The twenty-first century was once heralded as an Asian Century (Auslin 2017). The aspiration was that, after two long centuries of Western dominance, Asia would take the lead in ushering in an era of equitable distribution of wealth and resources, a respect for the environment, and more robustly democratic political communities. With a long tradition of decolonial thought and practice such as Pan-Asianism, Afro-Asian solidarity, and Non-Alignment, it was fervently hoped that a postcolonial consciousness borne out of such common history would guide Asia to put behind oppressive borders, aggressive geopolitical and geoeconomic ambitions, and contain the most vicious impulses of nationalism. Almost a quarter into the new century and the reverse seems to have been proven true. The pandemic, climate challenges, economic stagnation, and demographic crisis have revitalized conservative policies that have solidified or fortified borders, weakened democracy, and spurred economic protectionism. The task of decolonial thinking and decolonization as a critique of past, present, and emerging forms of colonization and imperialism is much more complex today, given that both the terrain of the national and the global have come under great strain as sites of critique and the entrenchment or dismantling of power. It is thus an urgent task to revisit the desire fuelling the imagination of the Asian Century, to re-examine the current state of decoloniality, and discuss alternative visions of Asian Commons.
This online conference highlights the notion of Asian Commons as a way to engage Asia both in its incredible heterogeneity and its important historical resonance.The intellectual and political desire to create an Asian Commons comes from a collective history of anti-colonial struggles and shared vision for social and economic justice. First articulated in the idiom of national independence and socialism, the struggle for decolonization, justice, and equality continues to resonate in contemporary movements based on identities and autonomy. As a working concept, Asian Commons is informed by the historical resources accumulated through Asia’s varied but connected experience with decolonization, as well as the intellectual project to study such lived experiences on their own terms. Mindful of the trap of exclusionary nationalism and false internationalism which flattens the differences between/within nations and peoples, Asian Commons would allow intellectual and political innovation that embraces both the heterogeneities and commonalities of Asia.
The conference aims to rethink Asia in an inclusive and collective manner without privileging any particular region/state on the basis of economic and political power. The Asia that emerges from the world of policy-making and academic discourse is composed of regional blocks in different economic, political, and cultural formations. South Asia, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and East Asia are identified more for expediency than necessarily as extended imagined communities. The intellectual project of “Asia as Method”, while calling for decolonization and deimperialization (Chen 2010), leaves intact the nation-state and regional formation as “natural” units of imagining Asia. We find it important to look at Asia beyond these existing units, to examine the new and forgotten networks and connections that have been traced and created through different projects of survival, freedom, and living together. Foregrounding the lived experience and specific histories of refugees, revolutionaries, thinkers, laborers, businessmen, infrastructure planners, as well as other state or non-state actors, we hope that this conference would help make visible the alternative pathways, constellations, and echoes that nurture the notion of Asian Commons and enable various peoples’ struggles to transgress borders and imagine Asia, homeland, and our collective future otherwise.
Auslin, Michael R. The End of the Asian Century: War, Stagnation, and the Risks to the World's Most Dynamic Region. Yale University Press, 2017.
Chen, Kuan-Hsing. Asia as Method: Toward Deimperialization. Duke University Press, 2010.