Asians have finally understood, absorbed, and implemented Western best practices in many areas: from free-market economics to modern science and technology, from meritocracy to rule of law. They have also become innovative in their own way, creating new patterns of cooperation not seen in the West.
Will the West resist the rise of Asia? The good news is that Asia wants to replicate, not dominate, the West. For a happy outcome to emerge, the West must gracefully give up its domination of global institutions, from the IMF to the World Bank, from the G7 to the UN Security Council.
History teaches that tensions and conflicts are more likely when new powers emerge. This, too, may happen. But they can be avoided if the world accepts the key principles for a new global partnership spelled out in The New Asian Hemisphere.
The need to develop a better understanding of our world has never been greater. We are now entering one of the most plastic moments of world history. The decisions we make today could influence the course of the twenty-first century. But it is clear that the worldviews of the leading Western minds are trapped in the previous centuries. These minds cannot even conceive of the possibility that they may have to change these worldviews to understand the new world. Unless they do, we could make disastrous decisions.
The best illustration of a disastrous decision is the decision by the U.S. and UK to invade Iraq in March 2003. The Americans and British had benign intentions: to free the Iraqi people from despotic rule and to rid the world of a dangerous man, Saddam Hussein. Neither Bush nor Blair had malevolent intentions. Yet, the mental maps that they brought to understand Iraq were mired in one cultural context: the Western mindset. Many Americans actually believed that invading American troops would be welcomed with petals thrown on the streets by happy Iraqis. The idea that any Islamic country would welcome western military boots on its soil defies belief. The invasion and especially the occupation of Iraq will go down as one of the most botched operations in human history. Yet even if it had been well-executed, it was doomed to failure. In 1920, as secretary for war and air, Winston Churchill could use poison gas to quell the rebellion of Kurds and Arabs in British-occupied Iraq. He said, “I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes.” If Blair had tried the same in 2005, he would have been crucified. The world has moved on from this era. Sadly, Western mindsets have not moved on.
A Note from Kishore Mahbubani
For over two decades, I have lived the life of a nomadic intellectual, absorbing ideas at great intellectual watering holes, like Davos and Aspen, Ditchley and Pocantico. Initially, I was overwhelmed by the confidence and energy of Western intellectuals. They had sharp minds, always producing new insights as they spoke.
It has come as a huge personal shock for me to see this same group of Western intellectuals now becoming totally blind to emerging new realities. At a time of rapid change, these Western minds remain complacent and smug. I tried to puncture this smugness in my speeches and columns. Sadly, I failed. They could not see that we are moving from a monocivilizational world to a multi-civilizational world.
These failures taught me a lesson. The only way to persuade the West of the need to change mindsets was to try and develop an alternative weltanschauung. That is the ambitious goal of this book. If we do not wake the West up from its intellectual complacency, we are headed for trouble.
There is logic behind this, as we cannot predict the future. We can, however, prepare for the future by telling stories about what the future could be like.
Besides his substantive introduction, this book offers some of Kishore’s best essays on Singapore, taken from his Think-Tank and Opinion columns in The Straits Times, as well as contributions to Guardian News, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, World Economic Forum’s Forum News Daily, and the “Innovations for Successful Societies” Oral History Project of Princeton University.
“The title ‘Can Singapore Survive?’ is provocative. Kishore is often provocative which is why he is worth reading and listening to, even if one does not always agree with him. The vulnerability of Singapore is not a new theme; Lee Kuan Yew spoke of it constantly. For Lee Kuan Yew, the response is leadership, tough leadership. If that is lost, all is lost. Despite his seeming pessimism, Kishore is in fact more optimistic. Underlying his questions and his doubts, one can detect a certain faith in ordinary Singaporeans beyond the politics. Despite the title, this collection of essays gives a hopeful view of Singapore’s future.”
Chairman, Kerry Logistics and former Singapore Foreign Minister
“Kishore Mahbubani is one of Singapore’s most original thinkers. He loves Singapore and his thoughts on our future deserve our careful consideration.”
Ambassador-at-Large, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore
“In a long and illustrious career, Kishore Mahbubani has written many books and essays and given many speeches. This new and eclectic collection of his speeches, essays and interviews over the years, accompanied by an intriguing introduction about the perennial existential question facing Singapore, is a timely contribution to all the literature commemorating Singapore’s 50th anniversary.”
Ho Kwon Ping
Executive Chairman, Banyan Tree Holdings and Chairman, Singapore Management University