Boekpassage 1: 'as a frequent traveller to Western intellectual gatherings, I often come away from them astonished, that at a time when Western minds should be opening themselves to completely new realities, they are actually becoming more closed. I often despair when I read the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times and the Financial Times. These newspapers filled with an incestuous discourse among minds who believe that 12% of the world’s population who live in the West, can continue to dominate the remaining 88% who live outside the West. Few in the West have grasped the full implications of the two most salient features of our historical epoch. First, we have reached the end of the era of Western domination of world history, but not the end of the West, which will remain the single strongest civilization for decades more. Second, we will see the enormous renaissance of Asian societies. The strategic discourse in the West should focus on how the West should adapt, but this has not happened. To make matters worse, the West has gone from being competent to becoming incompetent in its handling of many key global challenges, from the threat of terrorism to climate change, to keeping the nuclear non-proliferation regime alive. This incompetence with naturally disastrous consequences aggravates the Western sense of insecurity. We are therefore moving towards a real crisis in the management of our world order unless the West changes course. In reflecting on future strategic options, Western minds should reflect on the Chinese wisdom in translating the Western word crisis by combining two Chinese characters: danger and opportunity. Too many Western minds are looking at dangers; few are looking at opportunities'.
Int: Your last book is called The new Asian Hemisphere: the irresistible shift of global power to the East. What does that title mean?
KM: The title means that we are entering a completely new era of world history. For the last 200 years world history has been dominated initially by Europe, and then by America, combined together in the West. In the 21st century we are going to return to the historical norm, where from the year 1 to the year 1820, the two largest economies in the world were consistently China and India, and as we enter the 21st century, by the year 2050, as Goldman Sachs predicted, the four largest economies in the world will be number one, China; number two, India; number three, United States of America; number four, Japan, so we are seeing a shift back to the historical norm, and that’s why it is irresistible.
Int: And where will Europe be in that scheme?
KM: I think Europe will remain. I mean I do emphasize in my book that the West will remain the single strongest civilization for a long, long time to come, but the capacity of the West to dominate the world is coming to an end. And the problem the world faces is that there is a natural psychological reluctance to give up power when you’ve enjoyed it for so long, and it’s easiest to illustrate this with a very simple, clear examples. We are now in the 21st century, but we still have a rule that says to become the head of the most powerful world’s economic institutions, okay, to become the head of the IMF, you must be a European; to become the head of the World Bank, you must be an American. And 3.5 billion Asians don’t qualify, even though they are the world’s fastest-growing economies; the world’s largest pool of foreign reserves, now producing more PhDs in economics than anybody else, and no Asian qualifies. I mean this is completely absurd, but the fact that such an absurdity continues shows the reluctance of the West to give up its domination of the world.
Int: Why did you write this book? Do you have any goal with it? And why did you write it now?
KM: You know, it’s when you enter a new historical era and you continue going into it with old mental maps, it’s very dangerous, because you know you don’t adjust to the new realities. And indeed, many of the problems that you see in the world today, are a result of old mental maps in Western capitals: you know, in London, Paris, Berlin and Washington DC. And I am actually very worried that the Western mind, which has always traditionally been the most open mind in the world, is progressively becoming closed at a time when it should be opening up even more.
Int: But is that something you’ve seen recently happening?
KM: No, I would say I’ve seen it since the end of the Cold War. At the end of the Cold War that was one of the most triumphal moments for the Western spirit. I mean it was… it felt wonderful for United States and Europe to have defeated the entire great Soviet Empire, without firing a shot, and the belief was that the West had triumphed. And, you know, you had the famous essay by Francis Fukuyama, The End of History, which more or less said that the rest of the world had no choice, but to become carbon copies of the West. Now, that dangerous mindset, which refuses to acknowledge that other societies are different, that the vast majority of the world’s population has no desire to become carbon copies of the West, and indeed want to evolve their own societies by borrowing some of the Western best practices, but not necessarily all of them, and certainly, to understand this new era, you have to open up your minds again. And this hasn’t happened yet in the West, and that’s the reason why I wrote the book as strongly and as sharply as I did, was to shock the Western mind and make it aware that I’ve got to reconsider all my premises.
Int: It sounds like a nightmare for a Western mindset, surely?
KM: No, I hope it’s not a nightmare. My book has got many positive messages for the West. Let me just cite two, okay? The first positive message that my book has for the West is that the reason why Asian societies are succeeding now, is because they are finally absorbed, understood, absorbed, and are beginning to implement seven pillars of Western wisdom. Now, excuse me, you know if I say that the rise of Asia is due to Asians implementing Western pillars of wisdom, it’s not anti-West. And more importantly, I do say that the rest of the world, in many ways wants to replicate the successful Western middle class society. They don’t want to dominate the West, they have no desire to do so, because they don’t have to do so, and so in that sense it’s an optimistic conclusion that I come to. But the West increasingly, as it looks ahead, has very dark images of the future. You know, I’m stunned at the number of Western statesmen, from President George W Bush to British Foreign Secretaries, always saying, we live in a dangerous world, which is becoming ever more dangerous. And that’s rubbish. We are not moving into a more dangerous world.
Int: The West is, maybe?
KM: No, no, definitely not. If the West learns to co-operate with the rest and stops trying to continue its domination of the rest, it’ll be a happy world. But if the West continues to try to dominate the rest, then the West will be the source of many of the problems in the world.
Int: We’ll get back to that later. First I would like to ask you, what is actually this rise of the Asian economies, and how did it come about?
KM: It is, actually, a great historical mystery why it’s happening now. I mean when you consider the fact, okay, that from the year 1 to the year 1820, China and India had, for 18 centuries, the two largest economies, why did it take them 200 years to once again succeed? I mean that’s a great historical mystery. But the good news is that more and more Asian states now know what they have to do, and indeed what they have to do is to basically implement the seven pillars of Western wisdom. And there’s what I call the march to modernity, you know. It began with Japan. You know, first initially the Meiji Restoration, and then from Japan, it went through Four Tigers: South Korea; Taiwan: Hong Kong; Singapore. Then to Southeast Asia. From Southeast Asia it went to China. And then from China it went to India. And from India, this march to modernity is about to enter the Islamic world and West Asia: that’s a wonderful thing to happen. If you can imagine modern, modernizing Islam states, that’s good for global stability and good for the West.
Int: When you say these economies started thriving because of implementing the seven pillars of Western wisdom, what kind of pillars are they?
KM: Well, let me cite some obvious ones. The first and most obvious one’s free market economics, you know. You know, I happened to be in China in 1980 for the first time in my life, and China was still Maoist, and the reforms had just barely begun. And I went for a haircut in Beijing. And the barber gave me a wonderful haircut you know; it took one hour to do it. So when he finished, I said, thank you very much, but why do you take so long? He says, well, whether I do five haircuts, ten haircuts, 20 haircuts, I get paid the same, so what’s the hurry? Right? There was an iron rice bowl: China’s economy didn’t grow. But the minute China smashed the iron rice bowl and created free market incentives, China has now had the world’s fastest growing economy for over 30 years, just by implementing free market economics. And you know, watching the world’s most populous country, China – 1.3 billion people – to watch it have the fastest-growing economy in the world, is an unnatural as watching the fattest boy in class winning the 100 meter race, right? It’s quite remarkable. But that shows the power of free market economics. Then you take science and technology, right? The reason why the West was able to dominate the world was because it has always been a superior age in science and technology. But today a remarkable shift is taking place, and in doing research for my book I came across a Time magazine cover story which said which quoted a late Nobel prize winner as saying that by 2010, 90% of all PhD holders in science and engineering will be Asians.
Int: That’s in ten years?
KM: Yeah. And, and it may not be 90%, but still it’s a remarkable shift. And today, if you go to American universities and you look at the list of the PhD graduates, they’re all mainly Asian names. And this is another Western pillar of wisdom that the Asians have absorbed. Another one is what I call meritocracy. And to understand meritocracy, I, I use the example of Brazil. Why is Brazil always a soccer super-power, but in economic terms a middle power? And the simple reason is, that when it comes to looking for football talent, the Brazilians go to the upper class, middle class, lower class, and they even go into the slums, and the people at the very bottom they say - if they can find a boy that can kick a ball - they say, come, play for Brazil. But when it comes to economic talent, they look in the upper class, middle class, then they more or less stop there. And the big shift in Asia is that the Asians have finally realized that they have talent in the hundreds and millions of people at the very bottom. And the story I tell in my book is of a child who was born in an Untouchable caste, and in India for centuries birth was destiny. If you were born Untouchable, you lived Untouchable, and you died Untouchable. But in this, in this young boy’s case, he was born Untouchable; went to school; he had to sit separately from his classmates: he was Untouchable. He couldn’t eat with his classmates, because he’s Untouchable, but he did well in exams. Got scholarships. Went to Columbia University. Got a PhD in economics and is now the chief economist of the Reserve Bank of India: Narendra Jadhav. So the simplest explanation for why Asia is rising now is that Asia always had the world’s largest pool of brain power, but it also had the world’s largest pool of unused brain power. Now the unused brain power is being used, and that is fuelling this powerful growth in Asia. And that’s something also that the Asians have learnt from the West: that you find talent in all, in all segments of society. But these are three examples.
Int: How would you describe, based on this development, the kind of new cultural confidence that you find in Asia?
KM: Well, I think you know cultural confidence is something that you cannot impose from the outside: it has to come from inside you, you know. You have to believe in yourself, you know. And I take the case of India, and I can speak about India, because my ancestors – even though I’m Singaporean, I’m ethnically Indian – my ancestors came from India, and I look back at the history of India, I’m amazed that only 100 years ago 300 million ancestors of mine allowed themselves to be ruled by 100,000 Englishman. Peacefully. Relatively. Why? Why did the Indians submit themselves to British colonial rule so easily? Part of the reason was that they didn’t have any cultural confidence. Today, 100 years later, you go back to India, the most optimistic young people in the world today are the young Indian people. They believe that tomorrow belongs to them, and they believe they can do as well as anybody else. And that’s a remarkable shift, you know, that has happened. And it’s a result of them realizing that in any area of economic activity, they can do as well as the modern developed states in the West can. And if you want to understand the importance of cultural confidence, take a look at Africa. I tell the story I think in my book, of the IHT correspondents are calling me and saying, Kishore, isn’t it terrible that there is so much hype in India, you know. I say, well, yes, hype can be a bit bad, but it’s better to have hype than no hype. I mean I would love it for Africa to have hype: to say that the next century will be the African century. That hype will be good for Africa, but it’s not coming out of Africa. But that hype is there in Asia, and it’s very real.
Int: In your book you present a pretty negative view of the West in sometimes harsh ways. Why is that?
KM: Well, I think the biggest danger that the world faces today is that the dominant, powerful societies are the Western societies, and therefore the decisions that they make have a powerful impact on world history. Now, if they understand how the world is changing and adapt to it, we will have, hopefully, a more peaceful course of world history. But if Western intellectuals continue to have what I call an incestuous, self-referential, self-congratulatory dialogue among themselves, where they reinforce each other’s, you know, prejudice against the rest of the world, then it’s very dangerous.
Int: Is that something you see very often?
KM: Oh, I see it every day. I mean if you, if you open the newspapers, any international news service: International Herald Tribune, the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, I mean look at the amount of lectures they give to China. Right? About how China must change, dah, dah, deh. Excuse me, the Chinese have had the world’s fastest-growing economy for 30 years. The Chinese have opened up their society in a profound way. Indeed, one of the most shocking statements I quote is from an Indian intellectual, right, Pratap Bhanu Mehta, who says, you know, the difference between China and India is that India is an open society with a closed mind; China is a closed society with an open mind. And the fact that an Indian intellectual can see that the Chinese mind is open, and the West cannot see that the Chinese is open, is quite remarkable.
Int: But might that also be because democracy is one of the pillars of Western thinking, and China clearly isn’t a democratic country?
KM: You’re absolutely right. But one of the things I hint at in my book is that democracy worship is a sacred cow in Western thinking, and ironically, you know, the, the…
Int: You talk even about the iconization of democracy, right?
KM: That’s right, iconization of democracy. And I believe, you know, I’ve said this consistently, that in the long run, all societies have to become democratic. There is no alternative long term destination: the destination is not in doubt, but the question is about the route. And the Western assumption, especially in recent times, has been that you can go from a non-democratic state to a democratic state overnight. History teaches us you cannot do it overnight. Indeed, if you look at the case of Russia that went overnight from a Communist party system to a democracy, you saw an economic implosion in Russia: living standards went down; infant mortality rates went up; life expectancy came down: the Russian people suffered. And indeed, if you want to understand why the Russians are so bitter towards the West, because you know at a time when they were suffering in the 1990s, the West was saying, Yeay, Russia! [applauds]. Well done, well done! You’re democratic. And you know from… The Chinese can think, you know. The Chinese can observe how much Russia suffered from an immediate transition, and, and it observed the West cheering while the Russians were suffering, and they say, that’s what the West will do to us: they will cheer when we also suffer. And, you know, you must understand that from the Chinese perspective, if you look back over the last 200 years, the last… the past 30 years have been among the best 30 years for the Chinese people. Four hundred million people, about the population of Europe, have been lifted up from poverty: that’s a powerful gift to the Chinese people, and instead of applauding what the Chinese have done, every day the Western media goes after China: why don’t you have democracy? Why don’t you have democracy? And, frankly, the Chinese are tired of listening to these lectures.
Int: Do they tell you that?
KM: Oh, yes! Of course. And, you know, I got a story, actually, in my previous book entitled 'Beyond the age of Innocence: Rebuilding trust between America and the World'. A Chinese intellectual, one of the China’s most powerful intellectuals, said to me, you know, Kishore, before Guantánamo, when the Americans came to lecture to us on human rights, we would disagree with them officially, but in our heart of hearts we said, yes, the Americans have a right to lecture us: their standards of human rights are here; our standards are here. He said, after Guantánamo, everything changed. And the Chinese said to the Americans, excuse me: "we beat up people, you beat up people; what’s the difference"? Stop lecturing us. First fix your own human rights record. And if you had told me, ten years ago, that the first modern developed country to re-introduce torture would be United States of America, I would have said "Never"! It could never happen. The unbelievable has happened. But what is even more stunning, is that Western intellectuals still want to preserve the moral high horse, and want to be able to give lectures to the rest of the world, when their own record is now chequered. And the rest of the world, believe me, looks at this: they can see the double standards, and they say, please, stop lecturing the rest of the world.
Int: You’ve been a diplomat at the UN for a long time. You mention a lot of global paradoxes that you see and you state like the world in 1945 isn’t the world of 2045. What kind of paradoxes have you seen in, in, in that global area?
KM: One of the actual paradoxes we face in the world today, is that, you know, up to now, right, United States and the European Union have been preaching to the rest of the world about the virtues of free market economics. And I remember the days when the developing world – like a country like India – would say no, no, no, no: if we open up our economy, we will be raped, right, by Western powerful multinational corporations. Today, in a huge shift, that people haven’t really understood the meaning of, the greatest believers in free market economics now, are the Asian societies, because they believe on a level playing field, they can compete and they can win. But at the same time, ironically, the West – United States and European Union – remain the custodians of the open international trade regime, but their populations are losing faith. I mean if you go to America and you watch Lou Dobbs talk about the dangers of Americans losing jobs to Indians, you know, he’s one of the most anti free market guys in the world today. And I’m sure the same kind of angst also affects the European population still. And this is a huge shift paradox, you know, that the West, which used to be a great believer and defender of free market economics, that populations are losing faith, at a time when the Asians are gaining faith in it, and that’s why we have to adjust and adapt to this new world.
Int: Do you see any protectionist tendencies in Europe and the US?
KM: Oh, definitely, definitely. And, in fact, this is my number one short term concern. I mean, by the way, you know, the reason why the Doha Round is not being completed - I mean to put it very succinctly and very simply – in the past the reason why the United States and Western Europe pushed for the completion of Trading Round, is because they believe that when you liberalise and open up, they’ll benefit, so they pushed. Now, the United States and U No. 1, have both have to give up their agricultural subsidies. They promised at the end of the Uruguay Round to give up their agricultural subsidies and they still haven’t done so.
And the subsidies have grown, unfortunately, since then. But the rest of the world is saying, excuse me, let’s have a level playing field; you have to give up your agricultural subsidies. But the most important point I make to a European audience, is that it is in the long term strategic interest of Europe to give up its agricultural subsidies and allow agriculture to flourish in Africa, because if you don’t export jobs to Africa, Africa will export Africans to Europe. It’s a logical thing that’s going to happen. So the best way to prevent that from happening is to begin to allow the free trade to flourish in Africa. This is basically what America did to prevent millions of Mexicans coming into America: they created NAFTA; they created jobs in Mexico and that’s reduced the amount of Mexicans coming to America. By the way, amazingly enough, China, whose economy is so far behind Europe’s, managed to propose, negotiate and conclude a free trade agreement with 500 million Southeast Asians in record time, right, creating the world’s largest free trade area: 1.7 billion people. This is what Europe needs to do with Africa. It needs to create some kind of free trade regime which will allow the economies in Africa to grow and keep the Africans at home.
Int: You also call for a, for a fundamental shift in global organizations like IMF, World Bank. Could you elaborate on that?
KM: I’ve mentioned about the IMF and the World Bank and about how it’s absurd that you’ve got to be European to be the head of the IMF, and American to be head of the World Bank. Let me look at this UN Security Council. The UN Charter is a beautiful document: you cannot write a better document that the UN Charter, so don’t throw out the UN Charter. Keep it. But in the UN Security Council, one of the wisest things that the founding fathers of the UN did, was that they said to keep the UN alive, so that it doesn’t die like the League of Nations, you must give the great powers of the day a stake in the UN, so they were all given a veto power. So the veto power is useful in keeping the great powers in the UN. But for this to function, you have to have the great powers of today, or the great powers of tomorrow, in the UN Security Council, but not the great powers of yesterday.
And believe me, nobody thinks that UK and France will be the great power of tomorrow. Europe combined will remain a great power, so it would make sense to give a common European seat and a common European veto in the UN Security Council: that’s a logical solution. But neither UK nor France will give up their seats.
Int: Do you think it will ever happen?
KM: No, and this is a perfect illustration of resistance to change.
Int: But do you think that will ever happen? Do you think that Western powers will give up their, their positions?
KM: Well, unfortunately the lesson of history is that it takes crisis to see changes in global institutions. Now, we are living today in one of the moments of greatest historical change ever in human history. Never before have we seen the kind of pace of change affecting as many people as we do today. Now, if you have these powerful waves of change, and you lock your global institutions into the past, that’s a prescription for trouble. So at some point in time a crisis will come. So the challenge for us is, are we going to change ahead of time and prevent the crisis, or are we going to resist change and create a crisis?
Int: But then, what is your proposal for the UN Security Council?
KM: Oh, my proposal is very simple. That instead of having what I call a beauty contest approach - a beauty contest approach is hey, I’m Brazil: I have a big economy. I’m India: I have a big economy; I should be a permanent member as well – why not we sit down quite simply and say, okay, what is the principal for permanent membership status in the UN Security Council, and what are the responsibilities of permanent membership? Because up to now, one of the greatest weaknesses of permanent membership of the UN Security Council is that you do have permanent membership with no responsibilities, with no accountability at all; that’s why Rwanda happened. Rwanda happened because the permanent five did not fulfil their responsibilities under UN Charter to prevent genocide. Right? So now we hold the permanent members accountable, and then we say to them, are you prepared to contribute more in terms of financial contributions to the UN? Are you prepared to contribute more in terms of peacekeeping forces to the UN, because there are obligations that now come with permanent membership? And then, then you find out: who wants it, and who doesn’t want it, ‘cos not everybody wants to take on these big responsibilities. And I think once that is settled, you can arrive at a, at a kind of formula. But I certainly believe, frankly, when you start on that basis, it’ll also be logical for there to be a common European seat in the UN Security Council.
Int: Does it surprise you that Western powers don’t want to give up their dominant role?
KM: You know, after 33 years in the field of diplomacy, I’m a political realist, you know. I understand…
Int: You sound more like a dreamer sometimes.
KM: Oh….no, no, no, no. I’m a very much a hard-edge realist in terms of understanding the nature of power, and I know that in the short run there will be tremendous resistance. But the same time I can also see, as an analyst, the consequences of resisting change. I mean if you look, for example… Let me, let me give you a live example of what happens when you don’t change your mindset, okay? Look at the Iraq War, five years ago. Some of the most intelligent, some of the best educated people, people who went to Harvard and Yale, believed in the year 2003 that an army of 160,000 Christian soldiers, landing on Islamic territory, would be greeted with rose petals thrown at their Western military boots. What kind of illusion did you have in your mind? How could your mind be so out of touch with how much the world has changed? That’s a perfect example of how history goes wrong when you walk into history with old mental maps, and that’s why I speak out very strongly and I say, wake up! The world has changed. And it is incredibly dangerous [cough], very, very dangerous for the West to ignore the enormous amount of growing anger among 1.2 billion Muslims towards the West, who see your double standards every day.
Right, you want to have responsibility to protect for Darfur? Good idea. Why don’t we have the responsibility to protect the people in Gaza? How is it that the people of Gaza can be subject to collective punishment, and the West says nothing? Where are your human rights standards? And this is why, when you have the self-referential dialogue among Western minds, you don’t hear the voices outside. You don’t hear what the vast majority of the world is saying, and that’s very dangerous.
Int: What is needed to open up that kind of self-referential?
KM: Ah, I hope they begin reading my book. I mean it’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be easy. I mean… Take, take, for example, this, this book of mine. It has got a tremendous amount of attention in Asia, right? You get these wonderful reviews in India, China, Southeast Asia, saying…
Int: Of course it’s a morale boost, of course, for Asians.
KM: I know, they practically they make up the majority of the world’s population, excuse me - when the vast majority of the world’s population says that this is a book that finally describes how we think and feel, neither the New York Times, nor the Washington Post will review the book.
Int: They don’t want to review it?
KM: Well, they were sent the book by several people: several friends of mine in New York sent them the book. Now, they are not interested in listening to a completely different perspective. They want to hear American voices describing how the rest of the world is. They don’t want to hear non-American voices describing how the rest of the world thinks.
Int: And what about Europe?
KM: Europe, actually surprisingly. One of the most pleasant shocks to me is how this book is getting more attention in Europe than in America. I mean there will be a German edition, a French edition, a Dutch edition come out. It’s been reviewed in the Financial Times, and the Economist gave it a big review. I mean of course they said it’s anti-Western, but it’s, it’s still being reviewed and that, to me, is intriguing.
Int: The Economist called your plea anti-Western?
KM: Yes. The fact that the Economist would describe my book as anti-Western showed that they completely didn’t understand the book. Because my book, at the end of the day, tries to prescribe a happy future for the West, by saying that if the West adjusts to this completely new world order, it’ll be better off. I mean look at the current policies of the West. You have angered and alienated 1.2 billion Muslims, right? You have angered in many ways the Chinese people just most recently. Look at the Olympics torch relay. Look at all the protests against China. Look at the angry Nationalist backlash in China against the West. Why are you doing this? Why do you want to wake up an angry Chinese Nationalism? It’s not in your interests. Why do you insult 1.2 billion Chinese people? No, it shows a complete closed Western mind. And, you know, that’s why I wrote this book as sharply as I did. Many parts of the book will cause Westerners pain, but that is an important part of getting out of your comfortable mental zones. Because you’re so happy talking to yourself, it is painful to hear a voice that doesn’t say, gee, you are the greatest thing, you know, ever invented in the history of humanity.
Boekpassage 2: 'The past 20 years have probably seen some of the greatest changes in human history. The biggest shift is that the 88% of the world’s population, who live outside the West, have stopped being objects of world history and have become subjects. They have decided to take control of their own destinies and not have their destinies determined by Western-dominated global processes and institutions: they believe that the time has come for the West to cease its continuing domination of the globe'.
Int: There has always been a very strong Western belief that Asian economies and cultures lack the creativity and culture of invention in order to be really, really able to compete with the West. What are your thoughts on that?
KM: I think the Western belief that the Asian economies perform badly for a long time is correct, by the way. And it’s clear that, you know, when the west took off and, you know, after the Industrial Revolution, it was the result of something magical happening in the western mind, you know, amazing. By the way, I think the world should send the west a thank-you note, you know, for having lifted up humanity to a new level of development. Right? I mean, when you look back in the feudal times, today a middle class home in the west lives more comfortably than the lords of two, three hundred years ago, right? So, we, the west has lifted up human standards. Now, the question is, can the rest of the world do what the west has done? And I think there is enough evidence already to show that they can do it. And if you look at creativity and inventions, and so on, and so forth, I mean it’s clear, at the basic science research, Asia hasn’t caught up yet. There’s no doubt whatsoever. But the Asians are making massive investments in those areas. You take biotechnology, for example. You know, I was stunned when the provost of Harvard came to Singapore and came to call on me in my office. I said why are you coming to Asia? I mean Harvard is number one in the world, right? He says, we understand that there is very powerful new research going on in this region, and we want to understand what’s going on. Now, that, you know, I, I spent a year in Harvard in 91/92. In 91/92 no Harvard provost would have come to Asia to say, hey, I want to understand what’s happening in Asia. The fact that today he’s coming shows something is happening in Asia, even in the fields of basic scientific research.
We talked about the seven pillars of western wisdom.
Int: What surprised me in your book is that one of the pillars that I would expect you to include, you didn’t include, which is democracy. Why is that?
KM: Well, I deliberately did not include democracy, because the lesson that Asians have learned is that the critical variable in development is neither democracy, nor lack of it. You can have a non-democratic society, like China succeeding, and you can have a non-democratic society, like North Korea failing. You can have a democratic society, like India succeeding, and then maybe, a democratic society like Philippines not succeeding. So, the critical variable in development is not democracy, or lack of it. The critical variable is good governance. And that, I think, is what the Asian states should be focused on. And what’s interesting about Asia, this is why the Asian story is so fascinating, is that there’s no single role model. China is one role model, India is another role model, and they’re very different, right? And it’s important to understand the diversity of Asia. And for the Asian countries that want to succeed, they have to focus on the elements of good governance. And that’s why I say if they can implement the seven pillars of western wisdom, and by the way, I emphasised the importance of rule of law. I think if you can have rule of law to create a secure environment, and especially a secure environment, as you know, for property, and intellectual property, that makes a big difference in terms of growth and development. So, frankly, I would say, given a choice between going for democracy immediately or rule of law immediately, I say go for rule of law first. Develop your society and then you’ll eventually we will all have to go to democracy.
Int: But where do I see that rule of law in China, for instance?
KM: Well, the… Good question. If you look at where China was in Maoist times, right, and look at where China is today, right? One of the most precious things that you saw in the American Revolution, as you know, is that they, they believe in private property. Today a lot of Chinese have private property, which is protected by the laws of the state, and cannot be seized easily. That’s why the Chinese economy is growing. If you look at the country that is producing the largest amount of new judges, it’s China. And you know what the judges are studying? They’re trying to study western concepts of law, and trying to apply it, because the Chinese government knows that if they don’t have rule of law, China will not go to the next stage of economic development. And the higher the stages you go, right, and if you want to attract world-class industries to invest in China, you have to protect intellectual property. Now, their record is a mixed one, but the fact that their… Every year their trend line is positive, and that’s what, that what, that’s what has to happen in, in all the new Asian states.
Int: So, basically what you’re saying to western and intellectuals is, don’t preach what the situation should be, but look at what has happened over 20 years.
KM: Look, look at the trend line. I mean, are they, are these societies progressing, changing, opening up? And listen to the voices of their people. Take a very small indicator, right? For a long time there was a brain drain, right, from Asia to the west, and which, by the way, which was a good thing in many ways. I remember the former prime minister of India, Rajeev Gandhi was asked, aren’t you worried about a brain drain? And he gave a brilliant reply, he said, better a brain drain than a brain in the drain. So, if these brains can be used and nurtured and developed, they have become potential long-term assets for the Asian economies. And today, guess what? you see a reverse brain drain taking place. You see people with PhDs from American universities going back to India, and guess what? Going back to China. Why? Now, if there, if China was a closed society, an oppressive society with no freedom, why are the best brains coming back to work in Chinese universities? And you know, every year over 20 million Chinese travel overseas, and you know what? Over 20 million Chinese return home. You don’t get what you did in the Soviet Union days, you know, when the Soviets, whenever they had a chance to leave, they would jump ship and seek asylum. Very few Chinese are seeking asylum, they’re all going home.
Int: Coming to this, you mention in your book, you make a distinction between freedom of thought and freedom of expression. What you’re saying is that westerners don’t see that distinction, is that what you’re referring to in this Chinese account?
KM: Yes. Certainly. I mean, the Chinese, you know, the Chinese clearly do not enjoy the same degree of freedom of expression as in the west. I mean, let’s make it very clear. The media in America and in Europe is the freest media in the world, and I think in Asia, maybe India comes closest in terms of having the same kind of free media as you do in the west. China doesn’t have it yet but this doesn’t mean that if you don’t have freedom of the media you don’t have, if you don’t have freedom of expression you don’t have the freedom to think. The Chinese have the freedom to think, and if you go to a Chinese university and you engage in a discourse with young Chinese students, you’ll be amazed at how open and how aware they are of the state of the world, much more aware of the rest of the world than many young people in America or, or in Europe. And that’s a very important distinction. The opening up of the Chinese mind is happening without the west being aware that the Chinese mind has opened up.
Int: Still I think this is the lynchpin of the whole discussion between the west and Asia probably, or China in particular, also maybe Singapore, where you’re from. Your former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, or what should we call him prime minister, or maker of Singapore.
KM: Founder of Singapore.
Int: He said… Okay, economy first and then possibly democracy. But still, to western ears, that sounds like… There is something painful in that, the way that sounds.
KM: You know, I’m glad you said that it sounds painful to the western ear, because it shows how little the west has studied its own history. I mean the, the longest democracy in the world is American democracy, right? They preached the concept of equality of man in 1776. Guess what? It took them almost 100 years, right, to get rid of slavery. It took them 150 years to give the women the right to vote, and it took them almost 200 years, till 1960s before the blacks got the effective right to vote, 200 years. Now, if America took 200 years from very auspicious beginnings to achieve full democracy, if China does it in 50 years, pretty fast, isn’t it? Pretty good, right? So why do you expect China to be able to do it overnight? You know, it, the critical thing is, are these societies opening up and going in the wrong, the right direction? I mean certainly Myanmar is going in the wrong direction, no one doubts it. There’s no development, no change whatsoever. But China is going in the right direction. So, but this, this is why many Asians believe that when the west preaches to China, there’s some other agenda going on here. Because why can’t you see the obvious improvements in China? The real, the real agenda is that you’re frightened of China’s rise. You’re worried of China’s rise, and you’re trying to look at the deficiencies. And every, every society’s got deficiencies. And in the east, in the area of human rights, you know, I actually believe that the whole world should move towards more progressive respect of human rights. We should in fact, implement the principles of the universal human rights declaration, I believe in that too. But the record has been clearly seen, and this is something that the west is not aware of, is that the west has got so many double standards on human rights. The west, the rest of the world sees your double standards. You don’t see your double standards, and you continue preaching. It’s like a priest, okay. If you know that the priest doesn’t implement the own principles that he preaches on Sundays, would you respect him? And that’s how the rest of the world sees the west when he preaches on human rights.
Int: So, what you’re saying is, do as you preach, but then you might also say, the Chinese aren’t preaching, so they can do what they want.
KM: I think the Chinese are thinking very hard about the future directions of their society. You know, in my book I quote a private conversation between the premier, Wen Jiabao and Mr John Thornton, the president, the chairman of Brookings Institution. And Wen Jiabao says you know, in this conversation, yes, we know China has to change, yes, we know that China has to become democratic. But their big challenge is how do they go from the present system to becoming democratic while preserving the political stability. Because they need this political stability. You know, in the Chinese mind the biggest worry is not lack of freedom, the biggest worry is what they call, luan, chaos. Because throughout Chinese history there’s been a tremendous amount of chaos, and the west doesn’t understand this Chinese obsession with order. The Chinese obsession with order is the result of 2,000 years of experience where you had centuries of disorder. They don’t want to go through centuries of disorder.
Int: So, in the end it’s not the westerns being afraid of China, but it’s the Chinese being afraid of change.
KM: The Chinese are, Chinese are afraid of, of, of disorder in China too, and that’s why the Chinese want to change gradually. Now, the best way to encourage the Chinese to change gradually is to engage the Chinese. And the more Chinese students, the more Chinese tourists who come to Europe and say, hey, why can’t we have this in China too, they will be the agents of change. So why isolate China? Why is Angela Merkel boycotting the Olympics? What do you gain by doing that? How do you change China by doing that? You know, the problem in the west when it comes to human rights, when it comes to a choice between doing good and feeling good, the western human rights campaign is on the feel good, and not do good. If Angela Merkel wants to do good she should go to China, engage China, get more China’s come, to come to Germany. That’s the kind of way you transform China. But if you feel good by boycotting China, you don’t, you, in fact you, you create a more closed China.
Int: One of your big heroes seems to be Deng Xiaoping, the former Chinese president, why is that so?
KM: I think history will eventually recognise that he’s one of the greatest men who ever lived.
Int: Are you serious?
KM: Because the amount of human good that he did… You know, I, I studied philosophy. And you know, the British [unclear] philosophers, said the best way to measure good, and I’m summarising this very crudely, is in terms of how you improve people’s lives. If you improve people’s lives, if you take them out of poverty, right, if you give them education, if you make them feel more secure, improve their sense of well-being, you are doing good, you are helping people. Deng Xiaoping single-handedly did more good than any other leader because he lifted up 400 million people from poverty. And believe me, when you consider the Chinese political system, how closed it was under Mao, how closed it was in the cultural revolution, and for him to turn, overnight, you must have tremendous willpower, enormous willpower to take that huge political system and turn it round. No other man could have done it, and that’s why he’ll go down as one of the greatest men.
Int: You are in your book, very critical about Europe, actually. One of the things you state is that Europe failed completely to spread its influence beyond its Christian heartland. Can you explain that?
KM: Well, I mean, one of my obsessions in my life today is what I call, the world’s great historical mysteries, okay? And you know, when, after Europe developed, right, as you know, North America developed, and frankly, after that, after North America, if you’ll go back and read the early 20th century history, everyone expected Latin America to develop. It didn’t. Why? We still don’t know. And if you look at Europe, if Europe was so successful, normally the success crosses the borders and other societies improve, right? What’s interesting is that the European success story has been confined to the Christian societies, and even though Morocco, and Tunisia, and Algeria are so near, there’s been no transformation. Now, you see the exact opposite in Asia. In Asia, the success of one Asian society affects its neighbours, and there’s a continuous ripple effect. Japan’s success led to the success of the four tigers, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore. It led to the success of the South East Asian economies, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and then when Deng Xiaoping visited Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, he said, my God, why are these societies ahead of us? We must change. He changed China, and then when China took off, the Indians said, hey, if China can do it, why not us? We are as good. And so now the west Asians are saying if India can do it, why not us? So, there’s a progressive process of learning. And you know, in my previous book, which I mischievously entitled, Can Asians Think? I have an essay down there which suggests that Europe was actually very happy to remain as a developed states, and to keep its neighbouring Moslem populations in poverty. That was a very short-sighted policy not to export its modernisation to its immediate neighbours, because the consequence of that is that… I have a chapter in my book that shows in 1950, Europe’s population was here, right, and North Africa’s was there. By the year 2000 it’s about the same, by 2050 North Africa’s population is much bigger than Europe. Don’t you want to live next door to modern, developed states, rather than backward, impoverished states? Why can’t you, why can’t you, why can’t you transform your own neighbourhood?
Int: Where does this stupidity come from, do you think?
KM: Short-sightedness, complete short-sightedness.
Int: But Europeans have always been very good at solving their, at serving their self-interests, so…?
KM: Yes. But this is the great historical mystery. Why is it that the Europeans who were geopolitically the most competent powers in the world…? Believe me, if you were not competent, how could a small state, like Portugal, very tiny state, go and colonise South America - Brazil? Go and colonise Africa - Angola and Mozambique, take a bite of India, in Goa, take a bite of China, in Macau? That’s amazing. That’s what I call first class geopolitical competence. Today the same European states which have been geopolitically competent for a long time, are becoming geopolitically incompetent. And you know, if you look at the amount of time the Europeans spent arguing about their internal arrangements, about how to reshape Europe, and not paying attention to all the borders. The best analogy I can think of is that you’re rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic while the Titanic is sinking. And that’s not geopolitical competence. And the first priority in Europe should be trying to figure out how to modernise the Islamic states in your neighbourhood. And here the best news that my book has for Europeans, and this is really good news, okay, is that the Islamic states never thought that they could succeed in modernisation. But after observing what happened in China and in India and in Asia, are saying, we too can do it. and the cover of my book, this not a picture of Shanghai, this is a picture of Dubai. And I deliberately chose Dubai, to send the message that the Islamic states are going to modernise like the rest of Asia. And this is where Europe should welcome the success of China and India because in the long run, the success of China and India will be strategically beneficial to the long-term security of Europe.
Int: Reading your book in that respect, is, you seem to be pitting two cultures against one another, the Asian culture versus Western culture. And, but are you implying then that the Islamic world is up for grabs for either Asia or, or the west?
KM: No. I, I think the Islamic world will never become westernised, never. The rift is very deep. But I think the Islamic world is ready to modernise along the lines of the Asian societies. And, by the way, you are right when you say that I talk a lot about the distinction between Asia and the west. I’m aware, by the way, of the diversity of the west, right, I’m aware of the differences between Europe and America. I’m also aware of the diversity of Asia, there’s a huge difference between China and India, for example, and I think in my subsequent books I’ll talk more about the diversity of Asia. But the primary historical dynamic today, the global dynamic, is the end of the era of western domination of world history, not the end of the west. And it’s important for the west to now make the right decisions on how to adjust to the end of the era of western domination of world history. And that’s why I speak so much about the west. And at the same time, I think the rise of Asia is happening in a kind of holistic fashion, where Asians are learning from other Asians, and copying the best practices. And the west is not aware of the enormous amount of learning that is going on within Asia. I mean, look at the decision of the King of Saudi Arabia to set up the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. Now, that’s a very brave move you know, he’s putting $10 billion into creating the infrastructure, he’s putting $20 billion into the endowment. And you know who’s the first president of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology? He’s from Singapore.
KM: My boss, he’s the president of the National University of Singapore, Professor Shih Choon Fong. So, that’s a very powerful signal from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, why can’t we modernise like Singapore too? And so that, all that learning that is going on, the west is not aware of.
Int: So, the west is not only, what you’re saying is the west is not only keeping an eye on what’s happening in Asia, but they’re also losing the Islamic world to Asia in the end?
KM: No. I hope that they will see this not as a loss, in fact as a gain.
Int: In what sense?
KM: The gain, because if Islamic states modernise… You know, I use a famous phrase by Bob Zelleck, who said when he was Deputy Secretary of State, that China should become a responsible stakeholder in the global order. And China, by the way, is becoming a responsible stakeholder in the global order because China today is the biggest beneficiary of the new global order! If you are the biggest beneficiary, you want to become a responsible stakeholder. Now, imagine a world where all the Islamic states become modernised, they have middle classes, they succeed, they get rid of poverty. Guess what? They would, they, they will then want to become responsible stakeholders in the global order. And for me, take the obvious case of Iran for example; the Iranians have long historical memories, okay. They believe that Persian civilisation is on par with Chinese civilisation. They believe that Persian civilisation is superior to Indian civilisation because they taught Indian civilisation a lot from Persian civilisation. Now, if you are living in Iran and you see China rising and you see India rising, you say, why not Iran? So, the Iranians actually want to join the modern world, and guess what? At a time when the Iranians want to join the modern world, the west is putting them in a box, which is exactly the wrong thing to do. Get them out of the box, let the Iranians connect with the rest of the world, and eventually Iran will become a responsible stakeholder.
Int: In spite of the hardliners, in spite of Ahmadinejad?
KM: You know, there was a wonderful column by Fareed Zakaria, which I think I quote in the book. You know, Mao Tse Tung, you go back and read his statements, he say, it doesn’t matter if there’s a nuclear war between China and America. Because if you have a nuclear war, all the Americans will disappear, half the Chinese population will disappear, we’ll still have half of China. That statement sounds like an Ahmedinedjad statement. Guess what? Nixon went to Beijing and shook hands with the guy who made that statement. So, what happened to China? China completely transformed itself. So, why can’t you focus on the society, and not the individual? Iran has got 60 to 70 million people. All the polls will tell you that the Iranian population is the most pro American population in the middle east, so why are you focusing on Ahmadinejad and his crazy statements?
Int: Because he’s the representative of the Iranian people.
KM: He’s their leader, but you know, you know something, when President Bush declared Iran to be part of the Axis of Evil, you know who was the president of Iran then? Khatami. Khatami had proposed a dialogue of civilisations, and in response you call Iran part of the axis of evil. Why are you surprised that Ahmadinejad. When Iran was trying to reach out to you, you slammed the doors on them. Why don’t you open the doors on Iran, connect with Iran, allow Iranian students to study in European universities, and American universities, as you have Chinese studying down there? And guess what? Over time Iran will change. Believe me, that’s why it’s very important to get out of this western mindset that the way you solve problems is by imposing sanctions. When you impose sanctions, you close up societies, they don’t change. When, when China… Look at China, no sanctions on China; China’s completely transformed itself, that’s the way to go.
Int: At some point you, you write that it will be probably the Asians who will provide a stable world order. How do you see that?
KM: Well, world order is provided by the states who have the most to benefit from a stable world order. And today… I mean the 1945 World Order was a wonderful gift from America and Europe to the rest of the world. And indeed, the principles of the 1945 World Order we hope should be preserved, and the Asians want to preserve the rules of the 1945 World Order. I mean, the amazing thing, if you look at China for example, you know, it’s emerging as a great power even though it’s not a democracy, even though it’s been hackted [?] to by the west, it continues to insist, we will play by the rules. We don’t want to violate the rules of the world order. So, the fact that China, India, Japan, Korea, the south east Asian states are all benefiting from this world order, why should they want to destabilise it? But at the same time, they want to have a stake in managing the world order, and that’s where the problem comes. You know if you look at the IMF voting, you know, how can Belgium have a larger share of voting in the IMF than China? Come on, right? I mean, what’s wrong here? China’s economy is much larger; China has the world’s largest pool of foreign reserves. But the problem is that, when it comes to IMF voting it is a zero sum game. There are only 100% of the votes. If you want to increase the Chinese share, the European share has got to shrink, and the reluctance of the Europeans to acknowledge that their share of the global power has shrunk, is a huge part of the problem. And that’s why I believe that the Asians actually want to take on greater global responsibilities, and are prepared to pay the price for it, but Europe and America are resisting it.
Int: What would an Asian world order look like in terms of human rights, freedom of the press, freedom of expression?
KM: Well, the... In the long run, okay, I think, I lay out a vision you know, in my book. And the kind of more stable, modern middle classes that you have in America and Europe, that’s the dream that the Asian societies have, and eventually they’ll become democratic. And believe me, when you have modern middle classes who’ll become politically very powerful, they will want to have the same rights that are enjoyed by European citizens in their own homes. And they’ll want to have the same kind of freedoms that the western societies have in their own homes. So, in the long run, basically, that’s why I’m so optimistic. I keep saying that the Asian societies want to replicate the west, right, that’s their end goal, and they’re marching in the right direction. Let them march in the right direction, and don’t put roadblocks in their way, don’t try and trip them up with sanctions, and, and, and all kinds of political pressures. Eventually the world will become more like what you see in the west today. But that doesn’t mean, by the way this is a very important point, that they’ll become culturally, clones of the west. Indeed culturally, they’ll be very different. Because, I mean, they have their own civilisations, and just as you had the Italian Renaissance, right, that reconnected the west with its Greek and Roman past, the Chinese will rediscover their connections with the Tang Dynasty, the Indians will reconnect with you know, Ashoka, with the Great Mogul emperors, and so on and so forth. That also, is happening in there, so, so it will create a much richer cultural universe than you have today.
Int: But, isn’t probably, in that, the biggest western fear? That other cultures discover their roots, that they will celebrate those roots, and that it goes with the cost of western culture?
KM: Hopefully, it is not a zero sum game. I mean, in some areas it is a zero sum game, but if different societies discover their own cultural roots, and, and celebrate them or, it doesn’t in any way mean that the west cannot continue to celebrate its own culture, in fact [overtalking].
Int: No, but hasn’t the west shown in the past that it is very wary of other cultures in the first place?
KM: Certainly the west has shown it. the west has, you know for a long time many western intellectuals believe that as societies modernise that they will automatically become westernised. And as you know, one of the revolutionary things I say in my book, is I distinguish between modernisation and I see in Asia, with modernisation you don’t get westernisation. You get modernisation and de-westernisation. and that, I know, is creating a great deal of cultural anxiety in the west. And that’s where, that’s where the European intellectuals have got to understand how history has changed, how the world is so different from the way that they could dominate the rest of the world.
Int: How do you see that de-westernisation?
KM: Well, the de-westernisation will come, I mean, I cannot tell precisely how it will come, but if you look at it in terms of cultural content, right, and, you know… For example, there was a time when, let’s say, the American sitcoms, right, would dominate the world. Now, in India they find they’re not interested in American sitcoms, they want to watch their own sitcoms. The Koreans want to watch their own sitcoms; the Chinese are watching their own sitcoms. At the same time the, the positive thing is that they are really investing in their own history and culture, and reconnecting with the past. One of the best stories I tell… You know, the Harvard of Asia used to be a university called, Naranda, which was the world’s leading university, from the year 500 to about 1197, okay, for 800 years or so. And it was destroyed completely by the Turkey invaders, and disappeared for 800 years. now there’s a process to revive Naranda University, because that’s where the scholars came, not just from India, Naranda is in India, but they came from West Asia, from Afghanistan, they came from South East Asia, they came from Japan, they came from Korea, they came from China to Naranda. So, if Naranda is revived, the Asians begin to realise that they have had common historical connections that were disrupted in the period of western colonial domination. So, the, the process, the disruptive process of the last 200 years will be gradually removed, and the reconnections of the old will come, and that’s a good thing, you know.
Int: What makes you so sure that Asian superpowers don’t want to dominate in the end? Superpowers always want to dominate.
KM: Well, this is a result of a huge gift that the west has given to the world. Because if you look at 20th century history, right, Japan and Germany emerged twice as great powers. First time, before World War Two, when the only way to become a great power was to conquer and colonise and go to war. Then after World War Two Japan and Germany re-emerged as great powers, without going to war. And indeed, today the German and Japanese economies are much, much larger than what they used to be before World War Two, without conquering or colonising any territory. So, China and India want to emerge like Japan and Germany after World War Two without conquering, without colonising, without invading. And as long as you can create a good society in your house without going to war, why do you want to do it?
And that’s why, Europe’s greatest achievement by the way in the European Union is that not only do you have zero wars between any two European states, you have zero prospect of war, and that’s the highest civilisational achievement. The good news is that the Asians want to copy the European Union, and they also, now, by the way, now the big news in Asia is that the guns are silent. The three biggest wars since World War Two were fought in East Asia – the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Sino Vietnamese War. In the region which saw the three biggest wars, the guns are silent, and that’s a result of the decision of the Asian states that war will not help us achieve our goals. So, actually, they want to copy what the European Union has done, and just as Germany and France continue, as you know, to be rivals within a peaceful cooperative framework, I think the Asian states will continue to be rivals, hopefully within an equally peaceful, cooperative framework as you have in Europe.
Int: Do you also expect that in the age of energy transition, energy shortage, how do you foresee, for instance, the relationships between India and China when it comes to a lack of oil, lack of energy?
KM: You know, we face new challenges, global warming, global energy shortages, global food shortages; these are new challenges that are coming our way. And the world can react to these challenges either by playing a zero sum game. Take global warming for example. No country can solve it on its own, the whole world has to come together to solve it. So one of the paradoxical results of things like global warming is that it will reinforce the big message that all the countries, and the most powerful countries in the world, have to work together to solve these problems. And that’s why I think these, these, these kinds of issues will actually put pressure on the west and Asia to work together to solve these problems.
Boekpassage 3: 'We are moving into very uncertain political and economic terrains. It would be foolish to assume that the Western ideological assumptions of the 19th and 20th Centuries will necessarily work in the 21st Century. It would be wiser to keep an open mind and to challenge every ideological assumption embedded in our minds. Pragmatism is the best guiding spirit we can have as we venture into a new century. It is therefore only appropriate to quote once again the greatest pragmatist of the 20th Century, Deng Xiaoping, who said, it does not matter whether a cat is black or white. If it catches mice it’s a good cat'
Int: Can you understand the fears in the West, people are afraid of losing their jobs, of losing their standard of living?
KM: Yes I can, and I think that the fears are justified, that with so much change coming that they’ll have to adjust and adapt. And, you know, there was a European economist, Joseph Schumpeter, who said that, with capitalism, comes creative destruction, right? So, for example, when the automobile was invented and mass-produced in America, the horse and buggy industry died. Why would you want to buy a horse and buggy when the automobile’s invented? So, as a result of more economies becoming capitalist, there will be much more creative destruction. And, therefore it is natural that some economies that were competitive in Europe will not become competitive anymore and so we have to adjust. And, so the message that we give in Singapore to our population, is that we have to go through a process of lifelong learning and adjusting and adapting. And, it’s actually very cruel to the workers not to prepare them for this competition because then you’re creating an illusion, you’re making them believe that they can do the same job from beginning to end, and that’s no longer possible in the world of tomorrow. And, so I can understand these fears and anxieties, but if as a result of these fears and anxieties, Europe and America becomes protectionist, in the long run we are all worse off. The big lesson we have learned is that protectionism doesn’t work, open market economies work, and we have to keep working and adjusting and adapting in that direction. And, there are areas by the way, there are many European industries which are still so far ahead of the rest of the world I mean, you look at the German SMEs and machine tools okay, the Germans are so far ahead of the rest of the world, it’ll take a long time for anybody to catch up. And, indeed the German SMEs are exporting like mad to China, and competing very well with China so it can be done, but you have to adjust and adapt and make sure that you give up things like textiles, because you can’t compete with China in textiles [laughs], it can’t be done.
Int: What will happen if the West fails to pick up your lessons?
KM: Well, it can, the West can fail in many different ways, it can fail by resisting change, that would be one disaster, it can fail by becoming protectionist, that’s another disaster. It can fail by maintaining policies that are perceived to be against the Islamic world. You know, you have a completely unbalanced policy in the Middle East and, you know, as a friend of Israel, I tell my Israeli friends that, if I see you walking towards a cliff, do I say stop, or do I say, keep walking? I’m a friend of yours, I see you walking towards a cliff, stop. Make peace now with the Palestinians, they are prepared to accept 22% of the old Palestine, create two states now, this is your historical moment, don’t think that time will always be on your side. Now why can’t the West give this kind of commonsensical advice to Israel? That’s another illustration of Western failure, so the West, so the most powerful message I give in my book is that, when the world changes, the West has to adjust and adapt and understand the new world. Now, there is a very deep and powerful reluctance to adjust and adapt in the West, and that’s the problem.
Int: How do you see a collaboration between the West and Israel?
KM: Oh, you can see the collaboration happening every day, every day. Look, I give you one good example, why are the leading American Universities going to China, that is technically a closed society, to partner with Chinese universities? Yale has got a very big programme in China, why? Because they can see that, with the rise of China, Chinese universities have this access to tremendous brain power and are going to do very well. So, on a daily basis, there are connections that are taking place and frankly, you know, I’ve advocated in my book, that Europe needs to do more to connect with Asia. If you look at the world in terms of the three economic power centres, North America, Europe and Asia, America has got links with Europe, America has got good links with Asia across the Pacific. The missing link is the Europe-Asia connection. And, as you know, Singapore proposed the idea of a Europe-Asia meeting in the mid 1990s. I, I was personally involved in selling the idea to the Europeans, and at first the Europeans were very happy, they wanted to connect with the rising Asia. Then came the 1997 financial crisis, Asia crashed. When Asia crashed, Europe walked away and by walking away, the Europeans lost a valuable opportunity to prove to the Asians, we are not your fair weather friends, we are there with you when you are succeeding, we are there with you when you fall. But, when Asia fell, Europe walked away, and now that Asia is rising, Europe is coming back but people remember, you walked away when we were in trouble. So, I think it’s important for Europeans to have a long term strategy of engagement with Asia. And, there’ll be ups and downs, nothing ever goes in a straight line upwards, Asia will go up, go down, go up, go down, but in the long run it’ll keep going up. And, the Europeans must engage on a long term basis I mean, there are simple things you can do. Can you have a programme that says, every European university student should spend one semester abroad, anywhere in the world, but many should also go to Asia, simple things? And, if you get Europeans going to Asia and seeing what is happening down there, then they’ll understand this dramatic Asian transformation.
Int: Does the West have any other options actually?
KM: I think the current Western tendency is to believe that the West doesn’t have to adjust, that the West will always remain the strongest force and the West need not adapt or change. And, that unfortunately is the current prevailing tendency, and I gave you the example of the reluctance of the New York Times, you know, to review my book, even though my friends had sent the book to New York Times. But, it was the arrogance of the editors of the New York Times, is a perfect illustration of Western arrogance, and the refusal to accept that they have to change the way they look at the world, and that’s the first thing that the West needs to do. You have to come out of the nineteenth and the twentieth century mental maps that you’ve had, your assumption that, you know, we can do whatever we want, we don’t have to adjust, we don’t have to adapt. We can make the demands on the world, the world cannot make demands on us, and that change in mindset hasn’t happened yet, and that’s the biggest thing that my book tries to do, to tell the Western mind, the world has changed, your has got to change too.
Int: And, the tool to do that is pragmatism, I understand?
KM: The tool to do that is to, and the most important thing for the Western mind to accept now, is to understand that we are moving from a mono-civilizational world to a multi-civilizational world. From one successful civilization, to many successful civilizations, and these other successful civilizations are not carbon copies of the West, they look at the world very differently. You have to reach out and understand them and the pragmatic spirit is one which says, hey you may not be like me, but I can try to understand you, I can try to figure out how you work, what you do and so on and so forth. Up to now, especially since the end of the Cold War, the Western mind has become very ideological in its belief that there is only one path of history, now suddenly there are many different paths of history. And, your mind has got to open up to those possibilities and that’s why I say, you need a new spirit of pragmatism to infect [?] the Western mind.
Int: And, you see a pivotal role for India in that new scheme, right?
KM: Oh, India will play a major role because India has the remarkable capacity to act as a bridge between Asia and the West. And, as you know, while many in the West, while they feel threatened by China and they feel threatened by the Islamic world, and I say that part of this is due to the fact that you were once invaded by the Mongols and you were once invaded by the Islamic armies, and therefore you have this gut fear of Chinese, gut fear of the Muslim forces. You don’t have the same gut fear of India and so the rise of India provides the opportunity of a civilisation acting as a bridge. And, I think that’s one thing that, I hope, one of the best things that India can play as it emerges as a great power.
Int: Could it be that we’re ending up in a world that is characterised by so-called un-free capitalism?
KM: The short answer is no, because as societies grow and develop and succeed and having growing middle classes, no middle class wants to live in an un-free society and therefore…and don’t forget, by the way, that technology is creating openness and transparency. It’s very hard to keep your populations in a dark box. In a minute I mean, the minute, today with your cell phone, it’s amazing what information access you have, just with a cell phone, and the continent that is seeing the largest increase in cell phone users by far, is Asia. Hundreds of millions of new cell phones are being distributed, and that is going to destroy the possibility of societies becoming un-free.
Int: In the long run, aren’t we running the risk of the rivalry between India and China, coming to an explosion?
KM: Yes, that is a possibility and I would say that there is some degree of anxiety, not just within China and India, but also within China and Japan also, so it is possible that that can happen. But, the good news is that since China and India want to emerge as great powers in the same way that Japan and Germany did after World War Two, they can both emerge as great powers in a [?] game. And, look at the, you know, let’s take China and India, I think in the year 2003, or something like that, India and China set a goal of saying, hey let’s trade more with each other. So, they set a goal of achieving 10 billion dollars trade by 2010, I think they achieved it by 2005. Then they said, oh let’s achieve a goal of 20 billion dollars trade, they achieved that already also. And, now they’re saying, let’s achieve the goal of 30 billion dollars trade. Now, this is only in six, seven years, to set a goal of 10 billion, achieve it, 20 billion, achieve it, now 30 billion, and they’re going to achieve it too. That’s an example of how the Chinese and Indian economies are becoming inter-linked. And, take China and Japan, right? Today the number that…for a long time the number one trading partner for Japan was United States of America, in the last two years, it’s China. For a long time the number one trading partner for Korea was United States of America, today it’s China. So, the growing inter-connectedness of trade in the East Asian region is phenomenal, the fastest growing trade floors in the world. And, when you have trade and inter-dependence, the incentive to go to war or to engage in rivalry becomes less and less in each passing year.