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Asia and the Old World Order

Some commentators predict that the 21st century will be the ‘Asian century’, marking a significant shift in power from West to East. If so, it will not be so different from the global order of the 19th century, says Thomas DuBois.

'The American wall goes up as the Chinese original goes down', published in Puck, 1882. China opens up to trade, while America uses ethnic workers to curb immigration. Library of CongressAs late as the 1990s the global dominance of western ideals, values and institutions seemed unassailable. The Soviet Union had collapsed and China was in disarray. The California dotcoms were booming. The Asian financial crisis of 1997 looked like the final vindication of the clean and open economic institutions of the West over the back room crony capitalism of the humbled Asian tigers. Protests from political leaders such as Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew and Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad in defence of what they called ‘Asian values’ sounded like sour little grapes in the path of history’s steamroller.

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