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Prof. Rien T. Segers: 'The domination of Asia is unavoidable in the 21st century'

28 January 2009

The West has fallen into an unbelievably deep economic crisis after years of steady growth. In Asia, on the other hand, various countries, including China, India, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea, have been growing phenomenally. Even now, during the credit crisis, China is still showing five percent growth. According to Rien T. Segers, professor-director of the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Groningen, it is clear that Asia is going to play an important role in this century.

The 21st century is going to be Asia’s century. The consequences for Western countries in general and for the Netherlands in particular will be discussed on 9 February during the symposium ‘The Asian Era? The irresistible Asianization of the world in the 21st Century’.

Towards a different corporate culture

Segers thinks we are at a crossroads. ‘It’s slowly becoming clear that the Anglo-Saxon corporate model is not working, and certainly not in a Dutch context. A clear example of this is the fall of ABN AMRO.’ So what's next? Segers: ‘What is certainly clear is that we have to reorganize our corporate culture fast. The Anglo-Saxon model has gone bust, literally and figuratively. It’s time to check out what the Asian model has to offer us. That will dovetail much better with our own old Rhineland model, which was swept aside in favour of the American model. The Asian model has led to unparalleled successes in that region at any rate, from Japan to China, from Taiwan to Singapore. These successes are set to continue after the credit crisis.’


One stumbling block on the way to Asian ‘world leadership’ is the political relationships among the various countries in the Asiatic region. Segers: ‘Viewed from an economics perspective, the relationships among Asiatic countries are stronger than ever. In China, for example, there are currently 34,000 Japanese companies; 10 million Chinese work for Japanese companies. The political relationship is still fragile, however – the Second World War has never been completely laid to rest. But with the help of the current credit crisis, Asiatic countries are more than making up for lost time politically. Just look at the historic summit that was held last December by South Korea, China and Japan.

Head start

According to Segers, the credit crisis is an ideal opportunity for Asia to strengthen its mutual connections. ‘It’s no longer a matter of how you go into the crisis but how you come out of it. For various reasons, Asia has a head start on Europe and America in this case. First, there is that technological refinement, and a strong determination to make things better and better and to develop things that people actually need.’

Wage costs

Second, there is the great competitive advantage. Segers: ‘The work ethic is completely different there to here. They don’t perform at ninety percent but at a hundred and ten. The loyalty is immense, both to the employer and to the tasks they’ve been allocated.’ A third – very important – advantage is of course the low wage costs. ‘In that sense even Japan cannot compete with China and other “new” Asian countries, but it does profit enormously from outsourcing to other Asiatic countries. Asia offers quality and is cheap; that’s what’s going to make the difference during and after the credit crisis.’


It goes without saying that America will not welcome even more competition from Asia, acknowledges Segers. ‘They still seem to think that everyone in the world would like to become an American citizen. America thinks that it has a mission and has to lead again, something that President Obama said again during his inauguration. However, it took 25 years before the American car industry and the American government acknowledged that it wasn’t America but Japan that led the auto industry. That’s a mistake we must not make in Europe. We must recognize Eastern Asia’s quality and aim for cooperation rather than confrontation. That’s the best strategy to protect our own position.’

Favourable future for the Netherlands

The position of the Netherlands in this view of the future is in principle favourable, states Segers. ‘We have an open economy, are bilingual and have a number of extremely talented students ready to work for the government and industry. The only problem is that we are far too orientated towards America.’ According to Segers, it is important that we as a country start concentrating hard on Eastern Asia. ‘That’s not just doing business, we must also properly chart how they tackle matters there, what their business model is and how they will emerge from the credit crisis. You don’t even initially have to go to Asia to do that. About 350 Japanese companies already have a head office in the Netherlands and more and more Chinese are heading this way – strongly supported by the Chinese government. They are a shining example for the Dutch government.’

Curriculum Vitae

Rien T. Segers has studied and worked in Europe (Utrecht, Constance), America (Yale and New York) and Asia (Kyoto, Osaka and Beijing). He is currently Professor of Japanese Corporate Culture and Director of the Center for Japanese Studies at the University of Groningen. He has written the book Sleutelboek Japan (1996), is co-author of Energy in China (2007) and compiler of A New Japan for the 21st Century (2008).


The Asian Era? The irresistible Asianization of the world in the 21st Century.
- Speakers include Laurens Jan Brinkhorst, ex-Minister of Economic Affairs and deputy prime minister, Hisashi Owada, ex-top Japanese diplomat and now judge for the International Court of Justice in The Hague and Rien T. Segers.
- Segers’s new book will be presented during the symposium as well: Japan en de onontkoombare Aziatisering van de wereld (Uitgeverij Balans, Amsterdam; ISBN 9 789050 18960). [Japan and the unavoidable Asianization of the World]
- Date: 9 February 2009, 2.15-6 p.m., Aula, Academy Building, University of Groningen, Broerstraat 5 in Groningen. Admission is free, but interested parties are requested to register by sending a message to b.streefland

See also:

More information: Rien Segers, tel. 0031-50-363 79 88 (work) or 0031-50-527 82 78 (home),  e-mail: m.t.m.segers

Last modified:30 November 2017 4.53 p.m.
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