How to think like Kishore Mahbubani

Posted on 30 November 2011

To be Singapore’s favourite public intellectual, you need to trumpet the rise of Asia for at least 10 years. And maybe another 20-odd more.

It's not that he is a party-pooper to the West, but Asia really is rising.

The past decade has seen Kishore Mahbubani hollering and banging on the same drum: The inevitable rise of Asia in the next 20 to 30 years.

The dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore is never shy telling the West to shove it: Western domination of history is coming to an end.

It’s an optimistic message, because you and I happened to be situated here.

But one cannot help but wonder if it is a message that should be ingested with a pinch of salt.

If the trajectory of world histories could be so easily predicted, we wouldn’t be here now, would we? What you know today about tomorrow will be useless tomorrow if you could act on it today, yes?

Nonetheless, not wanting to rain on Kishore’s parade, New Nation has summarised his top ideas taken from The Straits Times interview yesterday coupled with the recent write-up in Foreign Policy magazine where he is voted as one of the top 100 public thinkers sitting rather comfortably at number 91 this year.

(Oops, seems like The Straits Times got one fact wrong in their write-up about Kishore: They claimed he is number 92 this year, which was where he was last year.)

On China:

China has been proactive. China has increased its trade in this region. China’s proposal of the 2001 Asean-China free trade agreement is a jolt to the world.

China alone has rescued 600 million people from absolute poverty. No other country has done that in history.

While the US was busy in Afghanistan and Iraq sorting out the dessert, China practised introspection and focused on its own development.

Kishore’s current big idea:

Kishore is expounding on the topic of global governance.

In this day and age, interconnectedness means that the big powers have to take on the role as leaders who will take care of other countries that will act as the crew. Everyone’s in the same boat, as the metaphor goes.

The interest of the world is the interest of the superpowers.

The problem is that Western countries, such as Italy and France, cannot think long-term because it is politically impossible.

There is also a great myth and illusion that American and European countries will bounce back naturally from their present woes. That is untrue.

Europe and North America’s success in the last 200 years is nothing but a historical aberration. For about 2,000 years prior to that, India and China were the largest economies.

Against the backdrop of this long history, Europe and North America are reverting back to the norm.

Multilateralism is the new buzz word:

In the future, it is in the interest of the US to strengthen multilateralism as there will be increased interdependence even with smaller states in the world.

A two-way flow of ideas:

For the first time in 500 years, there will be a two-way flow in the passage of ideas between East and West.

“I used to be regularly lectured by Westerners on the inability of Asians to slay their sacred cows”, Kishore wrote in August this year in The New York Times. “Today, the Western intelligentsia seems equally afraid to attack their own sacred cows”.

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- who has written 2685 posts on New Nation.

Wang Pei can be considered a new citizen of Singapore. She has been here all her life, just that her environment's changed beyond recognition.

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  • Fiona Lu

    What is the West’s sacred cows? Welfare state?
    That’s sad for humanity.