Developments in Asia and the future of the region have become one of the most discussed issues in world politics during recent years. The rapid growth of Asian countries has had various implications for the different fields of international relations. Recent developments that have occurred in Asia reflect social constructs -- both abstract and concrete -- that have progressed much faster than those of modern Western civilization. Because these constructs are still evolving, it is necessary to understand their multidimensional capabilities as well as the challenges they present. Abstract constructs seen in emerging Asia are based on interactions; the principles, rules and norms governing these interactions; and the identities that form as a result. Concrete constructs refer to Asian countries' objectives, especially their economic and security interests.

These two structures – the abstract and concrete - interact with each other to form what can be referred to as "Emerging Asia," an entity that can lead to greater Asian solidarity. It is important to examine the challenges the new Asia faces and how to manage these changes. Under the new circumstances, studying Asia's future role and status, as well as the interaction among Asian countries, is of great significance. Given the important status of Asia in the world and the region's high potential, it is first necessary to understand the trend of developments in this region, and secondly how to correctly channel these developments in a way that is compatible with the collective interests of the people in the region. Therefore, this article will first provide an Iranian view of the trend of developments in Asia. It will then provide a model for managing these changes, based on the following three topics:

Asian solidarity based on Asian identity

Asian collective security

A model for Asian development, energy security and intra–regional trade.

Developments in Asia

Throughout its history, Asia has experienced high and low points. After World War II, given the political and ideological conditions of the international system at the time, Asia passed through a tense period. After the 1970s, some Asian countries, especially those in East Asia, paid more attention to their economies and development. Later, with the end of the Cold War and the global tendency to focus on economic issues, Asia transformed into a continent that attracted the attention of great powers. In fact -- and despite deep cultural and ethnic differences in Asia -- the shift of Asian countries to a focus on economic growth and development led them toward a new identity, which can be referred to as an "Asian identity."

Asia encompasses the world's oldest civilizations, each of which founded glorious empires. Asia is therefore the mother of continents as well as of great civilizations in history.1 From a historical point of view, developments in Asia in the second half of the 20th century can be divided into two general periods.  The first period, which began after World War II and lasted more than three decades, can be referred to as the period of anti-colonialist struggles and ideological disputes. During this period, because of the changing international order as well as the domestic developments of regional countries, struggling against colonialism and obtaining independence played an important role in forming regional trends. On the other hand, the domination of ideological considerations in the international system influenced the region, and ideological disputes, such as the Korean War in the early 1950s, became an important variable leading to change in Asia.

Anti–colonialism struggles and ideological disputes, combined with the emergence of a bipolar international system, led to the birth of new countries in the region and new political borders among countries. Generally, in this era, tensions increased among Asian countries, which in turn were under the influence of the international system and their own domestic environments. These tense relations led to many wars in Asia, such as the Korean War, the war between China and India, wars between India and Pakistan, and most importantly, the Vietnam War.

The second period, starting in the 1970s and continuing to the present day, can be called the period of economic approach and development. The main characteristic of this period is the emergence of the development–oriented state, which has focused on economic development among regional countries. The development–oriented state was first formed and evolved in small and middle–sized Asian countries, where it played a leading role in promoting development. Later, the development–oriented state was formed in powerful Asian nations, such as China and India, in order to undertake developmental activities.

The development–oriented state has succeeded in reaching high levels of development in many parts of Asia. This progress is evidenced in the rise of many Asian countries according to UN human development indicators in recent decades. In fact, these countries have been able to accumulate great wealth and to build solid industrial and technological infrastructures while significantly reducing poverty. The success of Asian countries in promoting development has made this region one of the most dynamic in the world economy and has transformed the area into an emerging pole of wealth and power in the world. This new pole includes a range of great, middle and small powers, including India, China, Japan, South Korea and Singapore. Therefore, in terms of "Logic of Change," the second period, which was characterized by the economic approach, was an important era in Asia's history because significant developments occurred in many regional countries during this period. These developments gave birth to the idea of an Asian identity.


Economic Development: A Basis for Asian Identity and Solidarity

The rise of Asia in recent years has mainly been the result of the great economic potential of Asian countries. Asia's development has caused countries in the region to form economic-oriented policies and to leave aside, to a great extent, their ethnic, cultural, historical and even border disputes. Today in Asia, even those countries that have deep hostilities with one another tend to avoid entering into conflicts because of their preference for economic and commercial growth. The economic growth of Asia has made this continent the center of gravity in international affairs. Hence, the 21st century has often been dubbed the "Asian Century," while the 20th century belonged to Europe. Indeed, while Europe has reached its peak in economic development, Asia still has great potential that remains to be explored and that can flourish in the future. 75 percent of the world's resources are currently situated in Asia. These diverse resources include rich oil and gas deposits, minerals, and a large, capable labor force.2

In fact, what strengthens the identity of the new Asia is the great economic and commercial ability of Asian countries. Asia has a strong capability to produce consumer goods and services. It is the biggest supplier of foodstuffs and agricultural products, and it is the largest energy producer in the world.3 Moreover, Asia is considered one of the largest world markets. Asia accounts for 60 percent of the world’s population (almost 3.2 billion people) and one-third of world trade. In fact, including China, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and other Asian countries, more than half of the world’s consuming market is in Asia. Two Asian giants -- China and India -- have rapidly growing economies. India today has a "middle class" of over 300 million people, which has an average purchasing power of $3000 per month. The World Bank says India will become the third-largest economy -- after China and the United States -- by 2025. For these reasons, most of the great powers have shifted their attention to this continent.4

As a result, given widespread international developments, a new identity should be defined for Asia. The impact on this new identity of Asia's recent and effective leverage in international relations is undeniable. Extensive communication facilities among various countries -- from Internet and satellites to air and naval lines -- have increased Asia's influence on international affairs by connecting various countries to one another. Today, airlines link the Eastern and Western parts of Asia in the shortest possible time. Moreover, trade and economic, financial and monetary transactions and markets among Asian countries and other parts of the world have become easier.

Geopolitics and Asian Security

In addition to economic issues, geopolitical and security factors have played a major role in the emergence and evolution of the Asian identity. Asian regions and more generally the continent of Asia, geopolitical attitudes resulted from the interests of the great powers. Although there is no consensus on Asia's geopolitical borders, in some regions such as eastern Asia, we witness a kind of integration called "Asia Pacific," which is based on history and on geographical ties. In the northwest of Asia bordering Europe, an entity called "Eurasia" has been formed. These definitions are made despite the fact that both these regions are situated in Asia.

Moreover, Western geopoliticians have tended to introduce the Middle East as a territory separate from Asia, although many countries in this region are situated geographically in Asia. In fact, the Middle East is defined by Western powers as a region situated between Asia and Africa; this attitude is the result of the importance of this region as a rich oil and gas source in the world. Thus in practice, those territories that are situated beyond the Western borders of the Indian subcontinent toward the East are called Asia.5

At the same time, when referring to the Greater Middle East, it makes sense to clearly define the Middle East's regional subgroups, such as the Persian Gulf. The geostrategic importance of the Persian Gulf has caused it to be considered a distinct entity separate from other parts of Asia. Meanwhile, the whole region of the Middle East is recognized as an integral part of Asia, according to geographical maps. Given this, it seems that Asian integration based on Asia's new identity requires paying attention to all Asian countries regardless of artificial geopolitical boundaries. In other words, the strategic interests of China, Japan, India and other Asian countries in exploiting oil and gas resources in the Persian Gulf can be defined more objectively in the framework of a continental integration. Developments that occurred after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the bipolar system had a deep impact on western Asia.

Considering the above conditions, Asia faces some security issues that require a kind of integration to counter certain challenges. We should study the security problems of Asia in the context of security developments on the international scene, especially after the events of September 11, 2001, as well as the security approaches of the regional great powers (Japan, Chain, India, and Russia) and their tendency for integration and disintegration toward the United States. It seems that Asian powers should agree on certain issues, such as their positions in Asia's strategic scene, their zones of influence, behavioral standards, movements toward cooperation or competition, and conditions under which to use force. Also, Asia's great and emerging powers aspire to improve their status in the region. Increasing their welfare and the growth of nationalism are the symbols of international prestige and influence.

Along these lines, during recent years, discussions on building strong regional institutions for cooperation and security have taken place at Asian think tanks. Some experts have proposed the formation of a military alliance based on NATO.6 In fact, in the framework of integration, there is a need for security structures and a dialogue on cooperation among Asian countries. In addition to security issues, Asia faces other challenges to integration, the most important of which are cultural, religious and ethnic diversity; chronic political tensions; weak economic structures of Asia's least-developed countries; limited markets; the lack of capital resources; nationalist currents; the politicization of events; and crisis regions. Asian countries, along with other countries, should also overcome threats such as poverty; water crises; refugee problems; terrorism; and weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons. Preventing the occurrence of such challenges and threats can pave the way for Asian integration and solidarity in the political, security, economic and commercial spheres.

Consequences of Change in Asia

Deep changes in emerging Asia have the following important consequences:

Positive Consequences

More than two decades of fast economic growth and the accumulation of wealth and power by Asian countries have given them more strength and self-confidence to play a role on the international scene. The will and ability of Asian countries to play a constructive role in different international fields are evident. The views and actions of these nations are helping to determine global developments, now that they have become an influential force in the world economy. This point is demonstrated by the role these countries play in international financial and monetary institutions, especially the World Trade Organization, which is the symbol of the world economy. It is also important to note that Asia, especially its major countries, has a great potential for economic development, and if this trend continues, (which is highly likely), the influence of this region on the trends governing the world economy will increase. In the field of international politics, these countries are playing an increasingly important role and are very eager to expand their influence. For example, the Asian powers India and Japan have been pushing to become permanent members of the UN Security Council. Achieving this goal is very important for them because the United Nations is a significant body in the existing world order, and having influence in it gives countries an upper hand in international politics.

Another important aspect of the increasing role and ability of Asian countries in international politics lays in their management of security issues within the region and beyond. In recent years, they have heightened their cooperation on security, through both bilateral and multilateral relations. Cooperation between India and Pakistan in the Kashmir dispute and the strategic participation among some regional countries depicts bilateral cooperation. Multilateral cooperation among Asian countries can be seen through the strengthening of the role of ASEAN in security issues, the role of regional, economic organizations such as ECO and SARC, the formation and strengthening of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), and the six-party talks over North Korea's nuclear crisis.

Reaching such a level of security cooperation shows the maturity of foreign and security policies of Asian countries. In fact, these countries have been able to successfully take their first steps to collectively managing security problems in their region. The positive consequences of changes in Asia have led to the enhancement of the status of these countries at the regional and international levels, their focus on development (DELETE: the domination of the development attitude), and progress and cooperation. Each of these results is valuable.

Negative consequences:

The negative consequences of change in Asia remain to be seen; so far they have generally been positive. It is worth mentioning, however, that "change" entails both opportunities and challenges. Therefore, it is necessary to try to predict the negative results that could result from developments in Asia. The history of international politics in recent periods shows that systemic change at the regional level and beyond, especially if it occurred as a result of the emergence of new powers, has been coupled with violence and war. Indeed, based on the realist logic as the mainstream theory in international politics, change in the international order increases the likelihood of violence and war.

As mentioned above, Asia has undergone rapid changes in recent years. Regional order is being redefined, and new powers are emerging. Under these circumstances, it is possible that history will be repeated: The redefinition of the status of some countries could provoke competition and insecurity among some others, and this could potentially transform competition and insecurity into violence and war.

In addition, Asia is a region that lacks institutions for conflict resolution and the management of common interests. The most important function of institutions at the regional and international levels is to alleviate the negative effects of anarchy. The most disruptive effect of anarchy is clearly the dominance of distrust and threat among Asian powers.

Energy Security: A Basis for Asian Solidarity

One of Asia’s most important characteristics is its self-sufficiency. In other words, the continent has great potential in terms of resources, technology and manpower, which constitute the main pillars of development and progress. The world’s main centers of energy supply are in Asia. At the same time, part of this continent, which is on the path of development, has practically become the most dynamic economic region in the world. This has dramatically increased the area’s need for energy.

We must adequately tap into Asia’s self-sufficiency. By expanding interactions among energy supplying countries, which are mostly situated in western and central Asia, and major Asian consumers, which are in the east and south of the continent, exploiting we can make use of Asia’s potential for self-sufficiency while at the same time consolidate interdependence. These steps will make “Asian solidarity” possible.

Asia’s high rate of energy consumption as well as its rapid development in the last decade have made the issue of providing energy and its security a growing challenge for the continent. According to statistics published by the International Energy Organization, developing Asia (Asia not including Japan and South Korea) will increase its demand for energy by more than 42 percent by 2030, while that of the United States and Canada will increase by only 26 percent.7

Figures regarding world oil reserves show that at the present time there exist 1,118 billion barrels of proven oil reserves worldwide, 735 billion barrels (62 percent) of which are situated in the Persian Gulf region.8 Moreover, 40 percent of world gas reserves are also located in this region. According to forecasts, the daily production of crude oil by the Persian Gulf states will increase from 26 million barrels in 2010 to 35 million barrels in 2020. Thus, the share of this region in the world's crude oil production will grow from about 27 percent today to 33 percent by 2020.9 It has also been predicted that energy consumption in the developing world will be doubled by 2025. Based on this forecast, among the world's developing countries, Asia's share will be 69 percent.10

The impressive growth of energy consumption in Asia accounts for its large share in the increase of global energy consumption. In Asia's industrializing countries, the average annual energy consumption growth is 3 percent while this rate is 1.7 percent worldwide. According to the predictions made by the International Energy Agency, Asia's consumption growth accounts for 40 percent of the world's energy consumption. The region's oil consumption will reach 25 to 30 mbd by 2010 -- most of which will be imported from the Persian Gulf region.11 China alone will import 3 to 5 million barrels of oil by 2010, while it imported 104 million barrels of oil in 1999.12

For example at the present time, India imports 60 to 70 percent of its oil needs and will become the third largest energy importer in the world (by importing 91 percent of its energy consumption by 2025.13 Generally, from 2002 to 2030, India's annual oil demand will increase 219 percent in average and its dependency to imported oil will reach from 68 percent in 2004 to 91 percent in 2030. 14

It is estimated that oil consumption in India will amount to 4 mbd by 2010, of which 3,350,000 barrels will be imported. This figure will increase of 5 and 6 mbd respectively for the years 2020 and 2030. 15

At present, India provides 9% of its energy consumption through natural gas. It is expected that natural gas will account for more than 14 percent of India's energy consumption by 2010.16 India's natural gas consumption in 2006 – 7 is estimated to amount 166 cm3 which will increase to 322 cm3 by 2025. 17

In addition, Asia's oil consumption is now 82 million barrels per day, or 40 percent, of its current production. This demand will grow quickly within the next 20 years as Asian countries continue to develop economically. 18

The increasing needs of Asian countries for energy and the necessity of providing it from foreign resources have made energy security a vital issue for these countries. For this reason, this matter has become a priority on the foreign policy agenda of these countries.

The world’s most important energy producers are in West Asia, and the fastest growing energy consumers in the world are East Asia (plus India). Given the general decline in energy production, particularly oil production, in other parts of the world, West Asia, especially the Persian Gulf, is the only region that can provide reliable energy to world consumers during the next 50 years. As figures related to world energy consumption suggest, newly industrialized countries along with India have the fastest energy consumption rate in the world.19

Iran's Status in the Asian Dialogue on Energy Security

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the opening of central Asia and the Caspian Sea Basin to all countries, especially Western nations, have increased the importance of Asia in the world. As a result, it seems that Asia's geopolitical center of gravity has moved from the west of the Middle East region to its east, and Iran has become Asia's geopolitical center of gravity. Therefore, Iran can no longer be defined based on its Middle East identity. In fact, two regions critical to the world's energy production, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea Basin, are located respectively to the south and north of Iran. In the future, these regions can play an important role in supplying energy to the world, especially to Asian countries.

Moreover, because Asia contains several sub-regions, and Iran is situated in a special geographical location, it can serve as a link between central, south, and west Asia. Each of these sub-regions has its own economic priorities, which can pave the way for extensive cooperation among Asian countries. 20 People living in this region share not only cultural and historical commonalities – their fates have also been intertwined.

In this framework, Asian energy security, as one of the main pillars of Asian development, is an important field in which Iran can play a constructive role. With its huge oil and gas reserves, extensive experiences in the field of energy, and suitable location near the Persian Gulf, Caspian Sea, and central Asia, Iran enjoys the ability to transfer its energy resources from the south, east and northeast of the country to Asian consumers through pipelines.

Iran has large oil reserves that amount to 137 billion barrels, or 12 percent, of the world's oil reserves. 106 billion barrels of that amount are inland and 31 billion are in the sea. The Islamic Republic of Iran, produces 4 million barrels of oil per day and 120 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year. Iran also produces 4 percent of the world's oil and 5 percent of the world's gas. Moreover, Iran has large gas reserves, which amount to 27 trillion cubic meters, of which 8.99 trillion cubic meters are in-land and 17.75 trillion cubic meters are in the sea. Iran is especially important in the gas sector because gas is important to the strategy of energy security adopted by Asian consumers, Iran has the second largest natural gas reserves in the world, and it is ideally geographically situated in the west of Asia.21

Iran's independent policy in controlling its energy resources, its political stability and its special interest in cooperating with independent Asian countries to establish and consolidate Asian solidarity heighten its potential.

Working toward the realization of joining the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline to China can be the first step toward reaching Asian interdependence. The reason is that in this case, western Asia and Iran can play a major role in providing energy security for the eastern and southern parts of the continent, strengthening the interdependence of the two sides of Asia.

In general, given its obvious advantages in terms of oil and gas reserves and its geographical location, Iran can play a positive role in addressing the common interests and reducing the mutual vulnerabilities of these two parts of Asia. To this end, Iran is currently ready to first establish bilateral dialogues with Asian consumers and later to pave the way for a multilateral dialogue among parties. This dialogue could be established by emphasizing the possibility of linking Iran's vast gas resources to Asian consumers via pipelines and liquefied natural gas (LNG). Under these circumstances, Iran can play a pivotal role in Asian cooperation toward establishing a dialogue on energy.22

Conclusion: The Management of Change in the Emerging Asia

Given this essay's discussion on "change" in Asia, in the current situation, Asia requires a kind of "change management" to reach an Asian identity, which would lead toward Asian solidarity. Reaching this goal requires taking three essential steps:

Strengthening mutual sentiments among Asian countries

Change management in Asia requires forming and strengthening a common identity among Asians in the region, an identity that Asian can create thanks to their similarities. This identity can give birth to a kind of "Asian common destiny" and subsequently, Asian solidarity.

Emerging Asia requires that a kind of "common destiny" for Asia be formed. This common destiny can be explained in the framework of the "Asian solidarity" concept. Although there has always been a consensus over the existence of a structure called "Asian identity" among the countries and people of this region, such an identity has not yet reached the level of creating a deep and strong sentiment and perception denoting a common destiny among them. Asian solidarity and efforts for its creation and consolidation can both lead to a common destiny and guide the new Asia toward a desirable path. Because Asian identity, common destiny and solidarity must be formed through interactions, it will be necessary to establish comprehensive continental forums and organizations to form and implement principles, norms and rules governing Asian interactions in such a way that Asian solidarity can be formed and consolidated.

The formation of a collective Asian security structure

One of the most necessary elements needed to create Asian solidarity is the guarantee of the security and existence of Asian countries in their interactions with one another. Without mutual guarantees, the future of Asian solidarity and the success of emerging Asia will face serious challenges. Designing and establishing a collective Asian security system aimed at managing crises in order to resolve conflicts and to prevent aggressions, wars, and terrorist operations is a significant action that will require all of Asia's potentials to be realized.

Establishing a comprehensive security structure in Asia can consolidate and deepen other material structures in the new Asia by maintaining security and stability.

Another important issue in Asia's "change management" is to improve the process of institutionalization. The efforts made by regional countries to institutionalize the management of affairs have been clearly observed, but this process should be coordinated with the pace of regional changes to offer appropriate responses to the problems resulting from new developments. Enhancing the role of existing organizations in the region and establishing new organizations are also positive and important steps.

Developing Asian cooperation

The most important point in change management in Asia is to maintain and promote existing cooperation among regional countries because managing such extensive changes is only possible by using all the potentials of the countries involved. In other words, if regional countries individually pursue their own interests under these circumstances, not only will it be difficult for them to benefit from the positive consequences of changes but also it will be more likely that the negative consequences will be intensified.

Asia is a development-oriented continent. The high rate of economic growth in Asia and the unique development model of the region, especially by East Asian countries, suggest that Asian countries welcome economic development. Access to enough energy at a suitable price is one of the principal axes of Asian development. Energy security is therefore a major concern for the continent.

Given the rise in energy consumption and the existence of the most reliable energy producers in the east and west of Asia, the establishment of an energy security structure based on interdependence among Asia countries can contribute greatly to Asian solidarity. According to this model, energy producers in western Asia will guarantee the supply of energy in a stable and continuous manner in exchange for receiving technology and capital from consumers in eastern Asia. Iran, with its high potential in the field of energy and its geopolitical situation in western Asia, can play an important role in enhancing Asian cooperation.

Regional and extra-regional cooperation, if it spreads throughout the continent, is another axis of the Asian development model that can also contribute to the progress of the new Asia. The diversity and compatibility of Asian economic structures, especially on the western and eastern sides of the continent, have paved the way for interactions and trade cooperation in Asia. Adopting a step-by-step policy based on expanding the operational zones of Asian regional organizations such as ECO, ASEAN, SARC, SCO, etc., with the ultimate goal of uniting these organizations and creating a comprehensive structure for trade within the continent, is one of the ways to promote the solidarity of the new Asia. The importance of interaction among Asian countries becomes clearer when we take note of the fact that one of Asia's weaknesses is the lack of comprehensive organizations and institutions for addressing its problems.