Where, the innovation flowed outwards from age old centers of world system changing such as the Bay Area of the US Pacific Coastline or more recently, in the first visible shift this century, from the Pearl River Delta region of mainland China, now has shifted its locus of pivoting the levers of the system into a more diffused curve – flowing outwards in starbursts – from coastal West Africa through Nairobi to bounce off Mauritius into Sri Lanka, and then spending some time in Bengaluru’s IT networks (Hyderabad, Chennai) before spinning its way to Singapore and bursting into starbursts across the South East Asian islands with long pings into Philippines and Indonesia.
This is a much older trade network (Manguin, 2016)1, blown hither and fro by the monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean and its tributaries like the Straits of Malacca which feed the South China Sea. Junks plied this route for centuries; and, every so often, a wreck full of blue and white porcelain is found in the bottom of the sea. Migrant labour of all educational levels criss cross these seas in search of value web hubs, like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei in the ASEAN tiger years, or Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, and Manila of the Far Eastern Oriental mystique years of Somerset Maugham and Grahame Green.
One could say, now that China had gotten up off its knees, geo-economically speaking; it was time for the rest of the regional commercial ecosystem to do the same. The ASEAN bloc’s rise as the fastest growing emerging markets in the years previous to the Pandemic of 2020 had put a spotlight on its future trajectory. Numerous reports touting the world’s biggest consumer market after India and China were published. The pivot seen today, however, is a post Covid one, predicated on major geopolitical changes that took place as a result of the systemic shock of a global pandemic.
The trigger event is the mega trade deal just signed this weekend. The economic impact of the trade aspects are not impressive, going by the reports, but the fact that S.Korea, Japan, and China, are all together in one FTA has been noticed. The locus of technological innovation has been shifted.
1 The first true maritime trade network in the Indian Ocean was by the Austronesian peoples of Island Southeast Asia, who built the first ocean-going ships. They established trade routes with Southern India and Sri Lanka as early as 1500 BC, ushering an exchange of material culture (like catamarans, outrigger boats, lashed-lug and sewn-plank boats, and paan) and cultigens (like coconuts, sandalwood, bananas, and sugarcane); as well as connecting the material cultures of India and China. Indonesians, in particular were trading in spices (mainly cinnamon and cassia) with East Africa using catamaran and outrigger boats and sailing with the help of the Westerlies in the Indian Ocean. This trade network expanded to reach as far as Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, resulting in the Austronesian colonization of Madagascar by the first half of the first millennium AD. It continued up to historic times, later becoming the Maritime Silk Road.