[Viewpoint] The rise of Asianism over globalism

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[Viewpoint] The rise of Asianism over globalism

Some believe the recent democratization movement in the Arab community has upset the long-held stereotype of “Orientalism.” Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said, in his 1978 book “Orientalism,” attacked pervasive Western prejudice and false assumptions against Muslim societies and culture. Many Westerners had assumed despots and autocracy better fit Middle Eastern and Arab societies with little room for democracy. Some even argued that Islamic theocracy surprisingly resembles totalitarian communism.

In a broad sense, Orientalism, according to Said, refers to an outsider, or Eurocentric, interpretation of the East. The Western view and attitude toward the rest of the world have often been condescending, based on an underlying sense of superiority and pride in Western culture.

Both Orientalism and Eurocentrism have long become passe. Today, Western societies would annoyingly resist usage of those terms and few highbrows would be outspoken about postcolonial references to the East and the West. Orientalism and Eurocentrism have instead become all bundled under the omnipresent and expedient “globalism.”

The dichotomy may be - to borrow Cambridge University economist Chang Ha-joon’s expression - ladders the Western society has kicked away. But nevertheless Western superiority and patronization toward the other side of the hemisphere have somewhat motivated the progress in Western societies.

But today’s world prefers to pursue broader and higher values and dogmas like democracy, human rights and equality through globalism rather than regionalism.

Under the context of globalism, campaigning for Asianism or Pan-Asianism may be going against the clock. But even under the blurry frontiers, there are unique Asian values and interests we must preserve and uphold.

Amid the thickness of interconnection and a transnational globalized world, Pan-Asianism, or Asian identity, is nevertheless essential. There still exists huge space between the world and individual nations - continents, regions and civilizations. To the question “Who am I?” we must be able to say, “I am Korean, a member of the global community, as well as an Asian.” Asianism can better explain and broaden our perception of the world and its events.

We can watch the shocking earthquake devastation in Japan and the political turmoil in the Arab world through the lens of common values like democracy and a humanist viewpoint. But that sometimes feels lacking. We are galvanized to do more when bound by our shared Asian heritage.

Globalism has sprouted from the Western hemisphere. Western history, culture, tradition and values are deeply rooted. But from the Western globalism viewpoint, the Middle East problem could hang as an unsolvable conundrum. The answer could instead be better found in the Asian context.

Many say the ascent of Asia is inevitable. The international order is slowly but surely shifting toward the East from the West. When the Asian continent becomes the central stage for global affairs, China, India and Japan will likely play the leading roles. The three countries have had the historical experience of being centralistic forces. The three countries may present a new Asianism model in the future.

Korea may miss being in the lead, but it still can play a pivotal role in shaping the new Asian leadership. Otherwise, we may have to settle for a peripheral role in history as in the days when Orientalism and Western dominance prevailed.

We are equipped and qualified to play a key role in Asian development with our experience and progress in industrialization and democratization. It is a valuable legacy and is an expertise we can share with the rest of the Asian community.

Our society is a melting pot of Asian religions like Buddhism and Confucian as well as Christianity and Islam. Our unique embrace of multi-Asian religion and culture will also be a valuable asset in our future role in the region.

*The writer is social affairs editor of JoongAng Sunday.

By Kim Hwan-yung
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