Zhou Enlai, Sukarno and Nasser at Bandung conference
East Asia’s relationship with the Middle East today is based mainly on economics and is devoid of grand political projects of solidarity and intellectual dialogue. Countries such as China, Japan and Korea present the Middle East with a model of state-led capitalist neoliberal economic development. At the same time, the redemptive transformation of East Asia into a globally powerful region offers a trajectory of development diverging from the Middle East, struggling with political turbulence, regime crises and regional wars both cold and hot.
One hundred years ago, in 1914, both East and West Asia were dealing with a similar reality of European hegemony and colonialism. It was a time of great convergence in identity as subaltern Easterners, giving birth to several projects of cooperation between pan-Islamic and pan-Asian currents of thought. There was a Japan moment in Middle Eastern intellectual circles in the decades after the 1905 Russo-Japanese war. The interest in the secrets of Japanese progress continued, even as a vision of solidarity with Chinese nationalism also emerged, peaking with the Bandung conference of 1955.
Today, however, while East Asians exhibit clear self-confidence, Middle Easterners continue to talk about the “humiliation” of Arab and Muslim societies, particularly vis-à-vis the West. There is an imbalance between East and West Asia that has created miscommunication in intellectual encounters, leading to an absence of political dialogue or civil society solidarity. Remembering the intertwined histories of the Middle East and East Asia in the last century and a half may help in better understanding the challenges of today and in finding ways to make the intellectual and political ties stronger in ways beneficial to both regions. While maintaining their dynamic economic ties, the Middle East and East Asia need a more sustained cultural, intellectual and political dialogue for constructive cooperation on issues of global governance.
Era of Humiliation