The end of history?--certainly not through Asia's eyes.

AuthorMarmon, William

The rise of Asia is a zero-sum game, which necessarily means the relative decline of the West. This outcome has gained an extra edge because the West has not wanted to understand the trend and has been unwilling to accept it. This view has gradually spread among a few policymakers in western capitals, but its larger implications--and some positive overtones--are less well-known. Nowhere are these points collected in a sharper fashion than in an important and provocative new book, The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East, written by Kishore Mahbubani. As Dean of the Lee Quan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, Mahbubani has earned a well-deserved reputation as a critic of the wholesale application of Western values to Asia. His provocations, the origins of which are collected in an earlier book, Can Asians Think?, have led some critics to dismiss him as a nattering scold.

But this book, published by Public Affairs in New York, may not be dismissed so easily. Even when the decibel level of his arguments rises to polemic, he is saying things the West needs to hear. (Asians tend to define "the West" as North America (U.S. and Canada), the 27 EU states in Europe and "self-consciously" Australia and New Zealand.) A larger relevance of this book comes from the fact that his account of Asia's reading of the contemporary world articulates views shared by policy-makers in other, more reticent Asian nations, including China. The Asian conclusion? The "reluctance of leading Western minds to acknowledge the unsustainability of Western global domination presents a great danger to the world," he writes.

The real question for future global stability, he says, is how the 12 percent of the world's population that is Western will react to the rise of Asia. While he hopes for a happy ending in which the West recedes gracefully, he is not at all sure this will happen.

Why, he asks, do so many Western leaders--George Bush being a primary example--talk about how dangerous the world has become, when in reality the economic prosperity of Asia and the movement of hundreds of millions of persons approaching middle class status has rendered the world much safer and more stable. Few Asian countries will want to destabilize a system that has brought such a rise in living standards. Exhibit number 1: the emergence of China as a "responsible stakeholder," just like Robert Zoellick, now the World Bank head, has called for (as early as 2005 when he was U.S. Deputy Secretary of State).

Mahbubani argues that the Asian rise has a safety-producing effect in the Middle East, too, although with somewhat less force. In the past, there were only two models: Osama bin Laden or the West. Neither was very appealing. Now, the presence of a non-Western success story provides a positive third model for areas like the Middle East and Africa that are still in the developmental doldrums.

The danger, writes Mahbubani, is that the West, instead of being happy and proud about the success of Asia, which after all, has emerged based...

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