Seven challenges for Asia

Publish date 26-05-2022

by Sandro Calvani

In the near future, global peace, justice and prosperity will pass from the largest continent in the world 

Asia is the most populous continent in the world. Here live together the largest religious faiths in the world, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam


Several Future Study Centers have identified Asian challenges as the most important for global peace, justice and prosperity

In January 2022, over 4 billion and 700 million people live in Asia, that is, more than 60% of humanity. The other four continents combined do not make up 40% of the Earth's population. Over 4 out of 10 world citizens live in just two countries, in China or India. Asia is the largest continent and will remain the most populous and therefore the largest market in the world also in the years to come, certainly up to 2050. In Asia all the greatest religious faiths in the world live together, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism. and islam. The largest democracies in the world such as India and the largest Islamic democracy such as Indonesia, the most ancient kingdoms of humanity (Japan, Cambodia, Thailand), the largest parliament in the world, the Chinese one, the nation with the largest territory, Russia.

Several centers of study of the future have identified Asian challenges as being among the most important for global peace, justice and prosperity. From the Dardanelles to the Bering Strait, from the meridian 25˚E to 170˚W, seven major transformations can be identified with uncertain outcomes for the 50 Asian countries.

1. Investments, inequalities and poverty

In the past, Asia was the continent that - more than others - lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. About 60% of the Asian population belongs to the middle class in terms of income and education. Economic growth, supported by huge flows of foreign capital, has expanded prosperity in many countries in the South and East Asian region, leading to a decline in both poverty and political risk. In some Asian capitals, the quality of life is even higher than the average for European countries. Southeast Asia is home to some of the richest and fastest growing economies in the world, but also some of the poorest people on the planet. Most of the positive developments are fickle and unpredictable and could lead to unrest and riots. But, as China's growth engine slows, regional competition for the capital will increase. While short-term economic challenges create uncertainty, a renewed focus on anti-corruption efforts in China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia could help some countries remain preferred destinations for long-term foreign investment.

2. Public health

Two years of crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have shown the importance of prevention systems, early warning, rapid response and widespread civic responsibility, all components that in Asia are very different from the West. The recent report on global health security from the John Hopkins Institute (USA) highlighted the excellent response to the pandemic challenge by Asian countries, some of which are among the best in the world and better than many European countries. For example, Thailand is fifth in the ranking as a response to the pandemic while Italy is 41st. The rate of difference in mortality statistics in Asia was up to seven times better than many European countries, including Italy. However, the good Asian disengagement does not seem to arouse much attention, study and emulation on the part of the other continents.

3. Gender equality

Most Asian countries affirm gender equality and have made enormous progress in applying women's rights in all fields and especially in education. For example, in some Asian countries there are more general ministry leaders women than men. But serious concerns and backward situations remain in the Middle East. Violence against women and human trafficking are a very serious problem in over half of Asian countries. There are more deaths from violence against women than from armed conflict. The greatest resistance against the full integration of women comes from ancient traditions that resist change, in the name of culture or religion. For example, Buddhism, Catholicism and Islam do not have a single national or local female religious leader. India, Indonesia, Taiwan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, New Zealand, South Korea and Thailand have or have had women as heads of state or government.

4. Climate change

Changes in climate caused by human behaviors, such as polluting industries, forest exploitation and agricultural uses have led to unprecedented monsoon rains and deadly floods which, in some cases, disrupted the entire global supply chain for some sectors located in regions subject to floods and other disasters. Asia has made greater efforts than other continents to reverse the course of deforestation and CO2 emissions and has achieved positive results, but the effects of the lack of accountability of other continents will be seen for a long time to come, mainly due to climate fragility and geographical area of ​​some Asian regions. How governments, civil society and citizens work together to address these issues will shape Asia's development trajectory.

5. Conflicts

There are no more traditional wars between Asian nations. But internal conflicts and border tensions cause millions of victims. From Palestine to Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Korea, Myanmar, the South China Sea and Thailand, some internal conflicts that are "forgotten" by the major media. For example, in the deep south of Thailand, in 2007 there were 22.5 deaths from conflict per 100,000 people, more than double the per capita death rate in Afghanistan, where more than 100,000 people died in total. The internal conflicts in Xinjiang, Tibet, Rakhine, Kashmir, Adhra Pradesh, Chattigarh, Caucasus, Philippines and Nagorno Karabakh are equally "hidden". Internal conflicts are often triggered by sectarianism and serious, widespread and persistent inequalities, or by strong competition for some resources, in particular for access to water or for navigation and fishing rights. For example, the trade through the South China Sea exceeds $ 5.3 trillion annually; over 60% of world maritime trade and over 22% of world trade sail in an area of ​​international high tension.

6. Variable evolution of governance

For at least four decades, electoral democracy and good promotion of human rights have spread to many nations on the continent. The rights of refugees and migrants are respected in Asia far less than European standards, even in rich countries like Japan and Australia. In some countries, semi-democratic, theocratic and aristocratic systems of government, intolerant of opposition and the demand for reforms, have consolidated, as in Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, Iran and corruption has remained endemic in many of them. The deepest crises have occurred in countries subjected to foreign military invasions, such as Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Yemen. Some countries such as Myanmar and Afghanistan, which had embarked on a new democratic path with numerous political parties, have regressed into dictatorships. The dictatorships and aristocratic systems existing in the Gulf countries and North Korea do not seem close to any evolution.

7. Rapid urbanization

Over half of the Asian population lives in cities. Urbanization has critical implications for development and for equal access to common goods. A greater concentration of people from all walks of life represents both an advantage and a major complication of politics, society and the economy. Providing everyone with essential services in the city, such as water, food, health, education, costs much less than it would cost to do it in rural environments. But “crowded” growth also causes major challenges for good governance, for environmental health, for dialogue between rich and poor and for security. Urbanization and population growth are causing huge demand for basic necessities such as water, sanitation, transport and energy. This will require a clear focus on inclusive and sustainable development in the coming years.


Sandro Calvani

NP Febbraio 2022


Some information in this article is taken from a report by David Arnold for Asia Foundation:

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