Asia's new era

ASIA evokes mixed images: tropical rain forests, shimmering fields of rice, snow-capped mountains, teeming cities such as Tokyo, Hong Kong, Manila. And yes, pell-mell economic growth, as Asian-made goods spill onto the docks of North America, Europe, Latin America, and Africa. What a truly remarkable picture today's Asia presents -- underscored by the industrial prowess of Japan.

It was, after all, only four decades ago this month, a wisp of time in history's long run, that Asia presented a far starker picture.

In August 1945, Asia's cities had been torn by war, its population was largely impoverished, its political and administrative systems were still essentially feudal in structure and ideology. In many respects, the Asia of August 1945 suggested little of the promise of what was to come.

And yet, winds of change were already sweeping through the region by the late 1940s. Nationalist sentiment was on the rise, from the Indian subcontinent down through then-Indochina and across to the Philippines. In Japan, factories and businesses were converting from war production to new consumer industries. ``Asia for the Asians'' had become the dominant political aim, as nationalists, some of them communists, most of them indigenous patriots, vied to overthrow the economic and political grip of

the white Europeans and North Americans who still retained power and influence throughout the region.

By the 1950s it was clear to many observers that Asia was undergoing irreversible change.

``The peoples of Asia,'' Monitor news analyst Harry B. Ellis wrote in this paper in early 1951, ``no longer can be mentally stared at, pitied, perhaps, for their poverty, and then thrust out of thought. They are too restless and powerful to be forgotten . . . . In the long run, the West must grow to know the Asians, not only with the head, but from the heart. These peoples may have different customs, cultures, and skins, but they are neighbors in a shrinking world. And there are hundreds of millions of them.''

Today, Asia is definitely not to be ``stared at,'' ``pitied,'' or ``thrust out of thought.'' The pendulum has swung full circle. Asia is now the boom region of the global community, averaging growth rates in recent years of 8 percent or more that remain the envy of the world. Japan, America's Pacific combatant of four decades ago, is now America's second-largest trading partner, behind Canada. Japan is also the second-largest industrial nation in the noncommunist world, behind the United States itself.

And the United States conducts more trade with Asia than with Europe.

Asia's promise -- and its full potential -- are still far from fully realized.

In parts of Asia, authoritarian regimes rule. Economic well-being is still built, in part, on low wage scales and long-deferred social welfare reforms. Japan, for all its economic success, has yet to step out on the world stage as a major diplomatic player.

Still, who today could deny the enormous progress -- the genuinely remarkable transformation -- that has taken place in Asia since that August of 40 years ago, when the roar of the guns and the shrill scream of the dive bombers finally ceased -- after the historic atomic concussions on Hiroshima and Nagasaki -- bringing an end to World War II hostilities.

The world community can observe the pride felt by Asians today. At the same time, continued social and political progress in the region must be encouraged -- particularly in the Philippines and South Korea. Protectionism or other impediments to global trade and communication need to be resisted. Westerners need to remember how much they, and the peoples of Asia, especially the Japanese, are linked together by trade and diplomacy. Indeed, the Western community would seem wise to remain mindful of t hose words written in 1951: ``In the long run, the West must grow to know the Asians, not only with the head, but from the heart.''

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