Tag Archive | "lee kuan yew school of public policy"

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”.

Did you know that Lord Peter Mandelson…

Did you know that Lord Peter Mandelson…

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…who is part of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy Exchange Fellowship programme, resigned from Tony Blair’s cabinet in disgrace – twice?

In November 2009, Jeremy Clarkson, presenter of blokish Top Gear and god of funny prose, expressed his hatred for Peter Mandelson by writing in his column in The Sunday Times that he wanted Mandelson “to be tied to the front of a van and driven round the country until he isn’t alive any more”.

Apparently, that caused a bit of controversy. (And who said entertainers can’t take pot shots at politicians?)

Not only that, Clarkson also called Mandelson a “conniving idiot” who displays “left-wing fanaticism”.

And guess what? Lord Peter Mandelson, as he is being called in our darling press, was in Singapore recently giving a public lecture on Sept. 21 at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

His advice for the PAP? Continuously forge an emotional bond with voters and ensure that the party does not lose its identity.

Funny, no? It should be because get a load of this:

The Labour party, in which Mandelson played an important role in reshaping and rebranding over the past decade, famously lost power to the Conservatives during last year’s election.

So it is common practice to get somebody who lost to dish out philosophically-sound advice now? Actually yes, considering that Tony Blair, Mandelson’s superior, did not win the Iraq War when he exited office but is still netting millions on the lecture circuit these days… Hmm…

Oh wait. Did we mention something else?

Funny how Mandelson, the former European Commissioner for Trade, was forced to resign in disgrace, not once, but twice, from Tony Blair’s cabinet, is deemed fit enough to talk about giving “more power to the people”?

And here’s the best of the best part yet: Mandelson actually made it back into The Cabinet the third time by Gordon Brown as business secretary (some new post that was created and not without controversy) .

Get me a rope indeed…

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.

Amen.