By Kishore Mahbubani
A student of philosophy and history, Kishore Mahbubani has had the good fortune of enjoying a career in government and, at the same time, in writing on public issues. While in the Singapore Foreign Service for four decades, he had postings in Cambodia, Malaysia, Washington, and New York, where he served two stints as Singapore’s Ambassador to the UN and as President of the UN Security Council. His recent book, The New Asian Hemisphere, details the forces that underlie the changing balance of power in the world. Simply put, Mahbubani tells us that “although European countries are still significant, their economic and demographic growth does not match those of either the emerging powers (including China and India) or the United States”, and that we should be prepared to act in different ways with new and old powers. For almost two millennia, he notes, the locus of economic power was in Asia. From about 1820 until just recently, China and India were dormant. He may surprise readers when he asserts: “Asian societies are not succeeding because of a rediscovery of some hidden or forgotten strength of Asian civilizations. Instead they are rising now because though a very slow and painful process they have finally discovered the pillars of Western wisdom that underpinned Western progress and enabled the West to outperform Asian societies for the past two centuries. The surprise is not that China and India are rising so fast, but that they (together with many other Asian societies) discovered these pillars so late. Mahbubani thoughtfully concludes that most modern societies apply, directly or indirectly, the key Western principles of domestic governance (democracy, rule of law, and social justice). The challenge in the twenty-first century is to apply them globally in a careful and prudent fashion. “The world has changed irrevocably…global government is not the answer. Global governance is needed urgently. We need to develop both institutions and rules to manage the world as a whole, institutions and rules that reflect the wishes and interests of 6.5 billion inhabitants”.