Tag Archive | "Kishore Mahbubani"

Kishore Mahbubani is the most intelligent man in the Milky Way

Kishore Mahbubani is the most intelligent man in the Milky Way

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One reader shares how this is so.


Dear New Nation,

I refer to the above article by Kishore Mahbubani, published in The Straits Times on April 13, 2013.

1. Kudos to Singapore Police Force

In the article, which I have read about 15 times to appreciate its essence, Kishore said that Singapore is one of the safest cities in the world because credit goes to the Singapore Police Force for keeping the peace.

I have no choice but to agree that this is absolutely true.

Because without the SPF, Singaporeans will instinctively rape and pillage everything.

But with SPF’s presence, Singaporeans will rein in all their baser desires.

There will, therefore, be no major law breaking. Except minor ones that will be tolerated from time to time.

Such as The Straits Times breaching the Parliamentary Elections Act in February this year by publishing an illegal poll during the Punggol East by-election.

This kind of law-breaking is obviously a minor issue, because there has been no word fron the SPF about the case for a few months now.

2. Kudos to non-rioting Singaporeans and abstract logic

Next, Kishore also said that even though thousands of people were inconvenienced by the MRT breakdowns in recent years, each incident passed peacefully, reflecting the high level of trust that Singaporeans have in their public institutions.

And Singaporeans do not riot as a result of transportation failures because living standards and trust in public institutions are high.

This is, once again, absolutely correct and irrefutable.

It is the same as saying that no man wants to sleep with your wife, because your wife is morally upright and possesses impeccable values, and hence, will not stray.

But in reality, it is actually because she is just plain ugly and looks like a truck.

It is for these two arguments that I fully respect and look up to Kishore Mahbubani and give him full credit for his incisive thinking and unimpeachable logic.

Without him expending effort doing all these thinking on my behalf, I wonder who else can fill his place in this Milky Way?

Yours truly,
Citas Cras Ton

How to think like Kishore Mahbubani

How to think like Kishore Mahbubani

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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”.

9/11 freaked me out

9/11 freaked me out

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But I never really comprehended the full impact of it. Until a few days ago.

By Belmont Lay

Just last week, when the New Nation editors had to sit down and talk about doing a a little tribute piece about where we were and what we were experiencing when 9/11 occurred 10 years ago, it didn’t take a lot out of me to go back in time in my mind to dig up the details.

And this very fact about how much I can still recall surprised me.

I think it says a lot that I can still remember that Sept. 11, 2001 fell on a Tuesday – without having to delve too deeply into my memory.

I was 17, pimply and awkward and I was in the first year of junior college. It was September, which meant I was trying to wrap my head around my economics homework.

News of 9/11 came to me close to midnight when I was discharging my nightly obligation of surfing free-to-air channels while homeworking (broadband Internet then, I must add, was a wet dream that was not fulfilled yet).

Footage on Channel News Asia that night was strangely transfixed on a very tall building in New York, as television viewers were informed that there had been an explosion of sorts.

I knew right then something was up.

Or rather, with my poorly developed instincts and a complete inability to grasp the significance of what was unfolding before me then, I, in fact, failed to guess that some things were soon going to come crashing down.

The following day in class, blurry-eyed and a little disturbed having stayed up until 3 a.m. and still not understanding what exactly happened, our Economics tutor was business-as-usual.

No talking about what happened. No point harping over fallen buildings. We have a year-end exam coming up, remember? Let’s dive in, and draw a curve showing how interest rates affects money supply.

That really annoyed me on two fronts:

1) I know my cat didn’t get killed tragically or my parents weren’t getting a divorce, but wouldn’t two buildings billowing with smoke bright and early one morning as seen on TV mean something traumatic happened and my educator was not going to put things in perspective for me?

2) We weren’t about to get some time off from class. To talk about important things, I presume, such as the state of the world for example, because interest rates and money supply are by far more salient? Ironic, no?

Fast forward to the 10th anniversary Sept. 11 weekend yesterday.

I flipped open our friendly broadsheet, The Straits Times on Saturday and read the commentary by everyone’s favourite public intellectual, Kishore Mahbubani.

Kishore said that the US failed to seize the moment to unite humanity. And then he went on about China and plugged his own books.

His article made my stomach turn.

And then I scanned The Sunday Times and pored through Janadas Devan’s missive.

Janadas shared Kishore’s chastising tone, claiming the US wasted the chance to transform the world because the world was emotionally in tune with America when she was attacked exactly 10 years ago but now the feeling has slipped due to a bunch of missteps.

What incessant rubbish, I thought.

After reading both articles, I am made more annoyed than I was 10 years ago. And I’m getting even more riled because neither wordsmith was putting the 9/11 issue in perspective.

In fact, both supposedly “fair-minded” opinions (do consider the quotation marks around fair-minded as optional) are as flippant as my Economic tutor’s reaction and countenance on Sept. 12.

Here’s why: I find it utterly despicable and odious that so-called public intellectuals and opinion leaders should turn the tables on America and accuse it of having made a hash out of the only chance she had to unite the world – after it suffered the worst attack on its domestic soil where mad terrorists targeted civilians to leverage maximum impact from their atrocities.

Because what you need to know about the significance of Sept. 11 and the perpetrators of such a vulgar and grotesque act of obliteration that disregarded any form of civility or of our coming-of-age modernity is this:

– The perpetrators were not only hijackers of commercial airlines. They were also hijackers of religion, self-appointed death squads whose sole allegiance is (or rather, was) to their leader Osama bin Laden.

– They viciously hate Jews, Christians and Shia Muslims, or in fact, any unbelievers in general.

– What they want to promote is not terrorism. They are not even interested in promoting the cause of the marginalised in their community.

– They are not even keen about speaking out against oppressive US foreign policy.

– They were and still are trying to explicitly relay the message to the world that there is only one rule, which is by a despotic empire, of which Al-Qaeda’s sole purpose is to create a new, world wide Islamic caliphate, with a complete break from all foreign influences in Muslim countries.

So let me beg you, dear reader, to consider applying Occam’s Razor: How hard is it to simply see the religiously fanatical mad men for who they truly are?

How difficult it is to see that there are people who are self-conceited and vicious enough to take it upon themselves to shove their worldview down the throats of other people?

Why should we idly sit by and accept that perhaps, just perhaps, America is at fault because public intellectuals or opinion leaders say so?

Therefore, why sound clever by blaming America?

Look, if Kishore even went so far as to quote a Hong Kong journalist who said that “China owes a huge debt of gratitude to Osama bin Laden” for diverting America’s attention away from China and allowing the Chinese to focus on expanding their economy, then there is even more reason to be worried about the future.

You might be allowed to be hopeful that Al-Qaeda or its surrogates will never eventually achieve what they set out to do because they will collapse under the burden of their own ideology.

But if America is no longer mighty enough to take the fight to fanatics, then Al-Qaeda or its surrogates might just achieve their expansion plans.

Then it is really time to start freaking out because you shouldn’t be expecting China to do its share of protecting any time soon on your behalf, because they never even had their eye on the problem the last 10 years since 9/11.

Event Review: Do Asians believe in the rise of Asia? – Kishore Mahbubani

Event Review: Do Asians believe in the rise of Asia? – Kishore Mahbubani

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At the most recent [email protected]! event, Kishore gives a great flashback to the good ol’ 90s when the West was still Goliath, Asian diplomats were David and political rebellion was sexy.

By Fang Shihan

A younger Kishore at the 2008 World Economic Forum. Photo: WEF / Creative Commons

THE auditorium slowly turned sepia as Kishore Mahbubani, Dean and Professor in the Practice of Public Policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, reminisced about his past as a rebel. Both in school while he was a writer for the school paper, and then as a diplomat – slash – spokesperson for tiny downtrodden nations bullied by the West.

But take away the tint and all that’s left is a rather wizened old man stuck in a time warp.

This, is perhaps, unfair criticism for a man whose opinions are sought the world over, from Bloomberg, to the World Economic Forum-East Asia 2011, to BBC, CNN and the list goes on. But as they say, same shit different day – once you’ve heard Mahbubani once, the rest is pretty much predictable.

Do Asians believe in the rise of Asia? The man says no. Asians still suffer from a post-colonial hangup that they did since his first book was published in 1998.

Great thesis, but a tough sell in this current geopolitical situation. Like a trusty old Sony discman, the thesis is enduring – some Asians still have trouble grasping the dominance of Asia. But more Asians now not only own iPods instead of discmans, they’re worried about the unsteady, uncertain rise of various Asian superpowers. Times have changed, hot button topics have changed as well.

Consider for instance, that HSBC will slash 30,000 jobs in Europe and the U.S. to cut costs while expansion plans are still set in Asia and Latin America. On the fiscal end, the U.S. is set to reduce its spending by US$2.5 trillion while Moody’s has just reduced Portugal’s credit rating to junk status, together with Greece. On the other hand, new coverage of China’s manufacturing slowdown shows a rather positive global attitude towards the newly risen power; China, according to analysts, isn’t contracting, it’s merely stablising from breakneck growth.

If Asians do not believe in the rise of Asia, it may be because these particular Asians don’t read the news.

But to give him the benefit of the doubt, Mahbubani could be referring to a cultural inertia of Asians, long bullied by colonial powers and indoctrinated with an inferiority complex. You see it happening every now and then at country clubs, when white men wearing khakis are allowed to enter but not locals wearing roughly the same garb.

“And I actually believe, if we can encourage greater acts of rebellion, especially among the younger NUS students, that will actually be a good thing.” — Kishore Mahbubani

Yet for every one deferent ‘Asian’, there will be an Indian, extremely proud of his rich history or a Chinese expressing his nationalistic fervour over weibo.com. And these voices have gained increasing prominence as their respective economic giants grow. Mahbubani’s Asians, while they exist, are not representative of Asia as a whole.

Equally significant was perhaps a glimpse into Mahbubani’s past as a rebellious student. As an editor for the school newspaper, The Undergrad in 1969, he had published a scathing article of then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s behaviour during a forum:

“Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s answers at the forum often consisted only of personal slurs and pinpointing of trivial mistakes and other points degenerated to crude Machiavellian answers. He was asked in point, whether he would push through the abortion bill despite opposition on humanitarian grounds. his answer was crude and short – as long as he was in power, he would do so. If anybody objected to it, he or she could fight him in the polls: ‘Singapore is a democratic country'”

Mahbubani then went on to castigate the state of democracy, the media and the lack of transparency in Singapore, in a narrative not unfamiliar to local socio-political bloggers today.

He was later co-opted into the very establishment he criticised and had a distinguished career as a diplomat.

Times have changed. Dissent is no longer condoned and dissenters have ceased to emerge from mainstream educational institutions.

Lifting the sepia again, all that’s left is a wizened old man from the establishment reminiscing on the times when rebellion was in fact, a good thing, and not dismissed as gibberish spouted by a “lunatic fringe”.

Listening to Mahbubani speak on a Wednesday evening seemed less of an insight into the mind of an established diplomat, than a sit-down session with Uncle Kishore rehashing his glory stories. Entertaining, not completely relevant and a glimpse into what seemed like a country’s past when people actually had political balls.

And like all men with good stories to tell, he does leave a very memorable anecdote:

“It is so much fun when you’re fighting against a much more powerful force. And even though I was beaten up, I was attacked, I was criticised, I found that that was what really kept me going. And I actually believe, if we can encourage greater acts of rebellion, especially among the younger NUS students, that will actually be a good thing.”

Do Asians believe in the rise of Asia?

Do Asians believe in the rise of Asia?


Once upon a time, the world was divided into East and West. The westerners once colonised the orient, taught the locals to feel embarrassed about not being western, plundered their natural resources, and left them thinking that the only way to get out of their sorry situation was to disregard their tradition. Years on, the angmohs left, leaving behind their colonial legacy and a bunch of post-colonial, nationalist intellectuals harping about the next Asian invasion.

That’s about summarises Kishore Mahbubani’s first book, “Can Asians think”, published in 1998 as a must-read for all haughty angmohs. He was, in no small amount, the champion of the amorphous category “asians” to the west.

13 years on, Mahbubani is now Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

And China owns the U.S.’s ass.

So why is his talk this Wednesday titled: Do Asians believe in the rise of Asia?

One is tempted to regard the session as the equivalent of him saying “I told you so” to detractors over the years. One will also be tempted to think of the talk as “Can Asians think” version 13.0. Same thesis, different year. Yawn?

We’ll leave it to you to decide. Do pop by NUS after work this Wednesday to pepper the man with questions.


National University of Singapore
Shaw Foundation Alumni House
11 Kent Ridge Drive, Singapore 119244
The Auditorium

6.45pm Registration

7.15pm Guests to be seated

7.30pm [email protected] featuring Prof Kishore Mahbubani

8.30pm Post Event Reception & Chat


Alternatively, check out the webcast here, or post your questions to the man here.

Hey local journalist! Kishore says you no chutzpah

Hey local journalist! Kishore says you no chutzpah

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Tom Plate was charming, patronising and self-contradictory at the same time. What about Kishore Mahbubani? He was just condescending.

By Belmont Lay

ALRIGHT it’s official: Even though I think American journalist Tom Plate is a rotund, ruddy-faced hardcore media junkie and a somewhat perplexing character, he is great fun as an interviewee.

Tom – let’s just agree to first-name him for being such a jolly good fellow – besides being informal, relaxed and enjoys making wisecracks matter-of-factly, is verbose, organised, anecdotal and quotable, to say the least.

He makes for an interviewer’s wet dream because he takes on any question you throw at him. But beware, as he is also pretty slick at the art of evasively manoeuvering around the topic.

Naturally, this says nothing about being a good sport for not answering the question at all. But usually, and particularly so in Tom’s case, what is not said speaks louder than what is articulated. (Read rest of transcript of conversations with Tom Plate here.)

So when I went to his book launch talk on Feb. 24 at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP), I was there baiting for a good quote or two.

Since Tom was presenting on how he had written both his books on conversations with Asian leaders abiding by journalistic standards of hard questioning, while borrowing liberally from Los Angeles screen writers practice of employing evocative prose in the present tense, I had to ask him this during the Q&A segment:

“Do you think that the style and methodology of your book would have worked if it was written by a local journalist? If not, what does it say about you, Lee Kuan Yew, Mahathir and the state of our media?”

To Tom’s credit, and he denies it’s an ego thing, he had a good reason when he said no local journalist could have written those books about conversations with LKY and Dr. M.

And that’s because he wrote them as an outsider with new insights to showcase:

“Why would you bring some white guy with crazy hair from LA (to interview Dr. M in Kuala Lumpur)? The answer is that it is a silly idea, or the answer is that some outsider brings in some value-add precisely because they are an outsider.

“And the funny thing about an outsider? You ever had a situation you had a long-lost relative visit you for a long weekend? And you wind up telling them things you wouldn’t tell your next door neighbour? Because you know on Tuesday they’re gone, while the next door neighbour’s going to be there? There’s that: You are able to strike a measure of intimacy precisely by being an outsider.

“Do I think this format would have worked if a Malaysian journalist would have done it, or a Singaporean journalist would have done it? Honestly – and it has nothing to do with me, nothing to do with me, please, I don’t want to, as self-regarded as I am – I don’t think so. I don’t think it would work.

“Because in the media environment of Singapore and in KL, it is a certain specific environment and to write this kind of book you have to step out of it somehow. And I think that would be very hard to do. On the other hand, in a book done by Singaporeans, and there’s this book Hard Truths, which I reviewed but I don’t know if you saw on The Straits Times on Tuesday, I think it’s a brilliant book… but that book, I couldn’t have written. And I frankly don’t think anybody in that team could have written that book I did.”

Like I said, Tom is awesome at this business of being modest but honest and compelling at the same time.

And when he asked if he had answered my question, I said, “Sort of”.

When he became bent on answering what he might have missed, I prodded him:

“It’s just the impression that you were used to portray Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir through the eyes of a foreigner or Westerner to make them much softer than they really are.”

And this set him off in another direction and here’s where the contradiction surfaced when Tom said:

“Well, the fact of the matter is that I asked Lee Kuan Yew questions that I don’t think any Singaporean journalist has ever asked Lee. I was able to ask questions that were harder than local journalists might ask because I’m not a citizen here. I’m going back to Los Angeles because what’s he going to do? Take my citizenship away?”

Was Tom Plate suffering from superiority complex when he said no local journalist could have written his books? No, not really.

But was his self-contradiction about Hard Truths missed by those present? No, barely. I met at least three people who used this point to exchange pleasantries with me after the talk.

Because Tom has a point and that is also the point of today’s missive: Once you’re instilled with fear, journalism is screwed.

So what’s this nonsense about Tom Plate claiming that Hard Truths is a brilliant book in Tuesday’s newspaper review when even he himself says that Singaporean journalists cannot ask hard questions?

The double standard is, therefore, glaring.

Journalism, as practised by those in the West and abhored by members of the potentate such as LKYSPP dean Kishore Mahbubani, unless it is used to serve their own interest, has allowed scribes such as Tom to punch above his weight class.

While on the other hand, a hoard of local journalists in Singapore can barely punch above their collective weight because, as Tom was insinuating, they can never really ask hard questions.

But it was Mahbubani’s condescension one could sense a mile away.

Here is what Mahbubani, who was the moderator of the talk, said that really took the cake when he concluded with his own answer to my query:

“I think frankly, to be completely candid about this, it will be very difficult for a local journalist to, in a sense, have this kinds of conversations because both MM Lee and Dr Mahathir Mohamad are formidable personalities. And it requires someone with a lot of chutzpah (elicits a lot of laughs from crowd) who can actually ask these sorts of questions that need to be asked. And I think that is Tom’s huge contribution.”

“The second point I want to make is not just about having conversations. It is about capturing the richest parts of the conversations and distilling them to relatively tiny little books that you can learn a lot from.”

What can I add to all this?

Go on, read Hard Truths. It is for your own good. It is a really special book on par with many religious texts. It can purportedly give you difficult answers without necessarily having had any difficult questions asked in the first place.