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The next two decades will bring staggering global shifts. A changing climate will lead to more human migration than ever, while new and persistent conflicts will continue to cause the displacement of millions. Humanitarian crises are all but assured. Meanwhile, vast improvements in healthcare and science are leading to massive demographic shifts — infant mortality is plummeting in the poorest nations, life spans are lengthening in the wealthiest. But the side effects of gender selection and a rapidly aging population will hit many nations hard. Technology may prove our saving grace, or it may prove our downfall. We reached out to ambassadors and political leaders, CEOs and scholars, writers and artists to ask what the year 2040 will bring. Their answers were hopeful, horrifying, scientific, philosophical, grand, and delicate. Explore them below.
Founder, Impact Investment Exchange; 2016 Asia Game Changer
By 2040, Asia will be one of the leaders in women’s empowerment and climate action. This will occur in part, by transforming our financial systems. For Asia to reach this pinnacle of equitable leadership, we all need to have the courage to radically push for system-wide change, embrace risk, and build a financial market that truly works for everyone.
Chairman and CEO, PAG Group
Cancer will become curable and aging will be slowed. Use of clean energy will be greater than fossil fuels. China will have a larger middle-class population than the U.S.
Vishakha N. Desai
Senior Research Scholar, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University; President Emeritus, Asia Society
By 2040, India will have close to 1.5 billion people living on a landmass one-third the size of China. A large majority of the new population will consist of young men; one-third of the country’s population will be under the age of 18. Imagine these young men, living in increasingly urban environments, hunting for millions of nearly non-existent jobs every year. Some 40 million of them will be “surplus males” who can’t find brides. The Indian preference for male children already is resulting in selective abortions of female fetuses, giving India (along with China) one of the most skewed ratios of male-to-female children. Add to this phenomenon of single males the presence of social media saturated with sexually explicit images. The idea of underemployed, sexually-charged young men, roaming densely populated urban centers that suffer from drastic effects of environmental degradation sends chills down my spine. It makes me worried sick for my grandnieces who are growing up as strong-willed young girls in India today.
Former Foreign Minister and Environment Minister of Japan; Distinguished Fellow, Asia Society Policy Institute
Asia in 2040 will be multipolar. India will emerge as a leader alongside China and the U.S. — which will remain an imperative economic partner to the region. Japan will also remain a leader. Regional challenges in maintaining peace and the liberal economic order, improving regional and individual countries’ income distribution, and establishing a workable regional governance system will also have to be addressed.
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Chairman and CEO, Lazard Greater China
One of the biggest challenges for China in 2040 is that China will become old before it becomes rich. The aging problem will have a huge impact on its social security system and on its economic growth model.
Founder and Chairman, Yangon Heritage Trust; Former Special Adviser to the Myanmar Government
By 2040, Asia will be a far smaller and far more unwieldy place, with civilizations and peoples pressed up against one another as never before. Many areas will be grappling with catastrophic climate change as well as the myriad new forces unleashed by technological innovation. To prepare for this testing world to come, perhaps what’s as important as anything else will be to teach kids history — global and interconnected histories, including those of far away places — in critical and creative ways. We must introduce them to different perspectives in order to counter narrow nationalist narratives and, more than anything else, to develop empathy for strangers. It’s the essential building block for the kind of cooperation that will be necessary for Asia to survive and prosper.
Governor of Tokyo; 2019 Asia Game Changer
I am convinced that for Asia in general, and Tokyo in particular, the vision we must pursue is not just an extension of our efforts to date. We must have the courage to take risks, to pursue new ideas, to move beyond our prejudices and perceived historic constraints. Asia’s future will be bright only if Asian leaders work to unlock and inspire Asia’s vast human aspirations. The temptation to constrain and control citizens and their dreams must be resisted. Finally, I trust that by 2040 the Japanese word for longevity, chōju, will be understood and admired across Asia and the world. By 2040, Japan’s average life expectancy might very well exceed 100 years old.
Director, the Center for American Studies; Dean, the Institute of International Studies, Fudan University; Asia Society Policy Institute Council
Over the next 20 years, Asia will emerge as the largest economy in the world. It will also become a champion in technology, business, and fashion, among other sectors. But Asia will have yet to overcome tough geopolitical challenges and forge effective regional cooperation.
Former CEO, PepsiCo; Asia Society Trustee; 2018 Asia Game Changer
I see both the opportunity and challenge of recognizing that women have hopes and dreams beyond wanting a family. It’s a shame not to tap the potential of these incredible people in the work world, and to address that they need support at home. We will see more intergenerational households emerge, with communities redesigned to have old and young helping each other out. The extended family will play a bigger role in letting new families prosper.
President and Founder, Eurasia Group and GZERO Media; Harold J. Newman Distinguished Fellow, Asia Society Policy Institute
In 20 years, a wide range of Asian countries will come to be dominated both by China’s economy and its technology — to the point that hedging against China will no longer be an option. That’s good news for China, which will use its hub-and-spoke system of influence abroad to raise a new “Beijing Consensus” that is heavy on the “Beijing” and short on the “consensus.” Beijing will be the one setting trade standards and frameworks for people-to-people connections, ensuring that everyone in its orbit is aligned with Chinese economic and tech priorities. Put another way, the “internet of things” 20 years from now will both connect and divide, and that will be felt most acutely in the Asian nations that will fall within China’s data space.
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Former U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Philippines, Zambia; President Emeritus, Asia Society
Climate change will become the primary issue threatening — as well as uniting — the U.S. with the countries of Asia. Long recognized by U.S. Navy analysts as the major national security threat to the millions living at sea level, the realities of flooding, relocation, and forced migration will have become the top priority for policy makers in the U.S., China, Japan, and Southeast Asia. Though controlled by no one, climate change will be recognized as the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, unless checked by massive cooperation between the nations. China will become the biggest economy, but will not replace the U.S. as most influential power. Pervasive Communist Party controls are antithetical to the self-generated innovation and technical advance needed to avoid the middle-income trap. China will need help from abroad to deal with its growing shortages: clean water and air, fewer but older people. The U.S., creator of great past messes, will clean up the current one.
Lulu C. Wang
Founder and CEO, Tupelo Capital Management; Asia Society Trustee
There is so much negativity these days. I will propose a rosier future, especially in Asia. This past decade has been marked by tragic flows of immigrants — unwelcome at almost all points of entry. I would envision that in 20 years, as population growth stagnates in most countries, demand for those who can manage and innovate in low-resource, high-tech industries will soar. Rather than facing barred doors, workers will be wooed, even across borders. This gifted worker class will restore faith in capitalism and globalism — two concepts that have fallen into disrepute in recent years. This competition for talented labor will transcend gender as well as political biases.
Professor of International Security Studies, National Defense University; Bernard Schwartz Fellow, Asia Society, 2010
Asia will be thriving economically in 2040 after a sustained pattern of growth and development. Overall, two challenges will become acute over time: climate change effects and political instability in states experiencing authoritarian regimes. Resistance to injustice will be stronger and better organized. Some of the most violent conflicts in Asia, such as the India-Pakistan confrontation over Kashmir, the Saudi-Iran proxy wars, and the violent trends in Afghanistan will be less intense after various attempts at peace settlements that will, hopefully, be maturing by 2040.
Former U.S. Ambassador to China; Former President, Council on Foreign Relations
Twenty years from now the Communist Party will not be ruling China. For decades the Party has defied history and its edict that man (and woman) does not live by bread (or rice) alone. It has used economic progress, nationalism, and fierce repression to maintain power. By 2040, universal human impulses for freedom, economic imperatives, political accountability, and an interdependent world will combine to transform the Chinese landscape.
Professor of International Relations, UBC; Asia Society Global Council
Headlines from 2040: “Asian Leaders Celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the Global Nuclear Weapons Ban Treaty”; “First Chinese President of the World Bank Appointed, Second Woman to Hold the Post”; “For 10th Consecutive Year, Asia is the Global Leader in Poverty Reduction”; “Team from United Korea Wins FIFA Title.”
Executive Vice President, The Quincy Institute
By 2040, U.S. military hegemony over the Persian Gulf will have come to a complete end. Regional powers will grudgingly seek to resolve their tensions on their own. While tensions initially had increased, by 2040, the Persian Gulf states will have set up a new security architecture for the region. Though stability will remain elusive, geopolitics will not be the main driver of instability, but rather climate change.
CEO, MOBY Group; 2014 Asia Game Changer
The biggest challenges facing countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan will be unemployment and resource scarcity, namely water. As populations of both countries increase dramatically (Afghanistan’s is set to increase threefold while Pakistan’s is expected to double) both nations will struggle to meet their citizens’ expectations. With Af-Pak expected to host 500 million inhabitants by 2060, there is a risk that the region’s disgruntled youth will continue trekking westwards in search of a better life, further compounding Europe’s refugee crisis.
Maha Hosain Aziz
Professor in the MA International Relations Program, NYU; Asia Society Global Council
All countries are headed for a major occupational identity crisis because at least 40% of jobs will be wiped away by automation in the next 20 years. We will be forced to reimagine the relationship we have with our work. Governments will have to provide for those who cannot find new work — or leaders will face massive protests. But there are bright spots. Citizens are so active and engaged. They themselves may come up with solutions to our major problems that our weak governments are unable to reach.
Fernando Zobel de Ayala
President, Ayala Corporation; Asia Society Trustee
With rapid innovation in technology we will see a transformation in several critical services, including education and healthcare. The availability of the best educational content online will give everyone equal access to relevant knowledge and skills, while healthtech will bring down costs and provide greater healthcare access by 2040. At least 163 million households will enter the middle class and will create substantial purchasing power. Empowering this segment of the population will require drastically improving financial inclusion and access to education and healthcare in innovative ways.
Oscar-Winning Documentary Filmmaker; 2014 Asia Game Changer
We humans want to outpace machines and genetic modification will change the way we operate. Unfortunately, ethicists are not part of the conversation and the gravest challenge we will face is how much engineering we want to do to the human body. By selecting embryos for greater intelligence or beauty or embedding chips that will allow the human body to perform at a higher ability, we may embark on a dark path. We will have to decide what is ethical and where to draw the line.
Former Foreign Secretary of India; Distinguished Fellow, Asia Society Policy Institute
Twenty years from now we are likely to see an Asia that is even more integrated economically, politically plural, and without a single or simple security architecture. Asia will be central to the world economy, and the major provider of knowledge and innovation. If she is true to her traditions she will concentrate on the human aspects of development, particularly as the population ages.