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Move over West, Asia is here

Updated: 2010-12-23 07:55

By Li Yang (China Daily)

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Move over West, Asia is here

The world is entering a new era, an era marked by two major changes. The first is the beginning of the end of Western domination - not the end of the West, though. The second is the Asian "renaissance", because the 21st century will be the century of Chinese and Indian economies. These are the words of Kishore Mahbubani, dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

"The shift (from West to East) has come faster than I expected," says Mahbubani, who served as a Singapore diplomat for 33 years. "Western countries have been traumatized by the financial crisis. Unemployment in the United States is at an all-time high. Nobody knows when the US is going to recover. The European Union (EU) is facing a lot of problems, too." All these reflect that power is shifting from Europe and the US to Asia.

The West, however, is skeptic about Mahbubani's views. For instance, when his book, The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East, was published in 2008, The Economist criticized him saying: "Mr Mahbubani's Asian triumphalism is as futile and unconvincing as the Western triumphalism he deplores". And The New York Times said: " Mahbubani heaps too much scorn on the West without taking Asia to task for its own missteps."

But the global financial crisis has given Mahbubani another chance to prove his point. The crisis has accelerated the shift of power to Asia, he says. The US and EU economies are still struggling. But China is set to grow by about 10 percent and India by about 9 percent this year. Besides, Singapore is expected to grow by 15 percent. "This is a Western financial crisis," he says, "because the problems are the results of Western leaders' failure to understand that they faced a new competition." Western minds couldn't think that other societies were becoming more successful than them.

People in the US and the EU live beyond their means. Does "Western wisdom" say keep borrowing despite mounting budget deficits? The West has to "relearn" Western wisdom from the East, Mahbubani says. "Asian societies are doing well (today) because they understood and absorbed the main pillars of Western wisdom, including the market, science, education and rule of law. But Western societies are gradually walking away from these pillars."

Look at the history of Asian countries in the past 50 years. Japan rose in 1960s. The Four Asian Tigers - South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong and Taiwan - learned lessons from Japan to begin their journeys of success. And Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the other Southeastern Asian nations followed in their footsteps.

When Deng Xiaoping visited some cities in Southeastern Asian countries in 1978, he realized that Chinese cities had a lot of catching up to do, and launched China's reform and opening-up. India followed China some years later. There is connectivity in Asian stories.

China is expected to have a larger economy than the US in less than two decades. India will probably become the second largest in about 40 years. The last 200-odd years of world history have been an aberration, and all aberrations have to come to an end, Mahbubani says. The level of optimism among the youth in many Asian societies is the highest ever. This is what in the West is called "the leading indicator" of the world that is coming.

"But our (Asian people's) minds have been colonized after 200 years of Western domination of world history we think everything in the West is good everything in Asia is bad. We have to decolonize our minds. The era of Western domination is changing fast. Our challenge is to keep pace with those changes."

As for the new challenges facing China, he says: "It is very important for China to understand the concerns of its neighbors." China should grow keeping the Asian perception in mind. It is natural for China's rise to cause concerns among its neighbors. "We are living in a global village that is getting smaller and in the middle of the village, one house (that of China) is getting bigger. So it's natural for other occupants of the village to feel the squeeze."

But he concedes that China has done a good job so far by sharing its prosperity and signing free trade agreements with its neighbors. "These are positive signs. But in the next phase, China has to do more to understand the concerns of its neighbors."

He says Asian countries should fall back on Asian cultures to provide global governance. The West has given the world a very good base of order. But should Asian countries continue following this order or should they build a new one? "Asian countries should now provide leadership and become drivers, rather than staying passengers, of the world bus."

Take the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank as examples. Their leaders, by rule, have to be from Europe and the US. "Not one among the 3.5 billion people in Asia can occupy any of the two posts, even though Asian economies have the largest foreign currency reserves and are the fastest growing."

Before the recent IMF reform, two small European countries, the Netherlands and Belgium, had more votes than China, which was absurd. The global power, which the West has been exercising because of its control over global organizations, has to shift to Asia now. Most of the EU countries enjoy privileged positions, which they refuse to give up. But that situation has to change now that Asian countries have become more powerful and are shouldering more global responsibilities.

Modernization is not Westernization, Mahbubani says. Asian societies have accepted modernization. But in cultural terms, they are different. China, India and many other Asian countries have thousands of years of history woven in a rich tapestry of culture. "Asia's modernity is now a child. It will grow into a strong adult. And though I cannot say what kind of adult it will be, one thing is for sure that it will hold global power when it grows up."

(China Daily 12/23/2010 page9)


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