is the most diverse region of the planet, with a half-dozen major civilizational zones. It is far more diverse than Europe, so it will not go in the direction of supranational unity. But it does not have to do that to be a functional system. Asians are resurrecting the ancient Silk Roads despite their diversity and that is itself such an impressive accomplishment. Their aim is neither to dominate each other or to integrate but to have the maximum degree of sensible complementarities with each other.  


GDI: China has been catching up with the West at the speed of light. What is it they are doing better?

Parag Khanna: Catching up is much easier than moving ahead. It is no surprise that emerging markets have caught up so quickly, given the whole world has been supporting their rise with technology, investment, and trade. In China's case, they are very aggressive practitioners of state capitalism and industrial policy, choosing key sectors to invest trillions into to accelerate this catch-up process. That has been the most critical factor for its rise. 


GDI: With the trade war going on, Asia seems to be moving farther and farther away.  How can this be fixed? Or, is there anything that has to be fixed?

Parag Khanna: Asia is accelerating its internal deepening of trade as a consequence of the trade war, so yes, it is decoupling to some degree from the US, but not from Europe or other countries. Asia's trade with Canada and Mexico, South America and Africa are all growing. Most of all, Europe's trade with Asia is growing dramatically at the expense of the US. So Asia is coming much closer to Europe actually–and this is very good news for Europe if it handles the demands for reciprocal access well in crafting trade agreements with Asia.


GDI: The current difficulties in Hong Kong appear to be the result of colliding value systems. Will there be a winner?

Parag Khanna: Value systems are part of the issue in the China-Hong Kong dispute, but bear in mind that it is also about the politics of territorial control and also money, as well as unclear legacies of power division after the British handover in 1997. In the long run, China will continue to impose itself in many ways on Hong Kong, and gradually colonize its economic and political system. Taking into account how Taiwan has also been neutralized in many ways, we might say the situation is heading towards a "one country, three systems" model. 


Khanna, who has been ranked among the most influential people in the world, was a foreign policy advisor for Barack Obama during his first campaign. Khanna has repeatedly spoken at the GDI. The german language edition of his 2017 book "Technocracy in America" was published together with the GDI.