“Distorted perspective”: Kishore Mahbubani corrects journalist’s perception of China

Oct 6, 2023
Professor_Kishore_Mahbubani-c Image: Wikimedia Commons / Chatham House Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

“Thank you, I am really glad you asked that question, because your question captured very well the Anglo-Saxon media’s perception of China and I would suggest to you, very bluntly, there is a distorted perspective of reality.” – Kishore Mahbubani.

On November 22, 2021, Stefan Aust, publisher of “Die WELT”, and former editor-in-chief of Germany’s leading news magazine “Der Spiegel”, and Prof. Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore’s former Ambassador to the United Nations and President of the UN Security Council, bestseller author, former Dean and currently Distinguished Fellow at the Asia Research Institute at National University of Singapore came together to discuss the topic “Xi Jinping and China’s Role in a Shifting World”. During the discussion a western journalist asked Kishore Mahbubani a question that encapsulates the Cold War view and power of media propaganda, eloquently corrected in this Q&A moment.


Professor, you have said a lot of wonderful things about China, and surely, they are doing a lot of things right. But how do you reconcile the fact that to make it work for China it seems to be based on a high level of repression, um, environmental destruction, censorship, a certain ideological stubbornness, um, I mean we have spoken about Hong Kong, the Uyghurs. How do you reconcile that and why do you think, I mean, do you think that’s tolerable?

Kishore Mahbubani: 

Thank you, I am really glad you asked that question, because your question captured very well the Anglo-Saxon media’s perception of China and I would suggest to you, very bluntly, there is a distorted perspective of reality.

Let’s take the first word you used, repression. If the communist Party of China only relied on repression to stay in power it would not create the most dynamic economy in the world. Right?

It is by far the most dynamic economy in the world. It has delivered the fastest growing economy for 30 years. And, it has done this by educating the Chinese people to a level and extent that the Chinese people have never been educated ever before.

And you say it is repression? You obviously are thinking the old Cold War mindset.

I was in Moscow in 1976 and I saw repression in Moscow. And when I was in Moscow, the Soviet citizens were not allowed to travel outside the Soviet Union, that’s repression.

In the year 2019, 139 million Chinese left China freely. Guess what? Zero defectors. 139 million Chinese, right – that’s twice the population of the UK – went back to China.

So all your description, when you say environment degradation, China’s climate change policies are far more responsible than those of the United States, which has not once, but twice, withdrawn from global environmental protocols. Kyoto Protocol, the Bush administration left, eight years. Paris Accord -Trump administration left, four years.

And you know what? The reason we are having climate change today is not because of new flows of greenhouse gas emissions from China and India, its because of what the western countries have put in the atmosphere since the western industrial revolution. Get the data, the single largest contributor, cumulatively is:

1.United States

2. Europe

3. China

And the west wants China to pay an economic price for the current flows but the west doesn’t want to pay an economic price for what it put into the atmosphere. You want to deprive the Indians of electricity, when the United States, could just, by the way, the United States, could impose a dollar per gallon tax – that could save the world. Cut down gasoline consumption, raise money for investment in green technology – simple solutions.

And, by contrast, the largest reforestation program in the world is carried out by China. It has already reforested an area the size of Belgium, or bigger.

So all your descriptions capture the natural distortions of China that you get in the Anglo Saxon media which violate the rules of The Enlightenment which say you must be rational, calm and objective, especially in understanding your adversary.

And, if the Chinese were as stupid and as incompetent as you described them to be, don’t worry about them. But I can assure you, you are now dealing with a far more intelligent and rational actor that doesn’t fit any of the Anglo Saxon categories that you applied to them.

Please forgive my bluntness.


View the complete event and find this segment at 1.47.14.
Xi Jinping and China’s Role in a Shifting World, Questions & Answers
KAS Media Programme Asia’s live event, November 22, 2021

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