The rapid acceleration of technology today has the effect of speeding up historical processes. We see geopolitical shifts today take place at an increasingly fast pace. I can only think of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel on steroids. That is to say that historical cycles that would take centuries to unfold in a previous age are now playing out in fast forward.
The so-called shift to the Asia, to the East, is a perfect example. We can think of it as a new version of the shift to the East of the late Roman empire, but with new twists inspired by advances in technology. The process that took three hundred years previously is unfolding in twenty years.
I have been reading with great interest Lars Brownworth’s book Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization in which he limns the shirt from Rome to Byzantium culminating in the abdication of the last western emperor in 476.
“Western civilization, however, owes an incalculable debt to the scorned city on the Bosporus. For more than a millennium, its capital stood, the great bastion of the East protecting a nascent, chaotic Europe, as one after another would-be world conqueror foundered against ts walls… While civilization flickered dimly in the remote Irish monasteries of the West, it blazed in Constantinople, sometimes waving, sometimes waning, but always alive. Byzantium’s greatest emperor, Justinian, gave us Roman law–the basis of most European legal systems even today-its artisans gave us the brilliant mosaics of Ravenn and the supreme triumph of the Hagia Sophia, and its scholars gave us the dazzling Greek and Latin classics that the Dark ages nearly extinguished in the West.”
The global system is unlikely to collapse as a result of the current crisis. More likely it will merely shift its axis and evolve along a different trajectory. East Asia is the best candidate at present to be the new center for this world system, but if we think about the Roman case, the question remains, which city in East Asia would be the next Byzantium. I would argue that the contest may be between Singapore and Seoul, the two most vital and sophisticated capitals in the region firmly within the currently Washington-dominated global order.
The two cities are profoundly different in character.
Singapore has done far better in terms of attracting investment creating an international, multicultural and world-class environment that cultivates close relations with the United States, the Middle East, SE Asia and China. Moreover, Singapore has been quite savvy in its efforts to recruit the best and the brightest to that remarkable city. Most Americans would chose Singapore for an overseas assignment and the English-speaking environment is very low stress.
But Seoul has shown recently itself to be a serious contender. Seoul has a far broader cultural base, a vital domestic culture and increasingly is attracting the best and the brightest from around the world. One does not hear much about Singapore literature, art and music, but Seoul has without any doubt become the cultural center of Northeast Asia.
The process over the next few decades with be fascinating. Stay tuned.