February 22, 2008
A number of distinguished thinkers and commentators, among them Tom Friedman and Ed Luce, have recently written imporant books that may be considered to represent views of the West looking at the East, in particular India.
In Kishore Mahbubani, we have a strong voice looking in the opposite direction. Prof Mahbubani represents a rising Asia looking at the West.
Prof Mahbubani is dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. From 1971 to 2004 he served in the Singaporean Foreign Service, and ultimately was Singapore’s Ambassador to the United Nations. In that role he served as president of the UN Security Council in January 2001 and May 2002. His diplomatic career had taken him earlier to Cambodia (where he served during the war in 1973-74), Malaysia and Washington DC. He was Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Ministry from 1993 to 1998. Prof Mahbubani has also served on the boards of leading institutes and think tanks in Singapore. He was a fellow at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard University in 1991-92.
Prof Mahbubani is well known for his writings in journals such as Foreign Affairs and his books Can Asians Think? and Beyond the Age of Innocence: Rebuilding Trust between America and the World. His articles have appeared in several leading journals and newspapers such as The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Prof Mahbubani’s latest book is The New Asian Hemisphere, The Irresistable Shift of Global Power to the East. I found the book engaging, erudite and sensible.
The subject of the shift of the locus of power seems to come to the fore every twenty years or so. Prof Mahbubani’s book reminded me of Jean Jacques Servan Schreiber’s works. Servan Schreiber was a multi dimensional man – journalist, press lord, politician – who touched a chord in Europe in the late sixties with his then celebrated book, The American Challenge. He led many Europeans and especially the French to think in terms of the importance of a European response to America’s dominant influence in the world of that day. In the eighties, Japan emerged as a big challenger on the world scene, and Servan Schreiber wrote The World Challenge which also touched presciently on the significance of what we now call digital technologies.
In 1985, Kenichi Ohmae published Triad Power, positing a world with three poles – America, Europe and Japan.
Professor Mahbubani’s new book introduces players who were not in the reckoning when Servan Schreiber and Ohmae wrote twenty years ago -- India and China. The New Asian Hemisphere is a book that should be of great interest to readers in both Asia and the West. These were countries however that dominated the world economy less than three hundred years ago – and their turn at the helm may well be coming up again.
Professor Mahbubani is known to be a bright and provocative scholar and diplomat. He has been described admiringly as a rare combination of gadfly and pillar of the establishment.