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Older low-rise residential buildings are dwarfed by skyscrapers in Shanghai. (PHILIPPE LOPEZ/Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)
Older low-rise residential buildings are dwarfed by skyscrapers in Shanghai. (PHILIPPE LOPEZ/Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images)

Caron and Emerson

Missing from our election campaign: the rise of Asia Add to ...

Two centuries ago, the largest economies in the world were those of China and India. The Japanese economy alone was larger than that of the United States. Absent foresight of what was to become the 19th century's Rise of the West, anyone planning for the future would have been woefully, if understandably, in error.

During these first decades of the 21st century, we can't risk a similar lack of vision. That's why each of the parties in the current election campaign need to put the rise of Asia on the radar screens of Canadians, and to devise a comprehensive strategy that prepares the country for a more Asia-centric century.

Throughout the 20th century, Canada demonstrated great capacity for adapting to transformation beyond our borders. We managed the transition from British-led global engagement to independence, world citizenship and responsibility. We adapted to the vast changes arising from the replacement of Pax Britannica by Pax Americana without sacrificing our values.

It's both our fate and, potentially, our good fortune to have before us yet another era of fundamental transition.

To point to the Rise of Asia is not news. It started 50 years ago with the postwar recovery of Japan; moved forward with the growth and impact of the Tigers - South Korea, Taiwan, Southeast Asia; then China, already the second economy in the world; and now India, with comparable growth rates.

What's even more remarkable is the accelerating rate of transformation: 27 per cent of the global GDP is generated in Asia, compared with 20 per cent two decades ago. The G20, a good idea whose time had not come as recently as five years ago, has now replaced the G8 as global economic talk-shop-in-chief. Six of the 20 - China, India, Japan, Indonesia, South Korea and Australia - are Asia Pacific countries. We have learned that no progress can be expected on everything from climate change to poverty alleviation to United Nations reform without the explicit okay and engagement of the major Asian powers.

Despite best intentions, Canada remains on the fringes of this remarkable transformation, whether diplomatic engagement, trade, foreign investment or educational or cultural exchanges. We risk being left behind.

Uncharacteristically, Canadians appear worried about a future in which Asia will play a much larger part. According to a national opinion poll on Canadians' views of Asia released by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada on Thursday, Canadians are not fully embracing the rise of Asia.

While respondents held a generally positive view of most countries, only 12 per cent viewed India and 9 per cent China favourably. In fact, the poll results suggest that an increasing number of Canadians perceive Asia's growing power as a threat more than an opportunity.

While two-thirds of Canadians believe that China will surpass the United States in size and power within a decade, Canadians are increasingly worried about everything from differences in values to the role of foreign direct investment flowing from the region to Canada. According to the poll, the majority do not believe that China's economic growth is tied to Canadian prosperity.

This view is not in accord with reality. Our trade relations with China alone surpass those with the entire European Union. The most rapidly rising investment flows into Canada come from China and India. And every year, a huge percentage of Canada's new human resources - and future brain power - are welcomed to Canada from Asia. The internationalization of our university students and future leaders is taking place today, thanks to the fact that a rapidly increasing percentage of foreign students come to us from across the Pacific.

Seventy-five billion dollars from now, possibly this year, China will replace Canada as the No. 1 trading partner of the United States, with all that that implies regarding U.S. trade policies and priorities.

All this needs to be on the minds and in the platforms of the party leaders as they criss-cross the country in the run-up to the May 2 election.

Joseph Caron, a strategic adviser for HB Global, is a former ambassador to China and Japan and a former high commissioner to India. He is the co-chair of the Futures Group on Asia, part of the National Conversation on Asia of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada. David Emerson, a senior adviser for CAI Private Equity, is a former international trade and foreign affairs minister.

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