The Decline of the West, the Rise of the Rest?

Book Review: The New Asian Hemisphere by Kishore Mahbubani

By Iqra Anugrah, APS3, 2011

Looking into our daily life, it seems that world is moving very fast. The winner today might be the loser tomorrow. Since the future is always uncertain, the dominator has always to be careful because the other may catch-up the position. In this kind of situation, new order will emerge, and cooperation will be the answer. This narrative is exactly the condition of our global politics today, as eloquently presented in The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East by Kishore Mahbubani, Former Singaporean Ambassador for the United Nations and Dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore.

Coming from Singapore, Mahbubani knows how Asia tries to develop and catch-up with Western power. Mahbubani argued that the strategy is to mix the best practice of the West within the framework of Asian values, something that he called as ‘Asian Pragmatism’ in his words. Nevertheless, as the rest of the world increase the speed of progress, the West feel challenged. In Mahbubani’s view, this is the proof of Western inconsistence and incompetence. In his words, the West should be happy that their mission to “civilize” other societies is successful. However, this mission brings another unexpected consequence: rising geopolitical power of Asian countries.  The West, particularly US, reluctant to see this, is massively trying to stop others from taking its position as the leader of the world. In other words, Western values are often not in the line with Western interests. This is why the high-speed growth of China and India is seen as threat.

In response to this phenomenon, Mahbubani answers with a very convincing statement: the West should respect other values and see the rest of the world as its partner. The failure of democratization of the Middle East for example, is happened because of Western ignorance to establish election without necessary democratic institutions and cultures such as rights of minority and rule of law. For Mahbubani, Asia already succeeded in applying best practices from the West, such as free-market economics, meritocracy, rule of law, culture of peace and education. Thus, it is the time for Asia not to dominate, but replicate Western success, and be the co-driver of human civilization. The solution, then, is to apply the three Ps: common principles for peaceful co-existence, partnership for the future, and pragmatism in solving the problem.

Until now, probably we can say that Mahbubani is one of the best representatives of the East to Western world. In his book, he showed the arrogance of the West, particularly US in dealing with other nations in international context. He showed how the West has been incompetent in answering today’s problems, and how Asian competence could be the answer to that problem. However, there are some things that we should keep in mind: although we probably have been successful, we should not close our eyes to lack of freedom in the so-called Asian societies. If we can have an open market, that why don’t we have open politics? If we can have free flow information, then doesn’t it mean that we should have free society? Recent movements and reforms in several Asian countries for greater freedom are the real proof. We already accomplished great achievements, and we can do even more. Mahbubani’s thesis brings a clear message for us: aim higher, and never abandon our hope.

*Published in The APU Times 21 January 2010,-the-rise-of-the-rest%3F&catid=2:insight&Itemid=189&lang=en