By Koh Hui Xin
Kishore Mahbubani announced earlier this month that he will be taking a nine-month sabbatical, beginning February, after stepping down as Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) on December 31, 2017.
In a Facebook post published on January 3, 2018, Professor Mahbubani, now Senior Advisor (University & Global Relations) and Professor in the Practice of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, announced that he will first be headed to the United States for attachments with Columbia University and Harvard University. After that, he hopes to be able to spend some time at Fudan University in China. When announcing his departure from LKYSPP last year, he stated that he wants to “focus on a new career that involves more time spent on reading, reflection and writing.”
Prof Mahbubani’s main research project during his sabbatical will be on US-China relations, which he believes is the most important geopolitical relationship in the next two decades. He reiterated this stance at the recent 48th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, where he answered that the “one issue that needs to be addressed and resolved in our lifetime” is US-China relationship, because “if anything can bring the world down, it will be disruption of the US-China relationship”.
Fudan University is a world-renowned university in the cosmopolitan city of Shanghai. It is a member of the C9 League (analogous to the Ivy League of the United States) of Chinese universities and Universitas 21. It is commonly regarded as one of the most prestigious and highly selective universities in China, along with Tsinghua University and Peking University, both located in the capital of Beijing. The university has produced a number of notable alumni in Chinese government and politics, including Wang Huning, key advisor to China’s former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, and now Xi Jinping.
While academic freedom in China is still heavily limited, Fudan University, located outside the political centre, is known to have a more generous stance on freedom of thought and free discussion. Fudan prides itself on “having an international outlook”, with a high number of international academic faculty staff and international students. Its ranking in the world continues to climb every year, with the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings ranking it 40th in the world and 7th in Asia.
Prof Mahbubani was in the Singapore Foreign Service from 1971 to 2004 and had postings to Cambodia, Malaysia, Washington DC and New York. He also served as Singapore’s Ambassador to the United Nations and as President of the UN Security Council in January 2001 and May 2002. He was Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Ministry from 1993 to 1998. Although Prof Mahbubani frequently visits China, it is believed that this will be his first stint at a Chinese university.
After his sabbatical ends, Prof Mahbubani will return to NUS, before retiring fully in 2019.