Here is an event you do not want to miss: the influential Kishore Mahbubani will be offering his views on the future political order of global politics this Thursday 28 Feb. The event is absolutely and astonishingly cost-free, but you should email your notice to attend to <firstname.lastname@example.org>. The venue is on the serene and beautiful campus of Loyola Marymount University, about a mile-plus south of Marina Del Rey — in fact, it is to be held in the spacious Von der Ahe Suite, Room 322, William Hannon Library. Far better than average food will be served. The event starts at 6pm and will end before 8pm. Aslo schedule to speak, briefly, will be LMU Provost Joseph Hellige, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf CEO Sunny Sassoon, and Tom Plate, editor in chief of the NEW ASIA MEDIA.
Mahbubani is Singapore’s past UN ambassador who founded the prestigious Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Affairs in his home country, where he is its current Dean. Like the legendary Lee Kuan Yew, now 90, Mahbubani has risen in stature over the years to become a powerful voice of Asia that is increasingly heard — and observed — throughout the world. Will our future hold only clash? Or can mankind anticipate a better fate? The Dean’s views on this millennial questions are complicated in nuance but clear in basic direction.
What follows is a version of an essay by journalist, author and professor Tom Plate about the Dean’s latest book “The Great Convergence” (published by Public Affairs, New York) that has appeared in world newspapers, originally in the Straits Times of Singapore:
“Kishore Mahbubani, a singular figure whose insights and perspectives have for years offered enormous value, is something of a phenomenon whose influential dimensions are still growing. He fashions a distinctive voice from and about Asia, especially its complex relations with the West, which possesses a resonance not unlike, in its singularity and reach, that of Lee Kuan Yew at the latter’s height. His extensive writings on current issues can be found practically everywhere the elite commentariat of the world hang their thinking caps.
In his new book, “The Great Convergence: Asia, The West, and The Logic of One World”, the upward trajectory of the Mahbubani teaching curve proceeds apace, picking up where his other books leave off. With an insouciant self-confidence, the present and founding Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy shamelessly lays out markers for the almighty West to observe in order to keep history from becoming a shambles, or devolving into the kind of preventable deterioration that marked the onset of the great wars of the last century. Those Mahbubani markers include the West’s need for humility, a clearer retrospective on its record of mucking about in the world, and an understanding that, in the absence of attitude adjustments, this new century could turn into a nightmare for the West. Which would not be at all that good for the rest.
To my mind the intellectual foundations of the Mahbubani mantra (his thoughts as if condensed into policy haiku) go back to his nineties’ book “Can Asians Think?” To its critics these collected essays were a hodgepodge of largely anti-Western Scud missile shots. But not to my university students, who adored its fresh air and jaunty fearlessness. Finally someone was standing up to the smug West and giving it a piece of his (considerable) mind, bu without being dub about it.
My excellent young Americans sensed that the mind of a Mahbubani does not roil in a simplistic chemistry. Just as “Can Asians Think?” concludes with the paradoxical worry of whether the West is all that bright, ‘The Great Convergence” begs the West (particularly the U.S.) to spurn the self-destructive course of trying to maintain hegemony and thus save itself from decline by accepting significant limits of its sovereign options. Former President Bill Clinton is singled out for figuring out that championing a “global rules-based order … would [in fact] help to check the behavior and ambitions of emerging powers, such as China and India,” in the dean’s words. “It is always easier to persuade the West to implement policies that would serve its long-term interests … a stronger multilateralism.”
The Dean’s list of do’s-and-don’ts covers vast terrain. Few recent books on international relations and global politics have such span. Incessant world-worriers like me will find his sharp and knowledgeable sections about the future of the United Nations, where he served as Singapore’s ambassador for two terms, invaluable. He views the Security Council in its present claustrophobic form as a present-day League of Nations in flawed miniature. So its reform is vital and urgent.
The persuasive span of the Mahbubani mantra includes an overriding humanism, a stubborn insistence on the power of rational discourse, and (after all the scowls at and berating of the West) a love of both West as well as East, with the possibility of their moving the world closer together toward a better global order.
Unlike the late great Sam Huntington of Harvard, who viewed civilizations as necessarily in collision, Kishore views them as necessarily in convergence. Considering that he is such a critic and such a cynic – not to mention such a sarcastic observer at times — this is the most optimistic news about the future of the world I can think it bring to you at the moment. So be it. Read your Mahbubani carefully.”
THE GREAT CONVERGENCE: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World. Kishore Mahbubani. Public Affairs, New York 2013. 294 pages.
Tom Plate, the Distinguished Scholar of Asian and Pacific Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, is a veteran American journalist. He is the author of the “Giants of Asia” series, including books on Lee Kuan Yew and Ban Ki-moon. An earlier and longer version of this essay appeared in the Straits Times of Singapore.