Two books on the rise of Asia—one of them also a shrill attack on the west—agree on economics but disagree about the politicsby Charles Grant / July 26, 2008 / Leave a comment
The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East by Kishore Mahbubani (PublicAffairs, £15.99)
Rivals: How the Power Struggle Between China, India and Japan will Shape our Next Decade by Bill Emmott (Allen Lane, £20)
Power is shifting from the west to Asia. But is Asia anything more than a geographical term? Arguably the only century in which a significant number of Asians shared a single political identity was the 13th, when Genghis Khan conquered much of the continent. About 100 years ago, writers such as Kakuzo Okakura in Japan and Rabindranath Tagore in India, and politicians such as Sun Yat-Sen in China, developed pan-Asianist ideas. They thought the Asians had much in common, as victims of colonialism, and as people who, compared with westerners, were less materialistic and more spiritual. But such ideas never spread far.
That may be changing, according to Kishore Mahbubani, a former Singaporean diplomat who now runs the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. His book argues that a truly continental identity is emerging from Asia’s economic success, and that Asians will start to dominate the world in the way Europeans have for the past 500 years. Bill Emmott, a former Economist editor, agrees about Asia’s economic integration but does not see it transferring to politics. His book analyses the rivalries and fears that separate China, India and Japan.
Mahbubani argues that many westerners have not yet woken up to the power of Asia. “The reluctance of western minds to acknowledge the unsustainability of western global domination presents a great danger to the world. Western societies will have to choose whether they will defend western values or interests in the 21st century.” He likes western values but thinks that Americans and Europeans are forgetting them as they pursue their selfish interests.
He is merciless on the west’s many hypocrisies and castigates westerners for their incompetent handling of global challenges like climate change, terrorism and proliferation. But much of his critique is shrill—there is “no strategic thinking in the west”—or based on colonial-era westerners who patronised Asia. He never mentions the west’s many pro-Asian thinkers—nor indeed the anti-western ethos that prevails in some European and American universities.
Mahbubani’s hostility towards the EU is vicious and, sometimes, inaccurate. He is right to criticise the “Barcelona process,” through which the EU seeks to aid Mediterranean countries, as ineffective. But he then chides…