Asia as Possible Home for UN: Far-Fetched, but Worth Considering

At the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed the idea of moving the UN headquarters to Asia.

He recalled that 70 years ago, when instead of the defunct League of Nations in Geneva, the United Nations was being established, it was decided to locate its headquarters in New York, as the centre of world development then moved from the Old World to the new point of global growth, the United States and New York.

“In the twenty-first century, the centre of development is shifting to Asia, the largest continent in the world, home to two thirds of the world population and concentrated vast resources. Powerful emerging economies of Asia are marking a new reality in global processes. It is important to use this historic opportunity to give new impetus to relations between states,” he said.

While the idea of moving the UN headquarters to Asia will require some time to gestate, it is nevertheless important to consider some developments on the continent as far as they relate to changing global dynamics.

Under the current global economic order, indeed, Asian economies have developed quickly and prospered, and to a large extent have been the main beneficiaries of the postwar settlement, taking full advantage of it. Successive trade rounds of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (which significantly reduced trade barriers of industrial nations while allowing developing countries some preferential treatment), as well as the export-oriented growth strategy of most Asian nations, made their rapid growth and industrialisation possible. Increased capital flows and investment (direct and portfolio) by the West accelerated their growth potential.

Moreover, with the collapse of the former Soviet Union and the consequent impact on Eastern Europe, more than 400 million people were integrated into the free market economic system. With the opening and accelerated growth of the economies of China and India, nearly 2 billion people became fully integrated into the global economic system. That means that, over the last 20 years, we have seen economies with half the world’s population integrate into the global economic system. In addition, globalisation of national economies across the world, both advanced and developing, started to accelerate in the 1990s. Emerging economies accelerated their financial deregulation and opening, which led to rapid integration of their financial markets into the global market. This also led to massive and volatile capital inflows to these economies.

Most Asian economies are very open, depending heavily on international trade and investment. Maintaining an open system will be a key to their future success. For instance, over the past 20 years China’s real gross domestic product growth has averaged 9.9 percent. This has lifted its economy from being only marginally relevant to being one of the biggest drivers of global growth. Chinese investment abroad, especially in the production of strategic commodities, but also in consumer industries, will continue to attract the attention of foreign governments. 

China took the initiative in establishing the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). AIIB is an inter-governmental institution for the multilateral development of Asia. It aims to promote infrastructure construction, connectivity, economic integration and common prosperity in the Asian region. AIIB is also a multilateral financial institution and a specialised investment and financing platform for infrastructure development in Asian countries.

The establishment of the AIIB can not only provide highly efficient and reliable long-term financial support for Asian economic and social development but also strengthen infrastructure construction as an engine of economic growth. It will also improve the efficient utilisation of capital in Asia through leverage so as to promote construction of all-around connectivity in the region. 

Therefore, more and more Asian countries and even non-Asian countries have joined the AIIB and are eager to be founding members. It reflects their trust in the AIIB and its good prospects for development. Asia now produces up to 30 percent of the world’s GDP and its share is expected to reach 50 percent by 2050.

Despite the fact that Asia is one continent that has some of the most dynamic economies in the world, Asia’s economic integration is developing too slowly. There are many reasons for the delay.

First, unbalanced economic growth is one of the main difficulties for Asia’s economic integration. For instance, if we compare countries such as Singapore or Saudi Arabia (high-income countries) with Pakistan and Laos, which are low-income countries, it is clear that Asia’s economic growth is unbalanced.

Second, Asia has diversified cultures, religions and customs.

Third, there are still numerous problems related to security in Asia, ranging from lack of peace on the Korean Peninsula to tensions among numerous states over territorial claims including in the seas; from rising instability and the lack of settlement in Afghanistan to the war in Syria, to name but a few. There is no doubt that those tensions also negatively affect the progress of Asia’s economic integration.

So, all in all, the proposal by the Kazakh leader to transfer the UN headquarters is interesting, yet requires a longer look, at the very least. His other proposal, also voiced from the UN rostrum, to open an international centre for the development of green technologies and investment projects under UN auspices in Astana based on the EXPO 2017 premises seems more near term and more substantial.

For instance, East Asia became one of the key global centres for new electronic industries during the past three decades because those countries created special economic zones, export processing zones, science parks and other institutional arrangements to entice foreign investments in the electronics sector. This is a clear example of a great success.

Therefore, establishing new office under UN auspices in Astana will provide additional impetus to development not only for Asian countries, but also to the development of world economies.

Astana was chosen as the venue to host EXPO 2017, which will focus on the theme Future Energy and seeks to concentrate on both the future of energy, but also on innovative but practical energy solutions and their global impact. The exhibition will last three months, include representatives from approximately 100 countries and is expected to draw 3 to 5 million visits. This will give a powerful impetus to innovative development across Central Asia and help stimulate international discussion on sustainable green energy and economies.

This event could potentially become a great project for the future. After the exhibition, the EXPO’s buildings could be transformed into the international centre for the development of green technologies and investment projects under UN auspices.

This platform can become an appropriate place to discover new technologies, gathering brilliant scientists and specialists in this field. Meanwhile, all countries need to join efforts to save our planet by searching for practical energy solutions.

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