Kishore Mahbubani: Asia has developed a unique culture of peace and inclusiveness
Updated 15:51, 21-Jul-2023
Reality Check

Editor's note: As the 21st century unfolds, we witness a rapid transformation of the global landscape, with Asia's resurgence capturing the world's attention. The rise of Asian nations, particularly China, has brought about significant shifts in economic, political, and cultural spheres. To navigate through this complex terrain and gain a deeper understanding of the Asian Century, the re-balancing of power between the West and the East; and its implications for the global order, CGTN's Sr. International Editor Abhishek G. Bhaya spoke with Kishore Mahbubani, a veteran Singaporean diplomat, esteemed scholar, and author of several insightful books on the emerging geopolitical trends including "The Asian 21st Century." Mahbubani was in Beijing to launch the Chinese edition of this much-acclaimed anthology of his thought-provoking essays at a book release event hosted by the Center for China and Globalization (CCG) on July 18, 2023. The views expressed in the video are his own and not necessarily those of CGTN.

Edited excerpts:

CGTN: Your book, "The Asian 21st Century" explores the rise of Asia and the rebalancing of power between the West and the East. How do you foresee these power shifts influencing world politics and global governance in the coming decades?

Mahbubani: I think you will see a gradual shift within all institutions of global governance happening, whereby the Asian voice will become bigger and bigger. 

Even though the West, for example, has been resisting increasing the share of Asian countries voting in the IMF (International Monetary Fund), I think over time, the resistance will be worn down, and Asia will have a greater influence. So, I see that sometime in the next 10 to 20 years, they'll have to acknowledge that maybe it's time for Asia to run IMF or the World Bank. That's a simple example of that.

There's also been the creation of new multilateral organizations in Asia. For example, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and also the New Development Bank have done a good job. These are new organizations created in Asia with the participation of all Asian countries. And the New Development Bank is based here in China, but the largest amount of loans has been given to India. So, you can see, therefore, how Asian countries are growing their own institutions also. So, that's the positive side of the story.

CGTN: Also, you spoke about "wars being the result of geopolitical incompetence." So, in that context, there are certain differences between the major Asian powers that we see on and off, including China, India, and Japan for that matter. How do you see these differences challenging the emergence of an "Asian Century"? Can the region still unite and achieve collective progress despite these differences? Will the Asian powers be able to show geopolitical competence in resolving these differences?

Mahbubani: I would say that my biggest worry today is the state of the bilateral relationship between China and India. I think it's fair to say that the relationship between China and India today is troubled. So, I would say that's one area where we have to pay attention to. But at the same time, it's important to emphasize that despite their differences, trade between China and India is growing, and in many areas, they continue to cooperate with each other. On issues of climate change, for example, China and India are still cooperating with each other, but these are relationships that need to be nurtured and developed.

And there's also, as we know, a rivalry between China and Japan, but that one I'm somewhat less worried about because as Professor Ezra Vogel of Harvard wrote in her book "China and Japan" in which she pointed out that China and Japan have the longest recorded history of 1,500 years (of relations and interconnections). And out of 1,500 years, they were only fighting each other for 50 years. But that was recently, roughly from 1895 to 1945, Japan and China were at war or conflict in one way or another. So, hopefully, as Ezra Vogel says, they can go back to the past record of peace between China and Japan.

CGTN: Are there specific areas where Asia's influence and contributions will significantly reshape the international order?

Mahbubani: We have developed in Asia a different culture of peace, which doesn't depend as much on defense-related organization but more on a culture of inclusiveness. And so for example, you know, when the Cold War ended, at first paradoxically, the West embraced Russia and seemed to say 'Hey, we can get along with Russia,' and Southeast Asia was so, so divided. Right?

There was a division within ASEAN and Vietnam. And what's remarkable is that since the end of the Cold War, Vietnam has now become a full-fledged member of ASEAN. Indeed, one of the most successful members of ASEAN is Vietnam. And by contrast, Russia has been excluded from Europe. So, you see, how we, in ASEAN, have done a better job of managing the post-Cold War world than Europe has and that's the difference.

So, the big difference between European organizations and Asian organizations – In Europe they say to join an organization, you must be like us. So, if Russia is not democratic enough, they say Russia you cannot join. In ASEAN, we say the opposite. We say, "Oh, because we are different, we must come together in one organization and we can talk to each other. So, we actually welcome differences. The Europeans reject differences.

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