Thu, Jun 07, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Re-envisioning the Asian century

The 21st century belongs to Asia, with China leading the way. The West, whose global dominance over the past 200 years is a “historical aberration,” had better make way. If Taiwan has any sense, it will play nice with China or risk getting kicked around like a political football.

These were some of the points former Singaporean ambassador to the UN Kishore Mahbubani made in an interview with Chinese-language media during a visit to Taipei to attend a conference over the weekend with the title “From the Western-Centric to a Post-Western World: In Search of an Emerging Global Order in the 21st Century.”

The next decade is to see increasing tensions between an ascendant China and a US that must come to terms with a readjustment to the world order, Mahbubani said.

This is an idea he has talked about for some time: A world order dominated by the economies of China and India existed for the 18 centuries preceding the early 19th century, when North America and Europe became more powerful, and we are now living through a readjustment back to the “natural order.”

Over the next 10 years, Taiwan needs to be careful with which side it affiliates itself, he said.

Taiwan, like Singapore, is a small island jostling for a voice in an international arena dominated by more powerful players, and as such, it needs to be practical, he said.

He pointed to the approach of former president Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) to regain a seat in the UN as an example, saying that China’s veto power as a permanent member of the UN Security Council means that Taiwan’s application for membership was never going to work. Former president Ma Ying-jeou’s (馬英九) more conciliatory approach of appeasement was perhaps more effective, he said.

While the West needs to desist from its “missionary impulse” to push its own vision of the world order, with neoliberal global market forces and democracy, Asia also needs to stop riding the West’s coattails and proactively contribute to the rebalancing, he added.

Important in his analysis is that the progress in dealings between nations helps to explain why there have not been the expected clashes between the two sides in this emergent rebalancing.

He has previously said that among the pertinent factors in this includes the changing social contract, whereby governments understand the importance of delivering economic growth and prosperity to their populations if they are to stay in office.

While the logic to aspects of his analysis is irrefutable and the general thrust of his idea convincing, his vision of an Asia with China at the helm is worrying.

In the new regional order, are individual players really to vie for themselves based on their place in the pecking order? This would presumably result in a neighborhood bully calling the shots, while the weaker states — which, in his pragmatic narrative, would be most others in the region — fall in line.

Mahbubani wants Asian nations to be more proactive in defining the shape and terms of the emerging world and regional order: How about one in which this does not happen, in which nations together shape and enforce progressive values that represent their Asian roots?

Could this new order be a system in which small nations are not left to their own devices to be thrown around by more powerful neighbors and to bow down to a totalitarian regime with which they have no interest in having any kind of contract?

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