STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's getting harder to understand the world economy without understanding two of the world's most rapidly growing economic powers. China and India share a border. They share astonishingly rapid growth rates, and the two countries together are the subject of a crop of new books that Vishakha Desai has been reading. She is president of the Asia Society in New York, and she's going to help us review these books. Welcome to the program.
Ms. VISHAKHA DESAI (President, Asia Society, New York): Thank you. Delighted to be here.
INSKEEP: Let's start with a book here on the stack that is maybe the one with the title that's most likely to give an American heartburn: "The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East."
Ms. DESAI: That's by my friend, Kishore Mahbubani, and it is very true that Mahbubani has been talking about this issue of rise of Asia for some time. But he has begun to talk about making sure that America particularly, but the West in general, recognizes that there is a shift underway.
INSKEEP: He quotes some basic numbers here, just to say who has a greater percentage of the world economy, and he argues that if you went back 2,000 years, you'd find that the overwhelming amount of economic activity was in Asia, and the vast majority has been in Asia, except for the last couple of centuries.
Ms. DESAI: Well, for sure, Chinese often will tell you today, because they're very historically conscious, to say as late as 1600, 50 percent of world's GDP actually was in Asia. So last 250 years, some people might say, it's just an exception.
INSKEEP: Meaning that it would be natural to go back the other way?
Ms. DESAI: Some Chinese have said that.
INSKEEP: And does this book, "The New Asian Hemisphere," present evidence suggesting that that is, in fact, what's happening now?
Ms. DESAI: Well, let's put it this way. There will be a much larger percentage of the world's economic growth in Asia, particularly driven by China, India, but also Japan, Southeast Asia, etc.
Kishore is perhaps too overly optimistic that it's all a foregone conclusion. I think that we have to recognize likelihood of America being a sole superpower is very, very small. But how America handles this, and how Asia - especially China and India - handle their new global power status is also still a question that we have to deal with.
INSKEEP: Well, let's move on to the next book on our stack here. This is a stack of books not just on China, not just on India, but on the pair together and the significance of them. The book is called "Billions of Entrepreneurs."
Ms. DESAI: Yes. This is by Tarun Khanna. His big message is to say that India and China are going to begin to have to work together more, that it is not simply that they can be seen as competitors, but they're going to have to be much more of collaborators because what India does well, such as individual entrepreneurship without the interference from the state, versus what China does well, which has to do with state planning, macroeconomic planning to make things like infrastructure work is something India really is going have to do more of. And if India is the back office of the world, India's going to have to get more into other kinds of manufacturing, and China is going to have to do more of service economy.
INSKEEP: So the books on our stack here are "The New Asian Hemisphere," "Billions of Entrepreneurs" and one more here, Bill Emmott's book, "Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China and India and Japan Will Shape Our Next Decade."
Ms. DESAI: I think it's very interesting, if you think about Bill Emmott, that that book is much more focused on political issues among these three countries. Khanna's book is much more focused on the economic advantage. And Mahbubani, he's trying to put together the economic, and to some extent political, together.
You need to read all three books, first of all, because all of them are making an argument that you need to understand what's going on in Asia, and you need to understand the complexity of the situation so that if you only look at the economic, you're not going to get it right.
If you only look at the political, which is what Emmott does, you probably also will make some mistakes. I personally also add a third element, and that is that India and China are ancient civilizations. They are politically, let's say, 50, 60 years old, given their trajectory of the 20th century.
INSKEEP: Just to clarify that communist China is 50, 60 years old, and India has had about 60 years since independence from Britain.
Ms. DESAI: Exactly. And economically, you might say that India is an adolescent, about 16 years old, given economically, the opening and what happened with the economy. China is about 30 years old.
But culturally, these are more than 5,000-year-old civilizations, and in all of these countries, these three elements, how they come together is what we need to understand.
So if Emmott talks about how mainly 20th century but also even the last 200 years of histories of these countries suggest, that they're going to be rivals, they're going to be looking at each other over their shoulder, there isn't a lot of trust, that we can't just keep moving on to this agenda that Asia is going to rise lock, stock and barrel together.
I think that there is some truth to that, but I think that you also have to recognize that that intra-Asian trade today is among the fastest trading patterns in the world.
INSKEEP: There's a lot of trade between China and India, say?
Ms. DESAI: Today, China has now surpassed the U.S. as India's largest trading partner.
INSKEEP: Does that mean that the United States can feel comfortable - if that's the word - that China and India are going to effectively balance each other, there's not going to be a dominant player in Asia, and we don't have to worry about them so much?
Ms. DESAI: Well, some people will say that, indeed, that's the case. Others have said what if they come together? Because there is this assumption that when countries come together, somehow they're going to gang up on somebody else.
There are two big phenomena out there. One is that world is more interdependent than ever before. Number two in that level of globalization is the rise of China and India and other parts of Asia. So we need to figure out the role we're going to play, not just to balance, but also as active, responsible participant so that we don't have to feel that we're the only ones who have all the answers, because that may not be the case.
INSKEEP: The books are "The New Asian Hemisphere," "Billions of Entrepreneurs," and "Rivals." They were all reviewed here by Vishakha Desai of the Asia Society. Thanks very much.
Ms. DESAI: Thank you.
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INSKEEP: And you can read excerpts from all three books at npr.org. It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.