The launch of the latest NCAER book, “The 21st Century: Asia’s?“, by Rajat Nag took place at the India International Centre today. The book is based on five lectures delivered by Nag at NCAER. In these lectures, Mr Nag shared his insights and experiences garnered during his long years of work on development issues in Asia.
Many have labelled the 21st century as the Asian Century. But is that too presumptuous or too premature a claim? Answering that question is the central theme of this book. While introducing the author and the book, Dr Shekhar Shah, NCAER’s Director-General, said, “Economic historians love labels, and so it is that we’ve had the 19th Century as Great Britain’s, the 20th as the US’s, and now the 21st as Asia’s. In these remarkable lectures addressing the future of Asia, Rajat Nag has done us all the great favour of assessing the challenges Asia must meet if indeed it can lay claim to this century. Rajat looks to the future with optimism, but not through rose-tinted glasses. His conclusions are hopeful, but offer no false hopes.”
Rajat Nag said, “The excitement about Asia in recent years has been palpable. Propelled by China’s growth, more recently joined by India, Asia has achieved in a generation what has taken other regions much longer. Asians today are richer, healthier, living longer, and more educated than even four decades back. But as recent events keep reminding us, in the midst of rising plenty, Asians still suffer significant deprivations and indignities. During my days at the ADB, and now at NCAER, I have struggled with and reflected on the challenges of reconciling the two faces of Asia. The ideas presented in this book are the result.”
Recounting Asia’s spectacular economic growth over the past several decades, Nag points out how Asia now accounts for over a quarter of global GDP. Three of the five largest economies in the world today are in Asia. And millions have been lifted out of poverty. But the “two faces” of Asia, one shining and confident and full of hope and the other deprived, malnourished, and despondent, stare at us. Which one is real? Even more worrying is the fact that these two faces seem to be moving further apart. While growing rich, Asia is also becoming more unequal. And it continues to face severe development challenges. Persistent poverty—two-thirds of the world’s poor still live in Asia—rising inequality, social deprivation, environmental degradation, gender bias, food, energy and water insecurity, and poor physical and social infrastructure pose many pressing challenges. These realities are reflected in all of Asia, and certainly in a continent sized country such as India.It is thus imperative for Asia to simultaneously confront these challenges and exploit the opportunities available to make this century the Asian Century, a proposition that the book concludes is “plausible, but not inevitable”. Asia, argues Nag, needs to aggressively and proactively pursue a growth strategy that is inclusive, green and clean to achieve the aspirations of its people. In this quest for prosperity, the quality of growth is just as important as its quantity. Good governance, strong institutions, and greater regional cooperation are critical elements of a sound and sustainable development strategy for the region. Hence, while identifying the hurdles Asia faces, Nag offers his suggestions for the policy choices encouraging “inclusive, green and clean growth” that Asia needs to realise the aspirations of an Asian Century.
The launch of the book was followed by a panel discussion with Rajat Nag chaired by Shekhar Shah, with Dr Shyam Saran, Former Foreign Secretary, Government of India, and Dr Sanjaya Baru, Secretary General, FICCI, and Former Director for Geo-economics and Strategy, International Institute of Strategic Studies, London, as the discussants. In ending the evening, Nag said, “The Asian Century can and hopefully will be the way future generations will think of the 21st Century. But, for those of us in the now and present, it will be a marathon, not a sprint. It will be a long journey that has just begun.”
Rajat Nag was the Managing Director-General of the Asian Development Bank from 2006 until 2013. Besides his NCAER position, he is also a Distinguished Fellow at the Emerging Markets Forum, Washington, D.C., a Distinguished Professor at the Emerging Markets Institute, Beijing Normal University, Beijing, and Chair, Act East Council, Indian Chamber of Commerce. Mr Nag began his professional career at the Bank of Canada, and held senior positions in consulting before joining the ADB. He has engineering degrees from IIT, Delhi, and the University of Saskatchewan. He also has an MA in Business Administration from Canada and in Economics from the London School of Economics.