In a most interesting article in The Economist, Kishore Mahbubani argues that the post-COVIC-19 world will be characterized by an accelerated shift in power from the West to East Asia.
The article is well worth reading in full. Mahbubani says the world will see that the West has failed dismally to handle the crisis while East Asian countries have emerged as the most successful. The age of Western dominance is over.
China did make a mess at the beginning but later picked up . China will become more influential as it becomes the economic superpower while Europe and the USA will decline. Mahbubani says that while some are democracies and some are not, the successful Asian countries share a belief in the importance of strong government based on a scientifically educated meritocracy.
He thinks a Confucian background is important. This includes China where most people support the system. It is hard to disagree with his basic point that the West has emerged floundering from the crisis while a number of Asian countries have emerged stronger and with their reputations enhanced. It is not about democracy versus authoritarianism. Both Xi and Trump got it wrong at the beginning but Xi recovered while Trump still flounders.
So what is the relevance of this for Australia which is not mentioned? Australia and New Zealand have been just as successful as the East Asians, and Singapore has now run into trouble. Mahbubani says rightly that many countries in Southeast Asia would prefer the USA to remain in the region to act as a balance to Chinese hegemony but Australia continues to take sides.
Already the Foreign Minister has followed the US line in publicly criticising China while not mentioning the American failures which may pose a threat to the world. John McCarthy has brilliantly dissected the flaws in this approach in the AFR & P&I. It is perhaps easy to forget the humiliation inflicted on China by the countries that now lecture it on human rights and democracy. China has not forgotten and the slogan China has stood up reflects this. We also add fuel to the belief that we are just a US puppet.
I hope Mahbubani is right in arguing that as a major trading nation China has a vested interest in the rules-based order (which the US has veered away from) and that China is not interested in exporting its system.
China, he says, can live with a multipolar world which the USA finds difficult. This has been true to date but what the future holds remains to be seen. He is also right that while Trump has been an unmitigated disaster, it is not just about him. There is growing confusion and lack of confidence in the country while China ‘s self-confidence is growing. But read the article!
Kishore Mahbubani is a former Singaporean diplomat and Founding Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, NUS from 2004 to 2017. He is currently a distinguished fellow at the Asia Research Institute, NUS and the author of numerous books on Asia and the West, most recently “Has China Won?”. This article is part of a series from outside contributors on the world after covid-19. More can be found at economist.com/coronavirus
Cavan Hogue is a former diplomat who has worked in Asia, Europe and the Americas as well as at the UN. He also worked at ANU and Macquarie universities.