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MetaScan 4 – The Future of Asia: Implications for Canada

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Conclusion: Credible Assumptions

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Commonly held assumptions in 2015 and credible assumptions looking forward
Next steps: dialogue and deepening the reflection

In the final step of the Horizons Foresight Method, commonly held assumptions identified at the start are tested against the scenarios and other findings to identify credible assumptions that appear more robust across a range of futures.

This Future of Asia foresight study began by listing some commonly held assumptions that consciously or unconsciously shape our thinking about the expected future for Asia. The study then identified a number of insights about plausible disruptive changes that could alter Asia’s expected future. The scenarios explored how these disruptive changes could combine and interact to create surprises, helping readers to better visualize plausible alternative futures. Next, the changes explored in the insights and scenarios were used to identify a number of potential policy challenges and opportunities for Canada — issues that current policies and institutions may not be ready to address.

Finally, and by way of conclusion, the commonly held assumptions identified at the beginning are tested and, where necessary, replaced with more credible alternative assumptions. These alternative credible assumptions — presented in the right hand column of the table below — appear to be more robust across a range of Asia’s possible futures. They can be useful when developing or evaluating vision, strategy, policy and programs in Canada.

Commonly held assumptions in 2015 and credible assumptions looking forward

Commonly held assumptions in 2015

Asia’s economies will grow and become the centre of gravity and the driver of growth in the global economy.

Credible assumptions looking forward

A range of trajectories for Asian economies are possible. Asia is expected to grow, but growth could be uneven and weaker than expected due to protectionism, political instability or economic mismanagement.


Commonly held assumptions in 2015

The further integration of Asia in the global economy will continue smoothly.

Credible assumptions looking forward

As Asia and the world make the transition to a global digital economy, an extended period of economic and social disruption is possible. Significant employment disruption driven by new technologies, falling wages driven by job unbundling and radically evolving business models could drive change at a pace and scale beyond the capacity of governments to mount an effective response.


Commonly held assumptions in 2015

Asia will have a larger middle class than the West.

Credible assumptions looking forward

Asia will likely have a larger middle class than the West, however a significant new source of demand for innovative, frugal goods and services will be the 2.4 billion “emerging consumers” with incomes between US$ 10,000 and US$ 20,000. This could spur significant frugal innovation that may drive down global prices for many goods and services, with both beneficial and disruptive impacts.


Commonly held assumptions in 2015

Competition from lower cost Asian labour is likely to slow in coming decades as wages rise in Asia.

Credible assumptions looking forward

Competition from lower-cost Asian labour could increase significantly. Unbundling of work into discrete tasks, combined with advances in telepresence, artificial intelligence, additive manufacturing and robotics could facilitate hundreds of millions of Asians to compete in an increasingly globalized digital economy, directly impacting a large number of previously unaffected low-and high-skill jobs. Asia’s comparatively low wages could put downward pressure on wages and employment levels in the West.


Commonly held assumptions in 2015

Trade liberalization will reduce barriers and expand trade flows.

Credible assumptions looking forward

Trade liberalization is likely to occur, but not necessarily through formal trade agreements. The growing digitization of the global economy may limit the effectiveness of traditional policy tools, resulting in de facto trade liberalization.


Commonly held assumptions in 2015

Most government policy instruments will remain relevant and effective in the years ahead.

Credible assumptions looking forward

As we enter the digital era, nation states may find traditional policy instruments are less effective and that new instruments and greater international cooperation may be required to achieve policy objectives. It is likely that economic, tax, health, safety and labour policies will be difficult to develop and enforce using traditional instruments in the emerging digital economy where many “workarounds” are possible.


Commonly held assumptions in 2015

Asia’s demand for fossil fuels will continue to grow over the next 10–15 years.

Credible assumptions looking forward

Asia’s demand for fossil fuels could peak earlier and decline faster than predicted, leading to a softening of global demand. Emerging technologies such as electric vehicles and behavioural shifts such as virtual work may reduce the demand for oil for transportation. Low-cost oil producers may not curtail supply to increase prices in order to maintain their share of a diminishing market, seeking to maximize the extraction of their reserves before oil is replaced as a predominant energy source.


Commonly held assumptions in 2015

Despite growing concerns over pollution, economic growth will continue to trump environmental concerns in Asia.

Credible assumptions looking forward

Asian governments are likely to take stronger action to address environmental issues, focusing first on urban air pollution from vehicles and fossil fueled electricity production. Electrification of Asia’s increasingly digitally-based economies with renewable energy sources could reduce the need for trade-offs between increasing energy for economic development and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Asian countries could emerge as leaders on climate change leveraging competitive advantages in low carbon technologies into global market share.


Commonly held assumptions in 2015

Intense rivalry among Asian powers will prevent significant economic or political integration in the region.

Credible assumptions looking forward

Asian countries could develop robust regional institutions that facilitate deeper economic, diplomatic, and possibly security cooperation. Effective Asian regional institutions could promote peace and prosperity in the region and play a more influential and potentially disruptive role in international negotiations. As cooperation expands, the U.S. may find it increasingly costly and difficult to maintain its current preeminent position in the region.


Commonly held assumptions in 2015

Asia’s security institutions are prepared to address security threats and emerging challenges.

Credible assumptions looking forward

Overlapping networked relationships among non-state actors and the proliferation of disruptive technologies could generate new security gaps in Asia and the West. The ability of sophisticated non-state actors to acquire advanced digital, nano and bio technologies enables novel forms of violence, armed conflict, and political disruption. These risks could cascade and converge within and beyond Asia in ways that are hard for siloed security services to anticipate and address. State-influenced businesses with expertise and access to new technologies could also play potent and disruptive roles.


Commonly held assumptions in 2015

A growing Asian middle class will pressure their governments to become more democratic.

Credible assumptions looking forward

Authoritarian but responsive forms of governance could emerge as sustainable alternatives to democracy.Highly centralized and/or authoritarian regimes could use online tools to engage, respond and serve their citizens without ceding power. Evolving governance approaches and social media monitoring could redefine citizen participation in governance, potentially introducing viable new models.


Commonly held assumptions in 2015

As Asian societies rapidly urbanize and further integrate into the global economy, they will be torn between modern“western” values and traditional “Asian” values.

Credible assumptions looking forward

Asia could define its own interpretation of modernity, creating a new cultural exchange with the West. A modernized and more confident Asia (with a greater online presence) could expand the influence of Asian worldviews throughout the globe.


Next steps: dialogue and deepening the reflection

This next step in the process is largely up to you. The statements about credible assumptions, insights about change and emerging policy challenges and opportunities in this study provide readers with the means to push the exploration even further. One way to use this information is to conduct your own thought experiments, individually or in a group. Identify a few of the statements that are relevant to your organization, responsibilities, expertise or interests. Take each statement, one at a time, and imagine what would change if it were true. (Influence mapping is a simple foresight tool that can help with this task). Is your organization prepared for these changes? What would a more robust policy or program look like?

Thinking about the range of plausible futures and not just the expected future is the best way for Canada to prepare for the changes that lie ahead.

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Policy Horizons | Horizons de politiques

Policy Horizons Canada, also referred to as Policy Horizons, is an organization within the federal public service that conducts strategic foresight on cross-cutting issues that informs public servants today about the possible public policy implications over the next 10-15 years.

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