Kishore Mahbubani, former diplomat and currently dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, was one of the leading exponents of "Asian values" in the 1980s. Although they were in vogue for a time, the merits of those values were lost on many during the Asian financial crises of the 1990s. But since then Asian countries have made a remarkable recovery, and now Mahbubani is back taking his argument to a new level.
With 7-10% annual economic growth rates, Mahbubani sees global power shifting from West to East. He attributes this success not only to Asian values, but also to what he calls "the seven pillars of Western wisdom." Those pillars are free-market economics; science and technology; meritocracy; pragmatism; a culture of peace; rule of law; and education. Modernization in Asia began in the late 19th century with Japan opening to the West, then followed by the 4 tigers, and finally China and India. This march to modernity, as he calls it, has not only raised living standards but also Asian expectations in global power-sharing.
Mahbubani's grudge against the West is that the West is not playing by the rules which it created. The West, which he sees as Europe and North America, has only 15% of the world's population and 48% of global GDP; whereas the East - which is everyone else - has 85% of the world's population and 52% of GDP. The West is still dominating the world through outdated institutions such as the UN Security Council, the IMF, and the World Bank. Under a system of meritocracy or democracy the East should have a much larger role in global affairs.
Mahbubani makes many suggestions that would rectify this situation such as making India and China members of the G8, and opening up some of the top jobs at the IMF and World Bank to Asians. I couldn't agree more. His criticisms of the West have, for the most part, been correct. America's botched operation in Iraq is an easy target. Nuclear proliferation issues and the West's failure to stop genocide the Balkans and Rwanda are also given as examples of the West's incompentence. True again. This should not, however, be contrued as being anti-Western, it is only constructive criticism.
Unfortunately Mahbubani is as uncritical of Asia's shortcomings as he critical of the West's. When he says that the Chinese are freer today than they have been at any time in their history, one would have to agree. (This is also the view of Parag Khanna in The Second World.) But what about the rights of Tibetans and other minorities in China? What about legal and political rights in general? Autocracies only allow economic freedom. He also conveniently overlooks the violence in Kashmir, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. And why blame only the West when nuclear proliferation in North Korea, Pakistan, and now Iran is mostly a result of China's neglect? Asian ascendancy has not been without its own fiascoes.
Parag Khanna argued that there will be three global leaders in the new century: the US, the EU, and China. Mahbubani would like to add India, for he sees India as a bridge between the East and the West. This is a valid point since many Indian intellectuals are at home in both the East and the West. He claims there is still a resistance among public intellectuals and journalists in the West to accept the East on equal terms, but I myself have not seen this resistance. I see a greater recognition of the East almost on a daily basis. With Asia's growing economic power, political power will follow no matter how much real or imagined resistance there is.