The South Asian Times

26 June 2019 13:59 PM

The century of Asianization of the World

By Shivaji Sengupta

There is a touching - and fascinating - anecdote with which Parag Khanna begins his best-selling book, Connectography: he and his daughter creating a map of the world connecting little jigsaw-type puzzle-pieces that fit into one another provided the fit is right when the little girl screams out her surprise – “Greenland is so big!” The little girl and her father had fun connecting the countries of the African continents with one another in their proper places, with their many contrasting colors and names of cities. The oceans were left for the last, the father and daughter discussing where the oceans are deepest, where the largest underwater mountain ranges are, and how people survive on remote islands.

Actually, this innocent playing must have been an extremely joyful and successful learning experience for both parent and child. For me, it forms in a nutshell what Dr. Parag Khanna is about, what his books, lectures and blogs are about: connections.

Connections may be a simple enough word, but listening to this learned man’s lectures, reading his books and blogs, we may realize that this simple word is pumped up with meaning! To Dr. Khanna, connections means joining, of people and places through roads, airways, rail and seaways, through the internet and mobile phones, through commerce and linked resources. As a result, his books and articles are filled with stunning “announcements”: “Bridges to Everywhere; Connectivity is the new paradigm!” “Countries are dead. So it’s time to think differently!” “Cities will matter more than the states and supply chains will be more important source of power than militaries – whose main purpose will be to protect supply chains rather than borders!”

Thus spake Parag Khanna.

Dr. Parag Khanna is Founder & Managing Partner of FutureMap, a data and scenario based strategic advisory firm. He is the international bestselling author of six books, has traveled to most of the countries of the world. 

I had the good fortune to interview the gentleman. Having read a few of his books, and enough reviews in our nation’s august newspapers, I realized that Khanna is nothing if he is not controversial. But to him, the controversy is not – cannot be – based on facts. “Whatever I have written is based on solid research,” he announced to me, betraying in an otherwise kind voice, a slight trace of disappointment at his nay-sayers.

My first question to Dr. Khanna was how did he get started in the kind of research and discovery that involves practically the whole world. In his response he spoke about himself as a traveler and migrant who was born in India, but grew up in Abu Dhabi, and studied in New York, Germany and in the UK. He is based in Singapore now. So, Dr. Khanna is a traveler, “an itinerant” researcher of the world, its people, its resources and wealth. He reads the tea leaves which were grown in India, packaged in Britain, sold in the United States and savored in Canada.

Is he a business consultant, a blogger, a political scientist? No, says Parag Khanna, the answer is “much more eclectic than that.” Having spent his formative years in three continents, he has “been living globalization.” Thus, his “trans-dynamic” methodology for studying the world is “first and foremost personal and experiential;” data collected from direct observation from travel; then, in the long run, studying those data in terms of economic and political theories. “The blend of the two has been the sweet spot of my career.” He revealed in our interview that in this blend of travel-research-and-study, he has followed his adopted “guru,” Arnold Toynbee, the eminent British historian who traveled the world by sea before writing his famous 12-volume A Study of History, from 1934-1961. Dr. Khanna has a Ph.D. from the hallowed London School of Economics, the same institution Toynbee had taught in.

Dr. Khanna and I then talked about Connectography - Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. This, according to me, is his most accomplished book, i.e., until the next one The Future is Asian: Commerce, Conflict, and Culture in the 21st Century comes out next February. According to a reviewer in The New York Times, Connectivity represents Khanna’s interest in exploring how “connectivity and geography will affect the future of global affairs.”

When I asked him to elaborate on connectivity and geopolitics, he became excited. “Yes,” he said, “Geography is a fundamental discipline; prior to economics, sociology, politics  there was Geography. People take it for granted.” Khanna is a political geographer. “For over a hundred years the importance of geography has been political, having to do with political borders, expansion of territory. However, the world is experiencing “cross-border-infrastructure: the pipelines, the cable, internet.” Once again, comparison with Toynbee becomes inevitable. Arnold had argued that civilizations are born out of more primitive societies, not as the result of racial or environmental factors, but as a response to challenges, such as hard country, new ground, blows and pressures from other civilizations, and penalization. Khanna would strongly agree. Says Khanna: “Geopolitics and globalization go together, where ‘geo’ is a critical prefix.”

We ended the interview with a “preview” of his next book, The Future is Asian. The “Asian Century” is huge. In its website, the book is announced as describing the Asian event as “far greater than just China, the new Asian system taking shape is a multi-civilizational order spanning Saudi Arabia to Japan, and Russia to Australia—linking five billion people through trade, finance and infrastructure networks that together represent 40 percent of global GDP. China has taken a lead in building the new Silk Roads across Asia, but it will not lead it alone. Rather, Asia is returning to the stable multipolar order that existed long before European colonialism and American dominance, with India and Southeast Asia coming into their own as economic and strategic hubs.”

In one of his earlier writings he had dramatically predicted: If the nineteenth century featured Europeanization of the world, and the twentieth century its Americanization, then the twenty-first century is the time for Asianization. In our interview, he added an interesting caveat. “Yes, Asia is the new layer in the sediment of the global civilization. But it won’t have the ethos of old Europeanization, not even Americanization.” It will be different. According to the older mind-set, Khanna explained, “One empire replaces another, one super power conquers another. I maintain Asianization will not be like that. It will be additive.” By additive, he means that Asia will add to what America has already contributed, not replace it. This is not dissimilar to Americanization, Dr. Khanna reiterated. “The Americanization of the world was itself an additive to Europeanization.”

One may return once again to 1939. Toynbee wrote, "The challenge of being called upon to create a political world-order, the framework for an economic world-order … now confronts our Modern Western society."

Dr. Parag Khanna would agree; except that he would not limit this necessity to the Western society only, but to the Global Village.

Update: 13 Nov, 2018