The common threads holding Asia together are its values and work ethic, making it very attractive for the West to do business here. It is definitely one of the chief reasons why we must capitalise on these strengths and progress forward.
Cut-rate prices will not do the trick. Asia’s strong service orientation, arising from her people’s disciplined work ethic, will shape the future of the global economy. The concept of “service” is an Asian principle, one that is part of our heritage, and ingrained in our culture and traditions. Changes in the service industries, which have helped create a multimillion-dollar Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry, have primed Asia into evolving into a central service hub.
The Asian work ethos evolved differently from the African and South American cultures despite sharing similar agrarian backgrounds. Mechanisation led to a total mindset shift in the European and North American continents. The Industrial Revolution redesigned a new generation of people who moved away from the agrarian platform and ventured into tooling and manufacturing. The process of individualisation grew wider when farmers were relegated to the bottom of the heap. Craftsmanship advanced to become apprentice-oriented and specialised.
In Asia, peasants who worked the farmlands had to take the giant leap forward at a far greater speed. Unfortunately, it created a generation having the mentality of an agrarian farmer but with the working environment of a manufacturing-driven society. The mundane monotony of mechanisation did not frustrate them. They worked with mechanical passion.
Mass production of automobiles in the United States had a stunning impact on Asia. When they entered the automobile manufacturing arena, they not only perfected craftsmanship but managed to reduce costs substantially. They compensated their deficit in technological superiority by producing cars for the masses, while reducing the cost of manufacturing automobiles.
What we had then was a feudal society with feudal practices and mindsets that evolved into a full-blown mechanical, industrialised society. This advantage gave us a work ethic and culture that was discipline-driven.
This reference is used primarily to demonstrate how it enabled a better work force in Asia through self-discipline, diligence, and hard work. Today, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, and China play a pivotal role in the global economy.
The Asian work philosophy is also about surviving as a unit. In the hill slopes of Java and the Philippines, farmers have cut crevices to create rice-growing terraces. They overcame challenges and triumphed.
The beaches are no different in Hawaii, Koh Samui, Phuket, or Bali. Yet tourists travel thousands of miles to visit the beaches in Asia to get a tan and enjoy a level of service that is unlike that in any other part of the world.
Another factor that binds Asia together is the spiritual connection. Asia is the religious hub of the world. Every major religion originated from Asia, the Middle East, and India. What strength does that convey? The religions that came from Asia traversed the entire globe, and are now in every corner of the world. If that is not a demonstration of our ability to network with each other, what is? This ability is going to be our strength in the new millennium.
Asian countries have many commonalities. The once thriving sea routes and overland silk routes bound us together historically – and largely, culturally, too. There exists a commonality in language, food, music, and religions. Although we don’t look alike, the commonality comes from our approach towards relationships that have survived since the time of the Chinese and Indian seafarers.
We live and thrive as Team Asia whether or not legal trade agreements ever come into place, whether or not Asean works or doesn’t, and whether a body like the European Union is ever formed in Asia. It does not need any government impetus to bring Indians to Malaysia or Malaysians to India, or Singaporeans to China and Chinese to Singapore. The economic flow within Asia would accelerate if the restrictions were lifted.
Taiwan is pushing for an agreement with China allowing free flows of capital and services. In recent months, Taiwan has eased restrictions on investments in China and opened the island to mainland tourists.
Clearly, the only issues preventing Asia from working together arise from political and socio-economic differences that have created artificial barriers. If not these veiled obstructions, we would very subtly, silently, but surely, merge to one. That strength is generally, what one does not see from the outside.
The fact that Asians can cultivate an ability to interact with each other is stronger, more powerful than any other continent. Asians relate to each other in different measures. A typical Asian wedding, for example, costs upwards of RM50,000 with a guest list numbering 500 to 1,000. A big wedding in Europe or North America costs RM10,000 and 50 invited guests.
Asians easily win the numbers game, too. Nearly two-thirds of the world populates the Asian region.
It only makes sense that Asia will lead the charge in this millennium if we retain our values and not decimate our thinking.