Asia’s Third Way: How ASEAN Survives—and Thrives—Amid Great-Power Competition | Foreign Affairs

Mar 6, 2023By Kishore Mahbubani

Some memories never fade.

Exactly forty years ago, in 1983, I called on the then-editor of Foreign Affairs, Bill Bundy, a legendary figure. He was tall and patrician in demeanour, but he couldn’t have received me more warmly, even though I was a young nobody from a small insignificant country. This meeting resulted in the publication of my first article in Foreign Affairs, entitled “The Kampuchean Problem: A Southeast Asian Perception”.

Forty years later, I published my eighth essay in the March/April 2023 issue of Foreign Affairs, titled: “Asia’s Third Way: How ASEAN Survives—and Thrives—Amid Great-Power Competition”. There are some interesting parallels between my first and eighth articles. The first explained the wisdom of the ASEAN approach on the then-burning Cambodian issue. Eventually, this ASEAN strategy succeeded. Peace has reigned in Southeast Asia since then. The eighth explains the wisdom of ASEAN in managing the intensifying great-power competition between the US and China. I am confident that if Washington D.C. heeds the advice of this article, both the US and China will be better off.

Yet, I am not unrealistic. Given the ferocious anti-China sentiment, especially in Washington D.C., it will not be easy to sell reasonable approaches. Still, having lived in the US for more than 13 years, I know that there are some calm, patient, rational, and open minds in the American establishment. It’s my hope that they will see the wisdom of the three rules I advocate in this piece. There’s no doubt that a total breakdown in US-China relations, similar to the one between Russia and the West today, will be a total disaster. To avoid such a disaster, I hope you will pass on the message of this article as widely as possible. The link to the article is as follows:

Just as the message of my first article in Foreign Affairs was vindicated over time, I hope that the message of this article will eventually have an equally positive outcome.