Thursday, December 9, 2010

World Order: China and the US

Dec 9, 2010

Growing in Singapore and beyond

Foreign Minister George Yeo spoke at the Medical Alumni's 87th anniversary dinner last month. Below is an edited excerpt of his address.

IN A rather provocative recent article titled 'In China's orbit' in the Wall Street Journal, Harvard University Professor Niall Ferguson talked about the Chinese increasingly thinking of themselves as masters of the world.

'The Cold War lasted little more than four decades, and the Soviet Union never came close to overtaking the US economically. What we (Westerners) are living through now is the end of 500 years of Western predominance. This time the Eastern challenger is for real, both economically and geopolitically. The gentlemen in Beijing may not be the masters just yet. But one thing is certain. They are no longer the apprentices.'

With the United States and Europe facing severe economic challenges, the Western world is feeling somewhat dispirited. In contrast, the mood in Asia is upbeat. China is of course a big story. Martin Jacques, in his book When China Rules The World, concluded that 'Chinese modernity will be very different from Western modernity, and that China will transform the world far more fundamentally than any other new global power in the last two centuries'.

But it is not only China. India is also rising. The Asean region will be pulled along by the re-emergence of these two nations. Even West Asia, with all its problems, is enjoying rapid growth. If Iran abjures all ambitions to acquire nuclear weapons, its power and influence will be no less than that of Turkey.

One by one, the major countries of Asia have rid themselves of Western domination, recovered their sense of self, modernised and re-emerged as major powers. It started with Japan, followed by the newly industrialised countries (or NIEs), then Asean, China, India, Turkey and one day, hopefully, Iran. An Asia long divided by Western powers into spheres of influence is being reconnected again.

Western fears of China's dominance in the 21st century are overdone. That China will become one of the world's great powers is not in doubt and the size of its economy may overtake America's in 20 to 30 years' time. On a per capita basis, however, China still has a long way to go. When China's Vice-President (Xi Jinping) was in Singapore last week, he reminded us that China's per capita gross domestic product is only one-tenth that of Singapore's. Also, by the middle of this century, China's population will have peaked and ageing will be a major challenge. By contrast, the demographics of India, other parts of Asia and the US will stay favourable for much longer.

Pax Americana will therefore not be replaced by a Pax Sinica. Instead, it is being replaced by a messier multi-polar reality with the American pole likely to remain pre-eminent for decades to come. From only one sun in the solar system, there will be a few, with the US and China the largest. There will be other suns like India and some very big planets like Brazil. In this new gravitational field, smaller planets, asteroids and comets will enjoy greater orbital freedom.

This metaphor, however, assumes the Westphalian system of nation-states will remain dominant. In fact, this is unlikely. Everywhere we are seeing signs of the nation-state weakening. With globalisation and interdependence, various aspects of sovereignty are being surrendered to regional and international organisations.

The European Union has taken regional integration the furthest. In our own region, Asean will become more important in the future. When an Asean community is formalised in 2015, we are likely to see the Asean flag fluttering side by side with the national flag in our foreign missions, following the European example. Asean foreign ministers have been toying with the idea of Asean countries making a joint bid to host the Fifa World Cup some time in the future, even the desirability of fielding an Asean team. Of course this is for football associations, sports ministers and Fifa to decide, not foreign ministers.

Beyond regional groupings, international organisations like the United Nations, the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund exercise supranational power. When we stare at challenges like climate change, nuclear proliferation and global pandemics, there is no alternative to greater international coordination and action.

As borders become more porous, pre-Westphalian tribal links will revive and strengthen. Because tribal networks of trust and knowledge are deep-set, they are tenacious and cross national borders. These networks are the first to exploit and benefit from globalisation.

Joel Kotkin in (his book) Tribes (How Race, Religion And Identity Determine Success In The New Global Economy) saw successful cities as those with the densest tribal networks. Singapore has always been a hub for international tribal networks - not only Chinese, Indian and South-east Asian ones, but also others. And the story continues in this century. For example, we are rediscovering and recovering our Middle Eastern connections.

New tribes and tribal networks are emerging. Alumni networks have become more important worldwide. The top schools are responding to the challenge of globalisation through overseas campuses, franchises, joint degrees and alliances. We see so many models being experimented with in Singapore and Malaysia.

Countries, regional groupings, international organisations and tribes are but different ways of organising human beings. As in the biological world, they are subject to a Darwinian test of competition and survival. Over time, the fittest forms of human organisation prosper and multiply. Looking ahead, it is far from clear what forms of human organisation will prevail. What we do know is that all existing forms are being challenged by the revolution in technology and by globalisation. It is also clear that the Western model is no longer seen as the only way to the future, and that the Chinese way can only work for Confucianist cultures.

At the deepest level, culture is what enables human beings to form communities. Institutions endure only if they enjoy the respect and affection of the people. Rules and punishments are essential, but they, by themselves, cannot create communities without a unifying culture. Cultures are like operating systems that enable computers, smart phones, routers and servers to network.

Arnold Toynbee in his Study Of History analysed the rise and fall of civilisations, and the encounter of civilisations. Each advance in human society represents a successful response to a challenge - the greater the challenge, the greater the response. After a few centuries, the Western encroachment into Asia has finally resulted in a comprehensive response that is transforming human civilisation and creating one interconnected world.

This interconnection creates huge benefits, but also opens up new vulnerabilities. No individual or company or country can amount to anything if it is not connected to this World Wide Web. But once you are connected, the virus that infects the system can infect you as well.

What we are seeing now, and it is a huge drama, is the urbanisation of the entire world. Toynbee called it the Ecumenopolis. Cities are concentrations of human brains connected to other cities by a multiplicity of links which are like synaptic connections.

These new trends weaken the power of nation-states. To borrow a term from finance, old hierarchies are being disintermediated. Coercion is much less effective in this new dispensation. Instead, cities that thrive are those with cultures and policies that attract talent, knowledge and capital.

During the period of the Warring States in China, scholars chose the kings or princes to serve; so too in Europe during the Renaissance. Talented individuals today choose the cities, universities or football clubs they want to belong to. Capital flows where it is welcomed. Patriotism is giving way to multiple loyalties. Many countries now allow dual, even multiple, citizenships.

All nation-states, indeed all human organisations, have to adjust to this new environment. Those which are quick to adapt will thrive. Smaller countries which are used to diversity may enjoy an advantage. Xenophobic communities will be stuck in the past.

Singapore's operating system

SINGAPORE is well positioned to meet the new challenges. After it was established as a trading post for the East India Company, Singapore quickly became a major node in the British Empire. Free trade, the protection of property, Anglo-Saxon law and accounting standards and the use of the English language were prerequisites then, as they are now. The cultural diversity which we inherited has become part of our DNA.

If I can describe the Singapore operating system, it is one based upon respect for the individual's deep programming and does not try to mess with it. 'Singaporean-ness' is the higher software which binds individuals of different ethnic and religious backgrounds together in cooperative effort. The operating principle is rational, meritocratic and rules-based. The criteria for achievement and success are internationally benchmarked.

Because of the large influx of foreigners into Singapore in the last few years, there has been a domestic reaction. Although the large presence of foreigners in Singapore could be an issue in the coming elections, this is a manageable problem because Singaporeans are themselves migrants or the descendants of migrants.

Singapore's operating system, how-ever, need not be confined to the island. It is not limited by our geographical size and can expand regionally and internationally. This has been happening for some years now. Foreigners can plug into that operating system not only in Singapore, but anywhere in the world where the Singapore network extends. Overseas, Singaporeans often make up only a minority in the Singapore network. Companies like PSA, SIA, NOL, Keppel and Sembawang operate facilities all over the world with mostly local staff.

The Singapore operating system adds value to the individuals who plug into it. Many non-Singaporeans who do so earn significantly more than if they were to plug into their own local networks. Some of the value-added accrues to Singapore. Operating systems compete worldwide to attract productive individuals.

Singapore as a geographical city-state can grow only so much because of our physical limitations. However, Singapore as an operating system can continue to grow for a long time to come.

Of course the operating system must adapt to the country it operates in and bring benefits to the host. Singapore in China operates differently from Singapore in India.

In our domestic debate about the number of foreigners working or living in Small Singapore, we must not lose sight of the Big Singapore beyond our tiny island in Asean, China, India and elsewhere.

Dec 8, 2010

China needs to stay true to its civilisation

By Wang Gungwu

THE question many analysts are focused upon now is how China would use its wealth to strengthen its armed forces. The Chinese word used to describe the link between prosperity and military power has historically been fuqiang.

This compound word comes from the ancient phrase fuguo qiangbing - enriching the state and strengthening the armies. It was first used in the classic text Chronicles Of The Warring States to describe the ideas of Shang Yang and his disciples. They helped the Qin state in the 3rd century BC to overcome its six rivals and to create a centralised Qin dynasty, under its first emperor, Qin Shi-huang.

The phrase fuguo qiangbing has always been closely associated with the so-called Legalist or Realist thinkers who helped Qin. The dynasty did not last long. A century after it fell, Confucian officials were brought in to help manage the successor Han empire. These Confucians chose to be soft and turned away from explicit appeals to fuqiang.

The word fuqiang was not extolled again until the Meiji Revolution in Japan in the 19th century. Fukoku kyohei - Japanese for fuguo qiangbing - became Japan's national slogan in following the model of Western imperialism. The goals of government were modernised to seek wealth through industrialisation and power through modern armaments. The slogan has since become associated with imperial ambition.

The analogy between the German and Japanese empires and China today is an easy one to make. But it arises from a very narrow view of history, drawing its lessons only from the modern European experience.

If we believe that industrialisation determines everything, new wealth and the power it creates can only advance in one direction: that is, towards rivalry and competition for dominance. The consequences are obvious.

We know the Industrial Revolution led to Britain becoming the pre-eminent superpower for over a century, and that the Americans succeeded them. We also know that the Soviet Union tried to avoid the mistakes made by Germany and Japan. They used a different ideological means of becoming No.1, and they failed. As a result, the Anglo-American dominance of the world was further extended. It could last a long while yet.

It is easy to understand why so many who talk about China as No.2 today warn against it following the examples of either Germany, Japan or the Soviet Union. China is actually very conscious of these modern examples and has consistently proclaimed that it would never seek hegemony or chengba.

This idea of chengba comes from the Warring States period, and is another goal that Confucian thinkers have systematically rejected. I believe Chinese leaders today are intelligent enough to have learnt the obvious lessons. But as China becomes more prosperous, and when its people know less of their Confucian heritage and admire more the wealth and power of the West, how are they to convince anyone that they would never go the way of fuguo qiangbing?

China's history alone will not be sufficient for that purpose, since most of it is hard for non-Chinese people to appreciate. In any case, modern Chinese are not Confucians. On the contrary, the robust language of 20th-century Chinese revolutions, the high emotions that Chinese nationalism has aroused, are closer to what Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union sounded like.
The modern language used conveys quite a different image. Thus China seems to be locked into the prevailing strategic thinking that sees any rising power as a danger to the status quo.

For the sole superpower today, the status quo does not refer to any institution or ideology, but to its remaining the only superpower. To remain No.1 is a duty. This means not only wealth and power but also the totality of ideals that Americans believe are universal.

If rising China were no more than what Japan and Germany have become today - wealthy but without military power there would be little reason for the United States to be concerned. However, China does not appear to be content to be rich but militarily weak. Thus, American leaders would not be reassured unless and until the Chinese are prepared to settle for the current German and Japanese model.

Different models of civilisation

THE Chinese say they would like the world to be a place in which there are several civilisations, with each modernising in its own way, at its own speed. That was the world they were accustomed to when there was no insistence on a single universalism. In such a world, if any civilisation considered itself to be universal, it would not have the power to impose its world view on others.

One can see a China enjoying a No.1 position in a sort of local or regional 'league'. It does depend on how China is defined.

In the beginning, there was a 'China' centred on the shared cultures of the peoples of the middle and lower parts of the Yellow River valley. It took about 1,000 years during the Shang and Zhou dynasties - mainly the first millennium BC - for these peoples to recognise themselves as the Hua-xia of Zhongguo, quite different from those around them. That Zhongguo consisted of many states, each with its own institutions, even scripts for the languages they spoke.

Then came the Qin dynasty, which imposed a single script, a single coinage, a single set of weights and measures, and so on. The civilisation that emerged was identified as something unique. The foreign peoples on its borders were seen either as hostile and greedy for China's wealth, or friendly and willing to live peacefully with China. Being Zhongguo, in the centre, actually meant that China was the regular target of external tribes that did not share its civilisation. It was essential that China should always be strong enough to defend its borders.

China was severely tested after the Han dynasty, from the 4th century AD on, by a series of tribal invasions. These non-Chinese preferred Buddhism over Confucian and other Chinese ideas, and drove large numbers of Chinese from the north to the lands south of the Yangzi river. By the time of the Tang dynasty in the 7th century, an amalgam of peoples and cultures began to define a new period of Chinese civilisation, one that the Chinese still consider glorious. By confirming the elite's belief that China's civilisation could withstand any attack and still thrive, the elite could well have seen their China as some sort of No.1.

This faith sustained them during several centuries of division and weakness - from the declining Tang dynasty of the 9th century to the Northern and Southern Song dynasties of the 13th. These were centuries when China desperately defended itself against its enemies. In the course of that defence, China acquired a powerful self-conscious identity. It was so strong that none of the Turkic, Tungusic, Tibetan and Mongol forces that had defeated them could overcome it. Even when the Chinese became subjects in the Mongol empire, they did not lose a keen sense of their own civilisation.

[Really? So the Mongols admiration and adoption of Chinese culture as opposed to eradicating or attempting to eradicate it had nothing to do with the retention of the civilisation? May well be true, but their "keen sense of their own civilisation" was not really tested then.]

Eventually, the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) produced the first Han Chinese rulers for 500 years to rule over all of China, and they reaffirmed the ideals of the Han and the Tang. Fortunately, after the 17th century, the Manchu Qing dynasty did little to change the fundamentals of that civilisation.

[Again, tested? Or fortuitiously untested?]

In the light of Chinese history, what does it mean for China to be seen as No.2 now? Does it even matter, for the criteria used are not China's? But for Chinese leaders to say that, they would have to have a keen sense of China's history.

If the Chinese people were true to their history, they would understand that the meaning of China lies in the ideals of its civilisation, that China failed whenever it became closed. This was especially so when its leaders rejected change and experimentation, when they neglected the need for creativity and lost confidence in the civilisation's ability to adapt to change. Clearly the civilisation faltered during the 19th century.

[How much of that is history and how much of that is philosophy and world view? The history of the Chinese is a reflection of their confucianist and taoist philosophy and world view. Chinese history is the result of philosophy and ideology. So as ideology changes, as philosophy changes, the Chinese people will write their history today with their contemporary world view. But China's progress will be constrained for the next 50 or 100 years as it deals with uplifting the lot of their 1.2 billion people. If their leaders are responsible and have their priorities straight, their military power will be to used to ensure that the resources they need to uplift thier people's situation are secured. The Chinese are less likely to engage in ideologically-excused military adventurism for philosophically-coloured objectives. If they do, it would be because they learned from George Bush and are using such high-minded reasons to pursue mundane but critical goals like securing resources.]

New leaders like Mao Zedong then emerged, eager to replace what they had with what they barely understood. And they were prepared to do this even when ideas and institutions they borrowed from the West brought their people almost to the edge of destruction.

The past 30 years have seen a remarkable turnaround. The willingness to be open has been moderated by wariness that the Chinese should not be carried away again by the urge to copy and imitate what has been successful elsewhere. There is a new caution that the revolutionary urges of the past have brought too many unsustainable ideals that destroyed more than they constructed. Lessons have been learnt about the importance of traditions that had served the people well before. There are many in China today who appreciate that being impatient in the 20th century, as Mao was, was as dangerous as having been complacent before.

This is not the time for China to be ranked in a league with polities that are so different from it. Almost overnight, there has been the highlighting of something called the Group of 2. Almost overnight, the US and China have been coupled as if they were in some race to become the world's fastest gun or the fairest maiden. Who gains from this exercise of trying to fit China into a league defined by others who care little for its heritage?

There are many questions facing the Chinese. They need to remain cool and be neither boastful nor alarmed. For one thing, 30 years of reforms is too short a period to be more than just a beginning. For another, there is no single league for comparison. The League of Wealth and Power that has been trumpeted is a poisoned chalice. Even if China does not drink from it but merely tries to hold it in its hands, there is a real danger of self-deception. The most dangerous moment would be when China's frustrated and excitable youth, with little interest in their country's political traditions, are aroused by the idea of being just No.2. If they believed that, then China would find itself entering the bloody arena that the country's literati ancestors had spent centuries warning against. I hope that wiser heads in China will not allow that to happen.

What many are seeking now to do is to restore faith in the idea that there are several legitimate civilisations in the world and therefore many other kinds of leagues that China could try to play in. There is, after all, no reason to compete in a league that is not of your own choice. If China is true to its own civilisation, it would know that only a League for Cultural Achievement is worth the effort to compete in. Chinese civilisation has been much weakened, but this would be a league in which the Chinese people's ancient and resilient civilisation could give them some advantage.

The writer is chairman of the East Asia Institute, NUS. Think-Tank is a weekly column rotated among eight leading figures in Singapore's tertiary and research institutions.

[If the gist of Wang's thesis is that China should not try to be the next America, I have no doubt that the current leaders are well wary of that path. Certainly, the need to uplift their populace should and would be their main concerns. If the younger generation seek to pursue the path of power, it would fall to the current leadership to weed out those that would have the wrong priorities.]

Dec 7, 2010

Towards a new Sino-US world order

PROFESSOR Niall Ferguson has coined the term an 'apolar world', in which an overstretched US gradually recedes from its hegemonic role around the globe but is replaced by... nobody.

China, in this view, is too focused on maintaining stability as it modernises its society to take on broad international commitments. Europe is hobbled by its long-term demographic decline. In the absence of a global rule-keeper, religious strife, local internecine conflicts and non-state rogue actors, like Al-Qaeda, will rend the world.

It is said that nature abhors a vacuum; so does the international system. Chaos, if it occurs, will sooner or later settle down into a new order. It is the task of statesmanship to try to bring about what must happen ultimately and save humanity untold suffering.

It may be time to look at a functional approach to issues of world order. The European Union eventually emerged because, in the absence of a political construction, functional entities were created bringing together countries with comparable interest into a common enterprise. The European Coal and Steel Community was a necessary first step.

Is it possible to construct a functional approach on a wider than regional but less than global basis, with those countries most affected taking a leading role? Afghanistan is a case in point. Virtually no country within strategic reach of Afghanistan, or certainly in the region, has an interest in seeing a Taleban victory, the presence of Al-Qaeda as a state within a state and the potential splintering of the country into Pashtun and non-Pashtun elements.

Even Iran, as a Shi'ite country, should wish to prevent a virulently anti-Shi'ite fundamentalist regime returning to power in Kabul. For Pakistan, the ascendancy of Islamic jihadists in a neighbouring state would serve to destabilise the Pakistani regime. India has every incentive to prevent ignition of jihadist fervour. Former Soviet republics, like Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, would be destabilised by ethnic unrest and irredentism that would be unleashed in Afghanistan should Pashtun fanatics succeed in seizing control of the country. The impact of radical Islamism on Xinjiang defines a potential Chinese interest.

All these countries have a more vital interest in a stable and coherent Afghan state than does the US. For the time being, the American role is explained to the American public on the grounds that it serves a vital national interest, and it is acceptable to the parties in the region because they know we have no design on a permanent presence in Afghanistan. But an essentially unilateral American role cannot be a long-term solution.

The long-term solution must involve a consortium of countries in defining, and then protecting and guaranteeing, that country. America should be in a sustaining, rather than a central controlling, role. The key issue is whether this long-term solution can be built on concurrently with the substantially unilateral American effort now or has to await its end, either in success or frustration. It would be a sad outcome were so passive a posture to be the result.

The relationship of America to China is an essential element of such an approach and of international order. The prospects of global peace and order may well depend on it. Many writers have drawn an analogy between China's emergence as a great power and potential rival of the US today and Germany's ascendancy in Europe a hundred years ago, when Britain was the dominant international power but proved unable to integrate Germany.

But the case of China is even more complicated. It is not an issue of integrating a European-style nation-state but a full-fledged continental power. China's ascendancy is accompanied by massive socio-economic change and, in some instances, dislocation internally. China's ability to continue to manage its emergence as a great power side by side with its internal transformation is one of the pivotal questions of our time.

Increased popular participation is not the inevitable road to international reconciliation, as is often asserted. A century ago, Germany was gradually allowing more and more freedom of speech and press. But that newfound freedom in the public sphere gave vent to an assortment of voices, including a chauvinistic tendency insisting on an ever more assertive foreign policy. Western leaders would do well to keep this in mind when hectoring China on its internal politics.

I would like to conclude with one general point: Both the US and China are less nations in the European sense than continental expressions of a cultural identity. Neither has much practice in cooperative relations with equals. Yet their leaders have no more important task than to implement the truths that neither country will ever be able to dominate the other, and that conflict between them would exhaust their societies and undermine the prospects of world peace.

Such a conviction is an ultimate form of realism. It requires a pattern of continuous cooperation on key issues, not constant debates on short-term crises.


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