One of the world’s top thinkers and listed among the world’s top 100 most influential public intellectual thinkers, Kishore Mahbubani shared his perspectives in relation to his recent book Has the West Lost It? A Provocation. The Singaporean academic explained through an interview with CNN Money Switzerland last January 14, 2019, how he perceives the current psychological state of the West with regards to China and India’s return to world power.
When asked “Has the West lost it?”, his reply was, “No or not yet.” As a friend of the West, he feels like the West is about to lose it. “Because they refuse to make strategic adjustments to a completely different world.” He said that everyone must understand that we are entering a new era of world history: the Asian century.
The world power cycle
From the beginning of history in year 1 up until the year 1820, he explained that the two largest economies have always been China and India. It was only during the last 200 years that Europe and America took off. According to Mr. Mahbubani, “the past 200 years of world history have been a major historical aberration. But all historical aberration come to an end.” He believes that it is time for the former world powers to come back to their “natural” state as hegemons.
He also has faith that the West can happily adjust. Take a look at Europe, for example. Europe has psychologically adjusted to the fact that it can no longer be a world power. The U.S., however, hasn’t adjusted to the fact of becoming #2. In the words of Mr. Mahbubani, “It is almost inconceivable to them.” But every century must have a new global power. The U.S. will have to overcome their deeply rooted psychological resistance towards stepping down from power and letting someone else rule.
His advice when it comes to U.S.-China relations should be “thoughtful and strategic”. He mentioned how his lunch with Dr. Henry Kissinger, the man responsible to opening up the US to China, has given him the insight that the U.S. must take long-term strategic views when dealing with China because the latter greatly values such approaches.
Even the President of France, as explained by the former diplomat, has been giving America good advice like promoting and strengthening multilateral institutions. President Donald Trump, however, is all for unilateralism. “Since America has been helpful to Europe in the past, it’s time for Europe to be helpful to America today to become more multilateral,” said Mr. Mahbubani. He also urged Switzerland, as one of the most honourable citizens of the world, to do the same in promoting multilateral institutions.
Singapore’s future role
The interview shifted its focus on the other Asian countries and what could be the effect of a neighbouring country becoming the next hegemon, specifically Singapore. Mr. Mahbubani had this to say, “One thing in common that Singapore shares with Switzerland, is that like Switzerland we are one of the most highly respected states in the world because no country has improved the standard of living of its people as quickly and as comprehensively as Singapore has done in the last 53 years. It’s a remarkable track record.”
Singapore is currently the Chairman of Forum of Small States (FOSS) in the United Nations and it has a role in advising the big states to strengthen and respect multilateral institutions like the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the UN.
A sleeping lion
“China is a sleeping lion. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will shake the world” – Napoleon Bonaparte
Mr. Mahbubani had some relieving news in relation to Napoleon’s message about China being a sleeping lion. “China will shake the world gently; because the one thing the Chinese prize more than anything else, after 3000 years of history, they prefer to have order and stability.” He added that the one thing China fears is chaos. The emerging power is supportive of multilateral institutions and the U.S. needs to take heed of this and lead by example as the current world power. He also mentioned that the sensitive subject of Western fear of the “yellow peril” was touched upon in his book.
On the trade war
Singapore is the most trade-dependent country in the world and it will be negatively affected if there is a trade war between the U.S and China. Furthermore, the Singaporean academic believes that the WTO is facing the most dangerous moment in its history now and “It will only survive if everyone works together to preserve it.” He said that there will be a rocky road, with its ups and downs; but “the last 30 years of human history have been the best years of human history ever, with more progress compared to the last 3000 years, as a result of the WTO”, therefore, he is assured of the positive future to come. This is an example of the importance of multilateral institutions such as the WTO for countries like Singapore.
Watch the full interview with CNN Money Switzerland’s Martina Fuchs below:
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