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Asia Stream: Asians on the Move: An Immigration Forecast

The future is Asian -- but increasingly, Asians are moving out of Asia. We examine the trends and discuss how the world may rearrange itself in the coming decades.

NEW YORK -- Welcome to Nikkei Asia's podcast: Asia Stream.

Asia Stream tracks and analyzes the Indo-Pacific with a mix of expert interviews and original reporting by our correspondents from across the globe.

Listen on: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | YouTube

This episode, we look at the immigration trends Asia is experiencing and how the world population may rearrange itself over the next few decades. Our guide is Parag Khanna, author of Move: Where People Are Going for a Better Future.

After host Waj Khan opens the show, correspondent Alice French joins for a Tokyo Dispatch segment on women's wealth in Asia. Then correspondent Monica Hunter-Hart interviews Khanna about which Asian countries people are leaving, and where they're going, how anti-immigration movements across the world are being stymied by labor shortages, and why this current moment is a golden age for skilled young migrants. Asia Stream is hosted by Wajahat S. Khan, our digital editor, and produced by Monica Hunter-Hart, with a regular Tokyo Dispatch segment by Alice French.

Related to this episode:

Japan to require four times more foreign workers, study says, by Mitsuru Obe

Japan is finally facing up to its economic need for immigrants, by Toshihiro Menju

Sri Lankans chase foreign jobs to help families survive inflation, by Prabhu Mallikarjunan

Why relocating Chinese see Singapore as a safe haven, by Yang Min, Zhou Wenmin, and Cai Xuejiao

'Fortress Australia' seeks to become immigration nation again, by Mitch Ryan

Lack of immigrants risks population decline in rich countries, by Kazuya Manabe and Kaori Yoshida

'A great war for talent' awaits post-COVID world: Parag Khanna, by Eri Sugiura

From Pakistan to the Philippines, women break open closed industries, by Lien Hoang, Kiran Sharma, Francesca Regaldo and Cheng Ting-Fang


(Theme music in)

WAJ KHAN, HOST: Hello and welcome to Asia Stream, where we track, report and analyze the issues and interests of the world's largest region.

I am Waj Khan, Nikkei Asia's digital editor, here in New York City.

Today's episode -- Asians on the Move: An Immigration Forecast.

If you're on Earth, if you're not Asian, you are in the minority. Asia's population represents 60% of the world, and is five times bigger than that of the U.S. and EU combined.

And Asians are on the move. Motivated by job opportunities, climate change, family ties, conflict and more, they made up about 40% of the world's record 280.6 million migrants in 2020, according to the U.N. 280.6 million represents 4% of the world's population, and if all of those migrants made one country, it would be the globe's fourth-most-populous state, after China, India and the U.S.

The COVID-19 pandemic, of course, slowed these trends down. But now that countries have mostly opened up, immigration is back in full swing. And it's reshaping the world. In fact, migrants represent 10% of the world's GDP.

Which Asian countries are people leaving, and where are they going?

Is China demographically blessed, or demographically doomed? And what does that mean for its own immigration needs?

Are India's massive outward immigration flows benefitting New Delhi, or are they just leading to brain drain?

We'll be answering those questions today, and much more, with the help of analyst Parag Khanna, author of the new book Move: Where People Are Going for a Better Future.

Khanna argues that in 30 years there's a good chance you'll be living somewhere other than your country of birth. He explains why we'll increasingly be a world on the move. Why this current moment is a golden age for skilled, young migrants. And why women -- who are more educated, empowered and richer than ever before in history -- will continue to remain at the center of the global population debates.

So pack your bags. We've got quite the show.

You're listening to the sound of Asia, streaming in your ear.

From Nikkei Asia, this is Asia Stream.

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AD: A reminder that Nikkei Asia is currently offering an exclusive discount for our podcast listeners. Get three months of our award-winning coverage for just $9. To redeem, just click the link in the episode description.

KHAN: It's almost the winter holidays, and around this time of year, the news often dries up a bit. So we decided to take a step away from the news cycle for a few episodes and bring you something that we love but don't usually have the chance to do: provocative big-picture feature stories on topics that aren't necessarily tied to a single news event. Today, it's Asian immigration. Next episode, it's China's growing efforts to covertly influence world media and politics. And for our first episode of 2023, we'll be looking ahead to the coming year and the crucial stories to watch out for, from the Russia-Ukraine war to a potential Taiwan invasion. We'll even, dare we say, try to make a few predictions. We'll see how that goes.

So basically, we've got exciting stuff ahead for the holiday season! We also are proud to announce that last week was Asia Stream's one-year anniversary! We made it! One whole year! Today is our 34th episode. We have no idea how we did it, but we did it. We've had a wonderful journey with you all -- and with each other -- and can't wait to continue bringing you exciting and important stories from Asia this coming year.

Now, today's episode is about human geography and the forces shaping our movement throughout the world today. And a factor that's going to come up over and over is population size. The growth in numbers of people on this planet is a major driving force behind the growth in wealth -- economic growth. And naturally, aging populations need young people to support them. That means that nations with aging populations, from China to Japan to the U.S., are desperate for more youth.

But here's the complicated bit. Because fertility rates have decreased worldwide by 50% over the last 70 years, those aging countries might have to get their young people not through births, but through immigration. Of course, demographics differ widely around the globe. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest fertility rates in the world. And some Asian countries, including the continent's third-, fourth- and fifth-most populous -- India, Indonesia and Pakistan -- have youth populations that far outnumber the middle-aged and elderly populations.

But on average, birthrates are plummeting, and there are a lot of reasons for that, including the rising cost of raising kids and lower infant mortality. Another big one is women's empowerment. When women get an education and enter the workforce, they're less likely to have a bunch of kids.

Actually, gender is at the heart of a lot of immigration issues, including several we'll be talking about today. So we thought that for today's Tokyo Dispatch segment, we would spotlight the first story of a new, five-part series Nikkei Asia is publishing about women. Right now, for the first time ever, women's combined wealth in Asia is greater than in any other region except North America. And it's growing at a rate faster than anywhere else. Nikkei Asia is investigating the sources of this newfound female wealth, and the impact it's having on women across the region.

So quickly, before we go to Khanna, let's go now to Alice French, our deputy Big Story editor, for this week's Tokyo Dispatch on women's wealth in Asia.

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FRENCH: Konnichiwa! And welcome to the Tokyo Dispatch, where I send regular updates from the narrow streets and neon lights of Tokyo, home to Nikkei HQ and hub for our East Asia coverage.

As Waj mentioned, we are currently running a series about women's wealth in Asia, based on an exclusive analysis by Boston Consulting Group. The data is promising: Women's share of wealth in Asia is on the up -- and around $27 trillion worth of wealth in Asia will be female-owned by 2026, which is around $6 trillion more than women in Western Europe. More than 32% of wealth in Asia currently belongs to women -- which is not far off the U.S., where the proportion is hovering around 40%.

The second article in our series -- which ran as a recent Big Story -- shone a light on women across Asia who are making strides in industries that have, until recently, been dominated by men.

The piece looked at female pioneers in fields from sports to science, including Pakistan's women's cricket team, who are laying foundations for the next generation of girls while still contending with sexism on a regular basis. With women being relative newcomers in these spaces, there is still a lot of progress to be made in areas such as maternity leave and child care provisions.

My favorite aspect was the story's section on women pilots.

One pilot, over in the Philippines, was Capt. Jul Beran, the national air force's first-ever female fighter pilot. Beran was inspired to join the Philippine Military Academy after witnessing separatist violence in her home of Cotabato growing up. She's expecting her first child next year, so by the time she returns to the air force after maternity leave, Beran will have been gone for a year and need to catch up with her peers in terms of flying hours.

After her child is born, Beran's mother-in-law will help care for the baby along with a nanny, which is a common arrangement in the Philippines. But the grueling hours and high bar for physical fitness makes flying an unattainable career choice for many mothers who are not so lucky to have access to child care.

I highly recommend taking a look at the story for some really striking photos of Beran and other female pilots showing how it's done in the cockpit.

Challenges still remain for women in all professions across Asia, as they continue to shoulder the vast majority of unpaid care work, and the pay gap remains far from being closed.

It's also worth noting that Boston Consulting Group's data exclude Japan, the world's third-largest economy, where women's wealth remains outstandingly low, at just 17% of the nation's total -- around half the average for the rest of Asia. Analysts put this down to Japan's low level of female political representation and enduring traditional beliefs about gender roles and family values. We'll be covering gender in Japan more in the new year, so be sure to stay tuned for that.

This has been Alice French, with the Tokyo Dispatch, for Asia Stream. Mata ne!

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KHAN: That was Alice French. And now, for our interview with Parag Khanna, conducted by Asia Stream correspondent Monica Hunter-Hart. It was our first-ever interview with an in-studio guest! We hope you enjoy it.


MONICA HUNTER-HART, CORRESPONDENT: So joining us in the studio today is Parag Khanna, founder and managing partner of Future Map, a global strategic advisory firm that specializes in data-driven scenarios and visualizations. He's an internationally bestselling author of seven books, including this most recent one, which I've got right here. It's called Move: Where People Are Going for a Better Future. And we have him in the studio today to talk about it. He's also a regular Nikkei Asia contributor. Parag, welcome to the Asia Stream studio.

PARAG KHANNA, GUEST: Thank you so much, Monica, great to be with you.

HUNTER-HART: So at the beginning of the book, you make this provocative claim -- you may not know if you've made the right move until 2050. I'll start with a caveat which you acknowledge, too, which is that it's hard to fully predict the future. Of course, crises like COVID or other crises can completely transform existing migration dynamics. But let's say that you are advising a young-adult, highly mobile individual today. Which moves might constitute the right move, and which might constitute the wrong one at this time?

KHANNA: I think the really important part in the way you phrased the question is the plural versus the singular. Because you may not know if you made the right move until 2050. But the point I'm actually making is that you will have made multiple moves between now and 2050. And you may have moved one place for a job. Another place for family. Another for, you know, as an investor. Another because you're fleeing climate events. Another because of a political crisis. Who knows? But the fact is that people are going to have moved more frequently than they have at perhaps any time in the past because of these different stimuli, right? Political, economic, social, family or climate. Or all of the above pushing us in different directions. So where you actually will wind up in 2050 is anyone's guess.

HUNTER-HART: Just give us an overview, though, of the places you expect people to generally be leaving and the places you generally expect people to be going.

KHANNA: Right. So I focus on, kind of, let's say, two main drivers. There's drivers that you can't necessarily predict right down to the year, like where will there be political unrest, civil conflict, international conflict that drives large-scale refugee flows? Like, right now, on the planet, we have a half-dozen locations, whether it's Myanmar or Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, Venezuela, right, where you basically have conflict or state failure and you have up to a million or more than a million, well over a million outbound migrants and refugees and asylum-seekers. So that's just the politics. But you don't know exactly when, exactly where that's going to happen. So the two main, let's say, secular megatrends, long time horizon, but playing out right before our eyes that I'm focusing on are the demographics and climate. And under the demographics, it's labor shortages, right? It's the gap between young and old. We have a gap between young and old in our own countries, right, high dependency ratio, right? You need a larger tax base, you have to fund those pension obligations. So obviously it's a big problem in Japan and China and America. The entire developed world faces this problem. And you have the gap between young and old internationally, right? The North has the old people, and the South has the young people. That's - we've never seen imbalances like that ever. And that has to correct in some way for our own economic health. So that's one. It's just the demographics. The second is climate change, obviously. And if you go back, you know, 100,000 years, climate has always been a key factor in determining where people seek to be. We didn't have fire, let alone shelter and all these -- well, maybe we had fire, but we didn't have, you know, shelter and modern heating and air conditioning, and so on. But climate is obviously back in a big way. And right now, as we speak, one-third of the total number of internationally displaced people is accounted for by climate. So as many as is represented by political refugees, right, so very, very significant number of people, 20, 30 million people. That's going to grow a lot. So, so taking together the demographics and the climate, the question I set out to answer is, well, can we square this circle? Like, is there a way where you can imagine a better, more fair and more productive, more mutually beneficial human geography, right? Distribution of people. And, you know, for one thing, I'll pause on this, but it's primarily about where Asians go. Because Asia represents more than 50% of the human population. That's not only true today, that will literally forever be true. And Asia also represents most of the world's young people. So I get asked all the time, you know, talk about the future, I say, "Well, if you want to summarize the future of the human species in two words, the two words that I choose are 'Asian youth.'" Because literally every day, every year, every decade further into the future you look, the more the future is shaped demographically by the young people of Asia today. So where they go, what they do, where they spend their money, what jobs they have, and you know, which countries they live in, where their loyalties lie. That's the future.

HUNTER-HART: I actually want to ask about you. You are, of course, an example of migration dynamics in action. In this book, you label yourself among a community that you call "American Asians" as opposed to the more common term "Asian Americans," which means Asians who expatriated to the U.S. and have now moved back. I'm curious what has motivated your own movement throughout your life and how you would interpret your moves through the lens of these broad global trends that you've identified.

KHANNA: So a lot of the American Asians, of course, are people who were Asian Americans, who remain Asian American. So I, myself was born in India, actually, so I moved to the United States when I was a young boy. And certainly my parents, who are still here in Cal -- in America, in California, never would have imagined that one of their kids would grow up and say, "Oh, I'm gonna move back to Asia," because Asia in the '50s, '60s, especially India, was still very underdeveloped. So it was no surprise that people wanted to leave and a big surprise that they'd want to go back to Asia. So in our case, you know, maybe it was a bit coincidental or contingent in the sense that, you know, Asia today, especially a place like Singapore, has huge opportunities, is the highest quality of life imaginable in the world. So it's fairly obvious. But what you find is this growing community of Asian Americans, or just Americans, or Westerners in general -- Brits, Germans and all sorts of, of those from, from the West, who have permanently resettled in Asia. So what do you call yourself if you're an Asian American -- I grew up always being called an Asian American -- but now you've moved back to Asia? So I was like, "Well, you know we're kind of like American Asians." And so that term did not exist. I kind of coined it to capture this phenomenon. And anecdotally, it's a large number of people. Statistically, it's, it's certainly a large number of people. You just see it everywhere, right? And those are people who are not going back. And we used to say, "Once you leave Asia for the U.S., you're not going back." Now I hear Americans living in Asia saying, "I'm not going back." So it's really quite, you know -- I think not everyone is adaptable. Obviously, having been born in Asia and being Asian, you know, ethnically, and so on, having a lot of family and friends. For me, it was very easy. But to be honest, depending on the country, Asia is very easy to settle into and integrate. Rapidly modernizing, embracing technology and modernity, more and more English-speaking cities and places and so forth, very connected. So I found it a very easy transition.

HUNTER-HART: Do you see yourself making another significant move in the next couple of decades?

KHANNA: Well, that's a great question. And I'm not invulnerable to the phenomenon we talked about at the beginning, which is that, who knows how many times people will move between now and in 2050? So it's certainly possible. And the question that people ask themselves, more and more, is: What's your Plan B? I tell this kind of story, you know, during COVID, when things opened up again, and more and more people were able to socialize, and we were going to a lot more dinner parties, we noticed that at every single dinner, the conversation was: What's your Plan B? Where are you going to go once things open, and if you want to leave? And you just heard people talking about that being their dinner party conversation as well: What's your Plan B? And I think that COVID taught a lot of people that either you want to leave the place where you had to spend COVID or a place that performed very poorly during COVID. Or you want to stay where you were, if you were lucky, during COVID. You know, Singapore proved to be one of those places you were much better off being in, right, even though it's a very small, import-dependent island. But, you know, we live on the beach and COVID was fairly well under control. The children continued to go to school. So all of the finer conveniences of life were maintained, you know, despite the difficulty.

HUNTER-HART: You talked about Thailand as another example of that.

KHANNA: Right. So now, you know, and here's, this gets, your very first question you actually asked was, "If you're a young person, what do you advise them?" right? And just just look at how, think about how two years ago people were saying, "This lockdown is, you know, the dawn of a new age of migration restrictions, and people are going to be stuck in place forever and this is the end of international migration." Well, here we are a whopping two years later, and people are on the move like never before. You can't get a plane ticket to go anywhere. Everything's, like, sold out. The -- according to U.N. data, the number, the net international migration flows continued to expand over the last sort of 10 years, cumulatively, and even during COVID. And now instead of just one or two countries having nomad visa schemes, about 100 countries. So, so get, let's get this straight, just when everyone was assuming a permanent lockdown, in fact, half the world's countries decided that they really want to attract migrants into their countries, and Thailand is one of them. And many countries have golden visas. Now, you've heard about this golden visa phenomenon or nomad visa, digital visa, all these kinds of things.

HUNTER-HART: Explain briefly for our listeners, though.

KHANNA: Sure. So, you know, migration is notoriously opaque and national and you know, kind of fragmented. And perhaps always will be. But in this war for young talent -- and if, if the book has kind of one single operating principle, you know, it's the war for young talent, right? I believe we are moving into an era where, because of the labor shortages in particular, and the search for, you know, economic alpha, right, looking for a, entrepreneurs and dynamic, you know, young, young populations, it's a war for young talent. So with the golden visas and nomad visas, investor migration and investment citizenship schemes, countries are saying, "Just come and spend time in the country, come and spend your money here, rent, you know, in our housing markets. Come, you know, you're guaranteed five-year residency. You can apply for these things online." Gone are the days that I can remember when I would have to go and prostrate at a consulate and wait in line, you know, pay $300, just to get a tourist visa for a country. These days, pretty much anywhere on Earth, you just show up, get a visa on arrival. And now you get, like, residency on arrival. So this is a reminder, the big, big philosophical point is that, you know, the whole notion that this world that we live in today is dominated by forces of protectionism, nationalism, xenophobia, populism. That is factually wrong. Most countries in the world right now are begging for people to come in and to work and to contribute to their economies. Right? And to be taxpayers, homeowners, renters, students, entrepreneurs, whatever the case may be. That's the fact of the world right now. And certainly the desirable countries are doing that. So if Hungary is saying, "Oh, you know, where is, you know, we don't want migrants," like, that's OK. Because not a lot of people are really lining up to go to Hungary right now. Right? The countries, the big countries that matter, the real destinations, the magnets, America, Canada, the U.K., Germany, even Japan, are opening up a lot. This year, Germany has more, a higher net inward migration than even during the Syrian refugee crisis. Right? So really, countries are desperate for young people. It's, it's a buyers market, you might say, right, so if you're a young, talented person, you could literally go anywhere on Earth. Just about every country in the world wants you right now.

HUNTER-HART: It still depends on who you are, though, right? I mean, there are young people in certain countries that are clearly much less accepted and much seen as much less desirable, you know, especially in a place like the U.S. I'm thinking of Iran as a pretty closed-off country. I have done a lot of reporting in Turkey, and it's, you know, everyone that I speak to there is like, "Get me out, I want to, I want to go on a leave." And it's really hard for them to get visas. There are definitely, I mean, it's not, it's not equal across the board.

KHANNA: Right. So, like I said, if you're a skilled young person, right, and you can demonstrate those skills, if you obviously have some university education or degree these days, you can simply upload or, you know, NFT, your, your, your university degree, and you can get into the U.K. or Canada. You know, you used to have to have a job offer, you know, maybe even pay a security deposit or bond, and all these things. Today, you literally just show up. So that's, again, you, for skilled migrants, skilled young people, it's the absolute golden age in all of history, right? And also, you know, flights are cheaper, controlling for inflation, or but, inflation notwithstanding, inflation notwithstanding. So, but, but obviously, it's never been a great time for refugees, right? And so, you know, Turkey, which you just mentioned, is home to the largest number of displaced people in the entire world. So if you're effectively a stateless, you know, asylum-seeker in Turkey, and you don't want to go back to Syria, or wherever, and you can't move onward to Europe, you're stuck in limbo. That's millions of people. And I write a lot about those populations in the book and how, in fact, they should be viewed as an asset. Right now, I don't see countries competing to attract refugees, but I do see many ways in which they can be harnessed for the good of the country. So again, why is Germany the only country in Europe with a growing labor force, right? Well, it's actually harnessing the refugee population. It's making the most of it. And I think that's an important lesson. Why is Canada's strategy to let in 400,000 people a year? Obviously, mostly skilled migrants, but lots of asylum-seekers as well. Again, integrating them. Those people are never going home. They're Canadians. They, you effectively become Canadian the minute your plane lands, right? Such as the nature of their policy. And they believe that their demographic policy, their immigration policy is economic policy. And more and more countries will learn this lesson. Because who would you rather be: Canada and Germany, or Hungary and Italy? Right. And I think the answer is self-evident.

HUNTER-HART: Yeah, so just talk to us a little bit more, just briefly, about that. How might a country like, say, Turkey, harness its enormous refugee population to assist in economic growth?

KHANNA: Well, it's really interesting. So I've spent a lot of time traveling across Turkey over the decades, and I noticed in this most recent trip that I took in 2019, right before COVID, that eastern Turkey, the large Anatolian hinterland that I remember in the early 2000s being really vibrant and bustling, is hollowed out, right? Because young people moved west. They moved to Ankara, Istanbul, to the more thriving cities. But I noticed that this entire area of eastern Turkey is verdant, right? It's, it's mountainous, hilly, I call it in the book -- I have a whole chapter on just eastern Turkey, I call it "the Aspen of Anatolia," right? And it's remarkable how resource-rich this area is. And it's being underutilized. So it's unproductive land assets, because the Turkish society, Turkish state economy has not really harnessed the resources, and certainly not made the population want to stay there and cultivate that bounty. I think that's one area where obviously migrant populations can play an important role. Overall, obviously, there's instability today, but Turkey is forever connected to those geographical neighbors. And as, and when they stabilize, or as Turkey becomes a more active agent of stabilization in those countries -- and obviously, there's, it's a on-and-off and awkward history of the last 20 years since the Iraq War of, you know, trying to stabilize but trying to defend against importing instability from these places, but -- one way or the other, you know, these, there's a new equilibrium that will form. And there will be, again, a kind of, you know, let's call it a "Silk Road effect" in these regions. And so these parts of Turkey that are climatologically stable, which a lot of Turkey is, it's, again, a blessed geography, really. People will be there, right? People will live there, people will work there. And they won't be, mostly -- there'll be some Turks, or a lot of Turks, but it'll be a really multiethnic region. Human geography always annihilates and transcends our temporary, contingent political borders, right? Always, always. So I can say with a straight face that I expect the population of eastern Anatolia to contain Lebanese and Iraqis and Persians and all manner of Central Asian populations in the next 10, 20 years. You may see very few of them today. But I know that they'll be there tomorrow.

HUNTER-HART: It's just so interesting to see, despite that, and despite how you're talking about migration, inward migration, including refugees, as generally being an asset, that there is, you know, growing nationalism across the world, and of course, you've mentioned Hungary and Italy, and that's happening in Turkey, too. And anti-refugee sentiment in Turkey has just spiked in the past couple of years. Astronomically. Given that, Turkey has closed itself off a bit more than it used to. But how can you, how can one, or a government that maybe has an interest in, in attracting migrants, kind of combat that kind of nationalistic sentiment?

KHANNA: So a lot depends on, obviously, on the culture, on the, on the economy, and so forth. I mean, you're talking about a country like Turkey right now, where their interest rate policy is out of whack, and you have high inflation, and obviously not the most competent, you know, leadership. It's a difficult time to say, "Yeah, sure, open the doors and absorb millions of people." It's difficult for any country. Certainly for one that's experiencing this kind of domestic economic volatility right now. It's difficult even for rich countries, and it could be because of cultural attributes, right? Just this general sense that it's all too much too fast, right, becoming too multicultural, and obviously, people having a very hard time assimilating. It's not easy to assimilate in, you know, in a traditionally homogenous Western European country that doesn't even have a colonial legacy, right, of absorbing populations from Asia or Africa, right, the way France or Britain do. So it's difficult for Germany. But look, Germany's pulled it off, right? You've got, again, waves and waves of migrants over the last decade-plus. Again, more this year than 2015, 2016. And you have a left-of-center government, you have a left-wing coalition that's pro-migration, it's, they're making it easier to acquire residency and citizenship. They're not sending, you know, asylum-seekers and refugees back, they don't, you know, they obey international law. They pay the highest stipends to migrants. Now, on top of all of this, they're absorbing Ukrainians, too, right, on top of the Arabs and Africans. And so Germany really is becoming a very polyglot place. So they invest -- and this is the key thing, it's: Are you investing in assimilation? We talk about this issue in a very binary way: sort of, you know, foreign people come, they do not mix, it creates tension, and you have resentment, and then right-wing populist parties come into power. Well, it does not have to be that way -- you can intervene at any stage in this process and invest economic and social resources in assimilation, right? And I spend a lot of time in the book talking about assimilation, and saying, "Wait a minute, if you teach people German, or Dutch, or French, or whatever languages help them to become self-sufficient, help them become productive economic agents, then you will have stemmed some of that potential backlash, because people then can then at least communicate." And I spent a lot of time in Germany growing up. And so I specifically focus on that, and I see the efforts that the state is making to teach people German and get them skills and jobs. So if you have assimilation policy, if you have a flexible labor market, if you have vocational training systems education, right, you can actually stem this supposedly deterministic process where societies always backlash against migrants. Again, I don't see it happening in Canada. And I don't see it in quite a few other countries, either. So the presumption that this must happen is not true. Because again, we got 300 years of history telling us that actually, we're really good at mass migration, we're really good at absorbing migrants. Look at America, look at Canada. So it is definitely not a predetermined process.

HUNTER-HART: So let's go back to talking about India. One fact of the book that fascinated me is that the Indian diaspora is the most geographically diverse in the entire world. So can you just give us a very brief overview of what emigration out of India has looked like in the past 20 years and what's driving those trends today?

KHANNA: It's fascinating. So cumulatively, and certainly in the latter, in the tail end of the last 20 years, so particularly last five years, India has emerged as the largest, by far, origin country of immigrants. And I expect that to remain the case, quite frankly, for decades to come because of the demographics. We are the largest country in the world by population as of this year. And you have a very young country of median age that's a dozen years younger than China. You have a high propensity for people to want to emigrate, whether it be simply because of chain migration -- because you already have such a large diaspora all over the world. So the Indian diaspora is by geographic distribution, more broad, broadly settled than even the Chinese diaspora. The Chinese diaspora is numerically larger, but mostly concentrated in the Pacific Rim, and it's, and it's older. And then you have the you know, the kind of not only the, the chain migration linkages, but you have the English language. And if you go back to the labor markets, right, the demand for people with some skill and information technology, right, engineering, software, coding, programming, even, you know, teaching English, construction workers, nurses, medicine and pharmacists, right? Those are the sectors with the biggest shortages. And those are precisely, precisely the skills that Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis have. So there's like an absolutely symmetrical sort of match there. It's really remarkable. So we just are, we're letting it happen. It is happening. Because, again, if it were not happening, then India would not be the largest source of migrants in the world, right? It already is by an, a gigantic margin. In fact, if anyone wants to play pop quiz -- well, you're the only person in the room with me. So I'll quiz you.


KHANNA: What country is No. 2 in net annual outbound emigration, after India?

HUNTER-HART: I'm sure this was in the book. Let me think.

KHANNA: Actually, it wasn't in the book. It's the latest U.N. data.

HUNTER-HART: The Philippines?

KHANNA: It's a great guess. It's actually Poland.

HUNTER-HART: Oh, my goodness.

KHANNA: Right. So now, I want you to calculate, how many more people does India have than Poland? Right. So just to put it in perspective, right. So, so India just dwarfs. And this is why I have this cheeky title for this chapter in the book, "The Future is Brown."


KHANNA: Right. And because that's not a branding slogan for a TV show. That's like a factual statement. The future, demographically, is literally brown.

HUNTER-HART: Yeah. So you also write about how there's going to be a population surge of Asian Europeans in the coming years. Talk to us about that.

KHANNA: Yes. So you know, we've talked about Asian Americans and American Asians and another coinage is Asian Europeans, because there, there are Asian Europeans. Again, who don't think of themselves as such. But when you say it, they're kind of like, "Yeah, I kind of am an Asian European." But numerically, to put in context, right now, it's only 4 million. And one of the predictions in the book is that we will surely have many more Asian Europeans 20 years from now, or 30 years from now, then we have Asian Americans. So I'm expecting a quintupling, more than a quintupling, of the number of Asian Europeans, imminently, imminently. Go to Milan, go to Paris, go to Berlin, go to Frankfurt, go anywhere in Europe, and it's just Asians, Asians, Asians. "Wow, where did they come from?" Well, that's how fast it happens. And I looked at even Eastern European countries like Romania and so forth, that are heavily recruiting guest workers. But they wind up potentially staying much longer, because there is such a huge, you know, these are aging and depopulating countries that need nurses, construction workers, trash collectors, cooks, everything. So you go to Bucharest and you see tons of Pakistanis. Like, this is not your grandfather's Romania, right? So it's just incredible. So you have this, again, in which region of the world is the fastest-aging with the highest dependency ratio, and huge trade relations, and Silk Road connections, increasingly with Asia? It's Europe. So Europe desperately needs these people. Now, of course, do you have xenophobic politics in Europe? Yes. Did Italy just elect a, you know, a far-right government? Yes. But I'll tell you what. The most powerful law in all of history is supply and demand, right? Not just in microeconomics. Like supply and demand of anything. Right. And it's people. It applies to people too.

HUNTER-HART: So I want to go back to this point that you were just making about service workers. You bring up this concept of the "multinational maid" in the book, and you write that the Philippines are the largest supplier of nurses in the world at this moment, and home aides, etc. But that population is not as young as that of India and Indonesia. So potentially, in the future, we're going to be seeing more women coming from those countries and migrating out to these countries that, as you're saying, are aging and depopulating. This is just so fascinating to me, because, especially I mean, if you look, you know, throughout history, you kind of assume, the last couple of hundred years, you know, you see, migration is something that maybe families do and often that men do to search for work. And right now we have these giant waves of women migrating across the world for these types of jobs.

KHANNA: It's a fascinating trend. And I borrow the term "multinational maids" from Anju Paul, who is a Yale scholar who's written a book about this, specifically looking at the, at the labor migration patterns of Filipino and other nurses. And there's a huge demand and undersupply right now of nurses and maids. And this is, even as, we're in the early innings of this great retirement wave, this great silver tsunami that's afflicting the entire developing, developed world. So if we already have that shortage -- in the Philippines, there's a finite number of young women who are trained to be nurses and who want to migrate and are available to go and live in Singapore, Hong Kong, the UAE, not to mention all of Western Europe, not to mention all of the United States and Canada -- well, the Philippines is not really going to provide enough, right? So then I look at, you know, the countries that are much larger in population: Indonesia, India, and I see all these young women who could easily be trained to be nurses and caregivers. I see that as a huge growth market in the coming decades. And I see India as, again, the obvious largest supplier. But right now it's barely on the map. Right? So that's going to be a big business. And so the multinational labor comes in, because in this study, these women are not just, you know, docile, subservient, you know, kind of, you know, involuntary migrants. They're actually players. Like, they're playing the game. They, you, they have very rich information networks around which places, which cities, countries, where the wages are rising, where are the conditions changing, where are labor laws changing? What are, you know, and then they actively promote themselves or, or pitch to live in those countries. And so you'll have like, a race to the top, right? And I think that's a good thing for these women, obviously. And I think it'll be again, not just elderly care, but, but, but teachers and all these other professions.

HUNTER-HART: Help me to understand this. So if you're talking about this "multinational maid" phenomenon, does that not leave labor shortages in the care economy in the countries from which this outward emigration is happening? Or are these populations just so young that it's not really an issue at this point?

KHANNA: It's a great question. And the answer depends, really, country by country. So in the Philippines, you know, it's becoming, it's lower-middle-class country, but it's stable, and you have a substantial number of middle-class families that can now afford to keep their own, you know, elderly care, child care in the home and pay for it. And so there's a disincentive for young Filipino women to necessarily migrate. They could actually get the same wage living at home in their own country, and therefore not have to leave their families and their children. So they're adapting to it, which is further constraining the supply of Filipino women moving out --


KHANNA: -- and therefore opening the market further to other nationalities, like Indians and so on. So that is one way in which brain drain, if you will, is prevented. The other is just by the sheer power of numbers. Now, India is so large that even if you continuously export nurses and software programmers and teachers, technically India has enough people to continue to be that predominantly services economy that it is. The problem with India is not that people are emigrating. The problem is the educational system and the gender imbalance and a whole lot of other things that it should fix internally. So I don't buy the brain drain argument for India, especially given the volume of remittances and FDI, you know, coming in, from Indians abroad. It's still a net benefit to India. So it's really a domestic matter of retooling the economy, and focusing on skills and so forth. That's what India needs to do.

HUNTER-HART: Let's move on to talking about China, which is such a fascinating case. Just one fact that blew my mind in this book is that China has more internal migrants than the entire world has migrants. So just give us a current overview of the migration patterns, both within and in and out of China at the moment.

KHANNA: Well, it's interesting with China, again, you know, as we were discussing earlier, it's historically the largest diaspora and there are trends, obviously, pushing Chinese outbound, whether -- and it's interesting, by the way, despite the U.S.-China tensions again, you know, and with COVID, now, sort of not yet behind us, for sure, but migration reopening, Chinese are, once again, the largest foreign-student population in the United States. So that's, that's interesting that that continues. Then you have the political and commercial, you know, actors or individuals who are seeking to leave China, whether it's Hong Kong or the mainland. But numerically, it's not as large as it was in previous waves. Then, in terms of, obviously, there's the geopolitical suspicions, right? So we talked about how, India the virtue, if you will, of Indians migrating outward is the skill set, the English language and the lack of the geopolitical suspicion, you know, of, of India. Whereas with China, that's not the case. So it makes it a bit more problematic for Chinese. That said, you know, also the, the tolerance, if you will -- and I don't want to ascribe this necessarily in a generalized way, but -- you know, Chinese, most appear to accept their system, you know, as is. They don't have much choice, right? But, but the trade-off is one that many Chinese people are taking. So even if you did allow, full, you know, access to passports and to international travel, well Chinese have been known -- sure, they travel, I mean, they represent a very significant share of global international travelers. Well, guess what, you don't see them overstaying their visas by the millions. They actually do go home, right? So we have to be clear that yes, their system is different, but many people have either, are conditioned to it or may even have a preference for it. Anyway, bottom line is that China has a significant demographic, you know, set of reckonings that lie ahead, with the 1-to-4, right, one person caring for two parents and four grandparents. So the high dependency ratio, just like richer countries. But one thing we have to remember about China, and I'll just kind of, you know, stop on this one when it comes to understanding Chinese demographics. Yes, it is aging. But when you have 1.4 billion people, remember that you have half the people below the median age. And even though the median age is not 20, you still have 700 million millennials, Gen Z, Gen Alpha in China. So to put it, to put it to, just to put it bluntly, China has more young people than all of Europe has people. Right? So yes, China is aging, but let's not forget, it's not an entirely, you know, sort of totally, you know, senile country. Not by any stretch of the imagination. And I think people need to understand that. Because, especially in the West, you're just not conditioned to looking at populations that large, right? Yeah. You can look at Japan and say, "Oh, it's, you know, it's aging. What's 100 million people?" With China and India, it's a completely different ballgame.

HUNTER-HART: Yeah, well, that leads perfectly into my next question, which is: There are these two broad, common and competing narratives that you often hear about China. One is that China is the future, China's on the rise. China is the next global unipolar superpower. The other is that because of its declining population and aging population -- which, as you say, you know, it's not the full story, there's still, over half the population, I believe you just said, is under the median age -- you know, that that will, in fact, doom it to significantly decreased power and influence. So where do you fall along that spectrum?

KHANNA: Well, there's certainly a long-standing principle in geopolitical power calculations that demographics matters. Collecting people is collecting power, right? And collecting people has always been, in a way, collecting power. It's just that in the 20th century, the world population grew so rapidly, right, from 2 billion people in 1920, to the 8 billion people that we have today. That we kind of took for granted, "Well, every country is amassing people and amassing demographic power, because every country is growing in population. And sure, China and India are growing a lot faster. But at the end of the day, the world population is growing, and people are migrating." But now we're talking about a world that's reaching a demographic plateau, right? A world population that will probably not reach 10 billion people. And where, again, fertility is declining. We're reaching what I call "peak humanity." And this is one of the kind of threshold moments in the book, is like, no one alive today can remember a world where the population was not growing so rapidly, and yet we are entering that world right now. And therefore, suddenly collecting people as collecting power really becomes very important again, because you have to collect migrants, because you're not producing enough people on your own. So hence, again, the war for young talent. But of the major powers in the world, of course, China does not seek to attract migrants. It, you know, it has the Thousand Talents Program, and is, you know, selectively brings in some foreigners to fill some roles. But they are less than a drop in the bucket, like, statistically. And they probably always will be. So China has to, you know, sort of obviously reorient the labor market and obviously focus less on kind of, you know, the fixed investment that's unproductive and more on unleashing consumption, services economy. And part of that may mean, reorienting, you know, young people into the care economy and services economy more generally. And that will obviously drive it, you're trying to drive that transition into a more consumption-oriented economy and so forth. So it'll do those things. But yes, it does have to import certain people, right? I mean, it does, right? So Filipino nurses, for example, right, to go back to them. They're heroic figures, in a way. I think I liken them to like Lionel Messi in the book. I was like, "There's, you know, such demand, it's like Lionel Messi kind of, you know, deciding which football team to go play for." It's like: You're a Filipino nurse, every country wants you. So, again, statistically, it'd be a drop in the bucket. But if, even, the, I think this is the first sentence of that chapter of the book, I say: "The world's largest country needs more people fast." And so there is not a road map for how China overcomes one-child policy, high dependency ratio, you know, and, and all of these other dynamics. But it just has to re-sort people. And it definitely will have to import some people.

HUNTER-HART: So let's say that it fails to do that adequately. Let's say that, just thinking about a country, any, any country, China, Japan, all these countries that are really desperate for young talent, let's say that they lose this war for young talent. What's in store for them? I mean, could it get as bad as societal collapse, even?

KHANNA: I mean, there are certain countries that are almost past the tipping point, where they're losing people so rapidly with no chance of ever retaining them or, or, or recouping them or recruiting them back, that they're effectively in a terminal tailspin. You know, Eritrea is an example of that. Central American countries are examples of that. They're effectively hopeless. Yemen is like an example of that. Remember, Japan is a very large country, right? It still is 100-plus, more than 100 million people. You know, Russia, you know, you think of as being in a more dire situation, because you have such rapid emigration. And now you have this war and, you know, low, decreasing life expectancy. It's not a rich country like Japan. So, and Japan is actually taking steps that very few people appreciate. That's why I have a whole chapter on Japan in the book. It's actually, you know, there're close to 3 million non-Japanese people who live in Japan. That's obviously higher than ever in history. So again, is it also, statistically, it's a very big drop in the bucket, but it's just a drop, right? I mean, you know, it's a small percentage of the population. But again, it's, it's, it's significantly, it's a significant course correction from past immigration policies. And again, Japan is really pulling out the stops. It's trying to brand itself as a magnet for expats. It's allowing homeownership now for foreigners, it's giving, you know, it's much easier to get a permanent, permanent residency in Japan than it ever was before. It applies or is being opened to lower income levels than in the past, and to broader, a broader selection of nationalities and ethnic groups in the past. So you'd like, if, you know -- Bangladeshis and Nepalis that have permanent residency in Japan. That's not something we thought was gonna happen like 10 years ago, right? So is it becoming a melting pot? Well, that would be a strong term. You know, obviously, there are certain neighborhoods of Tokyo where you can kind of get that vibe. And again, that's novel. So I make the case that even places that are ethnically homogenous, that are quite culturally insular, can become more diverse, you know, can embrace that. And you'd rather be tentatively moving in that direction, the way Japan is, than just losing young people and not being attractive to anyone. And that's what some Eastern European countries are going through, whether it's large ones like Russia, or smaller ones, like Bulgaria, or middle-sized places like Italy, right? You know, in fact, every time Italy elects a right-wing government, it actually drives people away, right? So and that's not something that even a large country or economy like Italy can afford indefinitely.

HUNTER-HART: Mm. So, you mentioned Chinese students. You make this interesting point in the book about how technology can almost discourage assimilation. You write that Chinese students who study abroad aren't always, you know, adopting the perspective of that country; they're not always adopting, in this case, Western perspectives or changing, you know, their views about their own country, in part because they're able to stay sort of within their own online bubble. You give this example of a college daily WeChat group that pumps out Chinese nationalism and anti-American sentiments. So I'm just curious --

KHANNA: To Chinese students in America while they're literally studying in America.

HUNTER-HART: Exactly, exactly. It's fascinating. It's fascinating. From your perspective, as technology keeps us ever more connected across borders, and online communities become ever more solidified and often feel more real than physical communities, does that mean that even as migration increases, assimilation can, maybe will decrease? Despite, I mean, I know that you're also talking about these assimilation policies that governments can implement and how important they are. Is that, is that the way to combat this? Or is technology just sort of doing that?

KHANNA: Well, the fact that we have these incidents, right, and we do have these, as you say, hardening online communities, those are still anecdotal, right? I mean, if you look at, again, the Chinese American population has grown, not shrunk. The number of Chinese who are assimilated in America who have given up foreign nationality, Chinese or other, to become American citizens is up. So let's be clear where the balance of emphasis, where the empirical evidence lies. It's still with assimilation. Massively. Right? And not every overseas Chinese student in America is a, you know, involuntary member of a group like this and is forced to imbibe this propaganda and to live and die by it. And even if you, even if they are supported by an overseas Chinese government agency to disrupt, you know, anti-Communist Party protests or anti or, you know, to, to disrupt a pro-Tibetan protest, it doesn't mean they represent all of them. Because let's face it, a large share of those students actually wind up staying in America, working for American businesses, becoming American citizens, right? And of those who go back, it doesn't mean that they necessarily were coming only to, you know, capture sort of technological secrets and know-how and bring it back. So we do tend to overgeneralize. I think your broader question about the relationship between technology and identity and distance, and that's fascinating. And there, too, I wouldn't generalize, I would simply say, "Yes, this is a phenomenon," right? You know, again, people used to leave India and China and say, you know, "So long," right? And it was too expensive to go back. And one found it hard to keep in touch. And now you can have these vibrant online communities. But what happens is syncretic, not necessarily either-or. I'm very much a both-and kind of person, rather than either-or person. And maybe that's part of my life story also, right? I believe in accumulating identities, right, not, not substituting them. And I believe that, again, if you look at young people, that is most definitely the case, that they are not loyal to one national identity at a higher rate or percentage than previous generations. It's the exact opposite. And this is not an area where we're entitled to our opinion. We're, what we can do is look exactly at the sociological research, at the surveys of young people all over the world, whether they're Chinese, or, or African, or Latin American, or whatever. The fact is that young people are less nationalistic than previous generations, they're much more mercenary and self-interested and willing to assimilate. And yes, they may still feel, and even if they still feel a strong sense of national identity, you know, from their country of origin, that's A, not a bad thing, but B, for young people, that, they are not defining that exclusively. And bear in mind, we have social media today. So you know, we've never, no generation in human history has been more psychoanalyzed than today's millennials and Gen Z. So I can't make this up. Right? Like, we know, we read all their Facebook and Instagram posts. We know how young people think. We know that by and large, they actually think in exactly the way I'm describing. So I'm not saying nationalism is dead at all. I'm saying that nationalism coexists with these more, you know, kind of, you know, universalistic, or kind of forces.

HUNTER-HART: So, you've touched on Russia a couple of times. One analysis, among so many, that I've been hearing about the Russia-Ukraine war is that it was partially driven by demographics and the demographic crisis that you have mentioned in Russia, which is, as you have also mentioned in this book, ironic, given, you know, the many attractive things about Russia that you would think would bring people in, such as a large supply of arable land, etc. But yes, Russia's population is aging. The life expectancy, as you said, is, is going down. So the argument goes that Putin felt like this was his opportunity, before this demographic crisis gets worse, to kind of make this move. What do you think about that?

KHANNA: Well, it kind of, sort of backfired is one thing that I think about it. It's not a surprise. So you know, I've been grappling with Russia as a geographical entity for my entire career. And I've driven across it and been to every part of Russia and it's fascinating to me. And again, one of the things I forecast is, with climate migration increasing and Russia's population declining, again, I use that word "cosmic," you know, it's sort of like there will be this great backfilling of human beings into this territory that on a political map is known as Russia. But what is the future human geography and demographics of this country known as Russia? Well, first of all, when you're talking about the year 2050, don't be so sure that the lines on the map, the borders will remain what they are. Obviously, as someone who's studied political geography my whole life, you know, well, no part of the world is now more fractured and shifting borders than the former Soviet Union. As we can clearly see, tragically, right now, they're always, continuously, being contested. So I don't know what that space is going to be called or what, as that space splinters, right, potentially, as it might, you know, who will govern, what and which ethnicities will occupy which geographies. But when you look at that geography from the perspective of climate resilience on a relative basis to other places, it looks really good. Right? And so again, as I say about many Eastern European countries that are smaller, I know that there'll be millions and millions and millions of people there, I just don't know that they'll be Russian. Right? And the answer, obviously, is they won't be Russian, right? They'll be other people. And that's, again, the great story of human geography are these slow, steady tides of movement.

HUNTER-HART: Well, I'm just going to ask you one last question to close. If you were sitting down with a head of state, and they were invested in winning the war for young talent, what is the advice you would give them?

KHANNA: Well, it's interesting, so there, kind of there's a checklist. You know, if you want to attract young people today, based on what we know, it's A, you want to have affordable housing. It's like the No. 1 global crisis, especially in cities, it's just affordable housing. So no one can stay long in your country if housing is not affordable. You want to have an educational system that's kind of flexible, you know, digital, in person, academic, but also vocational and so on. So on-the-job-training and so on. You want to obviously be, have a diversified economy, right? Because if you're dependent on just one sector, and you've got economic volatility and demand shocks, well, then that sector is gone, people leave, right? So diversified economy, affordable housing, good educational system. You want to have a liberal culture, obviously, right? You want to be accommodating of different genders, sexual preferences, and norms and all these kinds of things. You know, and you find a lot of countries realizing that they need to do that, to accommodate that kind of liberal tendency or bent. And you obviously want political stability, right? Your good social services, as well as you want a strong state, right? No one wants to live in a weak state. So you want a strong state that provides those public services. And, you know, because young people sort of take for granted, they want to live in social democratic welfare states, if you will, right? And obviously, climate resilience, which is not something you can necessarily control. Every country is almost a price-taker when it comes to climate resilience. But that's like the cherry on top, right? So if your country offers all of those things, you're going to be a very desirable destination for young people right now. You already are. And you're going to remain one. So that what governments, what leaders have to do is to look at that checklist and say, "Am I doing these things?" Right? "If I'm doing those things, and if I market myself well, young people will come to me. If I'm not doing those things, young people will go somewhere else." Because they can. Because it's truly a marketplace.

HUNTER-HART: Parag Khanna, thank you so much for coming on Asia Stream.

KHANNA: Pleasure. Thank you so much, Monica.


KHAN: That's it for Asia Stream this week.

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KHAN: As always, we are very grateful that you listen to our coverage, but we highly encourage you to read it as well. There's so much more out there that we don't have time to cover on the pod. So head to Nikkei Asia at, both for more in-depth coverage of Asian immigration and also all things related to Asia. If you enjoyed this podcast, please share, subscribe and leave us a review. And a last reminder that Nikkei Asia is currently offering an exclusive discount for our podcast listeners: to get the discount, click the link in the episode description. This episode was produced by Monica Hunter-Hart. I'm your host, Waj Khan.

We'll stream again in two weeks -- right in the middle of the holidays. We hope your holiday season is bright and joyful, full of good food and laughter, sun rays and moonstreams.

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