Demographic shifts will have massive implications for Asia's future. The rapidly rising life expectancies and reduced birth rates of the populations of China, Japan and South Korea will place great burdens on the next generation. The gender gap is caused by selective abortion and infanticide in East and South Asia; these have created a deficit of tens of millions of girls, giving rise to prostitution, sex trafficking, wife-buying and abduction. Then there are the burgeoning populations in most of the Arab world, particularly Yemen and Palestine (also the poorest Arab countries) as well as Afghanistan, Pakistan and many Southeast Asian countries. Over the next 50 years, all of these dynamics combined will generate incredible pressures on nation-states and fuel large-scale migration, unrest, eonomic upheaval, and ecological stress. Lord, have mercy on the vulnerable amidst Asia's teeming billions!
Unprecedented levels of migration, globalization and mobility change the composition of entire countries. These are occurring in many regions and in different ways:
- The oil-rich states of the Middle East receive millions of economic migrants from poorer regions of Asia - other Arab nations, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Populations in countries such as the UAE, Qatar and Bahrain are mostly expatriates.
- Southeast and South Asia have millions of relocated people. Some reside long-term due to conditions in their homelands, many simply look for work where they can find it and others are trafficked against their will to work in industrial sweatshops or brothels. In the latter cases, organized crime rings are the greatest beneficiaries of such wicked structures of sin.
- Human exports as economic policy. For countries such as the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, China, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, remittances from money earned abroad and sent back to families have become a major earner of foreign exchange, in some cases one of the largest sectors of national income.
- Urbanization is occurring in Asia more quickly than anywhere in the world, apart from Africa. Literally hundreds of millions of people are moving from traditional rural areas (and lifestyles) into urban areas (usually slums), looking for work and a new life. Such people are often vulnerable to exploitation, loneliness and desperation.
The supply of safe water, increasingly in demand but in ever-scarcer supply, is an international issue that will only become more hotly contested. Climate change will also have an unpredictable effect on water supply, dramatically affecting the most vulnerable areas; it will affect agriculture, sanitation and the health of millions. Preventable water-related issues cause a high proportion of child mortality. There are genuine possibilities of huge numbers of refugees and even war as a result of water scarcity. Greater tensions will most likely concern the Jordan River (Arabs and Israelis), the Tigris/Euphrates Rivers (Turkey, Syria, Iraq), the Amu Darya/Syr Daria/Aral Sea (Central Asia), the Indus/Ganges/Brahmaputra Rivers (South Asia) and the Mekong River (China and Southeast Asia).
Trafficking is a major means of illegal and illicit income. Drug trafficking remains the most well known and violent of these trades. There are two main hubs of heroin production: Afghanistan and the Golden Triangle. Human trafficking, usually for manual labour or the sex trade, has accelerated rapidly in the last few years. It particularly affects the poorer countries, where women are sold or enter into indentured slavery and are forced to pay off debt through prostitution. But it also affects wealthier countries; places such as Japan, parts of China, Thailand, India and many Arab countries traffic in girls from abroad to populate brothels. International trade in illegally logged hardwoods and endangered species has also soared due to demand from East Asia's growing financial elite. The wealthy and criminal networks prosper as a result; the rural poor invariably suffer.
Intractable divisions within and between nations threaten stability and peace in many places. Some of these are international in nature: India-Pakistan, North and South Korea, Israel-Palestine-Lebanon are examples. Others involve active secessionist or rebel movements within nations: India (Kashmir), China (Tibet and Xinjiang), Myanmar, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Georgia and the Philippines. Furthermore, political and political-religious divides in several other states might be resolved peacefully or they could result in civil conflict or war: Thailand, Nepal, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Indonesia, Malaysia and Central Asia. In a number of these cases, such tensions have recently been played out at great human cost. There remain restive minorities - ethnic, religious and political - in many of these states and in others as well.
Asia's economic growth continues to be phenomenal, but much of it is also either unsustainable or fragile. This ranges from oil-rich states with limited reserves, to dwindling natural resources (Southeast Asian rainforests and Central Asian cotton fields), to nations heavily reliant on investments/finance and exports (effectively, all of East Asia). Such growth is also uneven, in many cases fabulously enriching a small minority while leaving the majority still mired in poverty. While there is great potential to create wealth and economically empower hundreds of millions more, there is also the equal possibility of greater corruption and of financial crashes that reverberate throughout the globe, with severe consequences. Pray for growth based on sustainable models and for the multiplication of wealth that is equitable and just for all.
Ecological disasters loom on the horizon, largely because of rapid industrialization, unsustainable growth in energy consumption and pollution. There is a litany of tragedies for Asia: drying of the Aral Sea in Central Asia, leaving a poisonous desert; desertification in China and Mongolia; rapid destruction of tropical forests in Southeast Asia and Indonesia; the threatened future of coral reefs and the whole of the Maldives due to global warming; increasingly frequent flooding of much of Bangladesh's and some of India's land areas; the monumental environmental troubles in China resulting from massive energy projects and rapid industrialization and the accelerating increase in pollution (much of it as a result of greater personal consumption such as automobile use). While it is hard to deny Asia the right to advance its economies as the West took liberty to do, the sheer scale of the continent and the speed at which it is happening threaten to overwhelm the environment with globally disastrous consequences.
The resurgence of non-Christian world religions increasingly influences politics, restricts religious freedom, heightens inter-ethnic divisions and affects Christian outreach and strategy.
- Islam is a faith undergoing several crises. It remains robust and growing at its fringes in Africa, Europe and parts of Asia, while closer to home, cracks in the facade reveal deeper fault lines within the faith. The presence of radical Islamist movements generates terror and violence in many countries in Asia, from the Middle East through Central and South Asia all the way to Indonesia. Yet many other Muslims in Asia are increasingly tolerant and retain their Islamic identity in a more globalized and modern world. Also rapidly increasing are those who leave their faith behind - either retaining the merest facade of Muslim cultural identity or abandoning Islam altogether - for non-religion or often for Christianity. Pressure grows to implement shari'a law in many Middle Eastern nations. The level of persecution against Christians has markedly increased. There are 26 Asian countries with a Muslim majority.
- Extreme Hindu groups have fared well in India's last two national elections, and their influence seems at an all-time high in the post-independence era. This is especially true in particular states such as Odisha, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and others. They also wield notable influence in Nepal. India's already complex social fabric is threatened by Hinduist attacks on Muslims and Christians, by forced "conversions" of Dalits and Tribals and by Muslim attacks on Hindus. Outspoken and frequently violent opposition to Christian proselytism is not uncommon. Evangelistic endeavours in both countries are under pressure.
- Buddhists are reacting to effective Christian ministry in Sri Lanka, Myanmar and among Tibetan peoples. Korean Buddhism is experiencing rapid growth whilst earlier Christian growth has plateaued. Buddhism, together with underlying ethnic religions (Daoism, Shintoism, Shamanism, others), is the majority religion of 13 Asian countries and is strong in those still under Communist rule.
- Asia's indigenous ethnic religions have regained influence - Shintoism in Japan, Daoism and Confucianism in Chinese countries, shamanism in Mongolia and others.
- Extreme Orthodox Judaism wields a disproportionately large political influence on Israel, a factor further complicating any efforts made for peace.
The resilience of totalitarianism. The extreme repression of the North Korean Communist regime - and the persistence of authoritarian central regimes in Vietnam, Laos, China, Myanmar, Turkmenistan, Saudi Arabia and others - could lead to unexpected and sudden events that reverberate around the world. Only about five or six Asian countries have genuine, deep-rooted cultures of democratic freedom. Democracy is fragile in Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines and Malaysia and is only in its infancy in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. In Central Asia, the fledgling democracies are often a sham, and Russia has moved to reassert its authority over the region. In many countries, a semblance of democracy is trumped by older and deeper authority and governance structures, and for most of these, such an arrangement is eminently workable.
The revolution in information technology cannot but deeply affect Asia. Some countries will benefit from the large and well-educated workforce that specializes in IT - India and China are foremost among these. East Asia leads the world in technological innovation on many levels. But a more profound effect will be from rapidly spreading information and global awareness in previously isolated nations. Just as swift will be authoritarian states moving to suppress such information and monitor their populations. Awareness and knowledge of oppression, injustice and corruption will spread more than ever before - and hopefully elicit a righteous response from the global community. Even more significantly, the good news of Jesus Christ is reaching via satellite television and Internet into homes and communities that would otherwise be unreached and unreachable by traditional means.
The severity of the AIDS pandemic is intensifying in certain regions. Two major infection points are Mumbai, India, and Bangkok, Thailand, where the flourishing sex industry helps spread the scourge to poorer, surrounding lands. India has more cases of HIV than any other nation. More recently, relaxed morals and greater mobility in China make it a region where the disease has spread rapidly. Many are concerned that cultural mores, stigma and lack of decisive action allow the issue to be swept under the proverbial carpet, rather than determinedly eradicated.
The reassertion of Russian authority in its former sphere of influence. Already, countries such as Georgia and Kyrgyzstan feel the power of Russian foreign policy. While Moscow may never rule outright as it did in the USSR, the more aggressive Russian stance in Central Asia and the Caucasus may profoundly affect regional politics and extend beyond these countries into Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan and even China.
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Content taken or adapted from Operation World, 7th Edition (2010) and Pray for the World (2015). Both books are published by InterVarsity Press. All rights reserved.