While the currently perceived and real lack of leadership in Asia, to a degree or in part, reflects the complexity and diversity of Asia and Asian countries, the most pivotal part underlying those, in my view, lies in the often difficult bilateral relations between China and Japan. They are the two largest economies in Asia, but they often do not see eye to eye with each other. Further, they are the largest developed and developing countries respectively in Asia.
When and if these two countries sort out their issues and problems so they can develop a relationship similar to that between Germany and France and Britain, many issues of Asia’s lack of leadership in the so called Asian century are likely to be resolved soon.
Both countries need to make compromises for their common good/benefits. That requires true and courageous personal leadership from the top leaders among the two countries. They need to explain the benefits to their respective people and carry them with them to forge a new bilateral relationship. And that is not an easy job by any means.
Japan may need to be really independent as opposed to be a US deputy in East Asia. China may need to embrace more of the good parts of the current global governance while at the same time to form a broad coalition to reform those areas that are no longer meet the current needs of developing and possibly many developed countries. In the process, major developing countries as a coalition, working together with most of the developed countries, can develop and design a new global governance structure.
Should a constructive and cooperative relationship be developed between China and Japan, many of the existing issues in Asia will be much easier to resolve.