Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the NUS Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, a veteran Singaporean diplomat, and named one of the top 100 global thinkers by Foreign Policy, was recently interviewed by China’s Huanqiu Shibao. Huanqiu didn’t reprint the interview in full and didn’t mark where exactly Mahbubani is quoted literally, but gave an account of the interview under the headline “China must improve ways of dealing with neighbors and build a harmonious Asia”.
The following is my translation.
Mahbubani [Chinese transcription: 马凯硕, Mǎ Kǎishuò] is considered to be the first source of expertise for Singapore’s minister mentor Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀, Lǐ Guāngyào). He formerly served the foreign ministry for more than thirty years. In an interview with Huanqiu Shibao he said that the West is now uneasy about China’s rise, which hadn’t been a secret for a long time. Therefore, the West was looking for allies from everywhere, to contain China’s rise. In Asia, you can see the West maintain its alliances with Japan and South Korea. Now, India also frequently flirts with Europe and America, making overtures to them. The Western thinking is: if there is a strong India, it can serve to balance China.
Mahbubani said that China, during the past twenty years of its development, hadn’t attacked any country and hadn’t given neighboring countries reason to feel uneasy. That had been a great political miracle, and China needed to stay on that road. The recent crisis with Japan, and the crisis on the Korean peninsula, required China’s attention, as it needed to ensure harmonious ways of interacting with all Asian countries.
At home, China’s government had brought forward the concept of a harmonious society, we now need a “harmonious Asia”. China plays a leading role in “harmonious Asia”, because it is Asia’s strongest country. As the strongest country, it needs to establish a procedure of dealing with its neighbors. It needs a more creative and more active foreign policy to establish a “harmonious Asia”.
He believes that in the wake of globalization, the world has become more and more “small”, yet China had grown more and more “big”. That leaves other players somewhat worried. China therefore needs to be aware that other residents of the global village were secretly paying attention to China’s rise, and China needed to produce adequate reactions to such worries. Next, when you live in a global village, you need a “global village council” to decide the world’s affairs. But so far, every house in the village has an independent council. There’s the American government, the Indian government, the German government, and they all only care about their own business, and are indifferent to those of the global village. When America was strong, it became the global ruler by its own rules, but now, that things are different, we need a global village council.
His readers’ reactions don’t look encouraging. After all, Mahbubani is Singaporean, and background matters. Along the commenters’ thread, Singapore is accused of being a small country with sickening arrogance which believes it can criticize this and condemn that (指手划脚) or guide China (指导). Another says that it harmony or disharmony don’t matter. Interests do. Singaporeans have theirs, we have ours. Another commenter apparently misses Mahbubani’s point: Without America, Asia wouldn’t be harmonious? You mean, the whole world must be harmonized by America before it can be considered harmonious?
Also, Singapore is no good bird either. We have discovered that some small-territory countries are following America’s ass and issue instructions.
Before quoting Mahbubani, the Global Times had followed the usual pattern of pointing out the degree to which the scholar is a heavy-weight expert. Things might have worked somewhat better if they hadn’t mentioned the Foreign-policy “award”.
[Update: the Foreign Policy isn't actually mentioned in the Huanqiu Shibao article - JR, 20101218]
Kishore Mahbubani: The Case against the West (premium content), Foreign Affairs, May/June 2008