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  • Will China Lead Humanity into an “Asian” Future?
  • Walter C. Clemens Jr. (bio)
Parag Khanna, The Future Is Asian: Commerce, Conflict, and Culture in the 21st Century (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2019).
Kishore Mahbubani, Has China Won? The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy (New York: Public Affairs, 2020).
Richard Haass, The World: A Brief Introduction (New York: Penguin, 2020).

How did our world take shape, and where are we going? the Singapore-based political analyst Parag Khanna argues that civilization began in West Asia thousands of years ago and is now being shaped by “Asianization” of the planet.

The future of civilization could be determined by a China that exceeds the United States not only in numbers of people but also in gross domestic product (as measured by purchasing power parity) and in its mastery of high-speed trains and some other technologies. China now plays a larger role in international trade than the United States. China is the only major economy to record positive growth in the year when COVID-19 challenged most of humanity. What will be the geopolitical consequences of a world economy suffering the most severe downturn since the Great Depression and with US GDP shrinking by 4.3 percent while China grows by almost 2 percent (Allison 2020)?

Retired Singaporean diplomat Kishore Mahbubani asks, Has China Won? He cautions both Beijing and Washington not to underestimate— or overestimate—the other. While many forces push them onto a collision course, theirs need not be a zero-sum conflict. Mahbubani asserts that while Americans claim to prize individual freedom and decisiveness, Chinese value freedom from chaos and patience. America is becoming a society of lasting inequality, while, he says (ignoring huge inequalities and corruption), China is an aspiring meritocracy. The Trump presidency abandoned multilateralism, while Beijing’s rulers claim to [End Page 469] welcome it. Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative reaches into every continent, branding itself as a global public good, though critics term it a new version of self-seeking imperialism.

Mahbubani says that the US-China relationship is like yin and yang—opposites but interdependent. The United States and China are joined by what he calls five “noncontradictions” that permit and encourage cooperation (pp. 261–279). First, Chinese and US “interests” do not really conflict. The fundamental national interest of both societies should be to improve the well-being of their people. Less military spending and more domestic investment would benefit each country. Second, unless all large powers act to slow climate change, all living beings will suffer. Third, neither side makes ideological claims on the other, as did the Soviet Union and the United States: Chinese power—not “communism”—is what China’s neighbors fear. Fourth, the China-US “clash” is not between civilizations. Both countries have inherited much of the Enlightenment dedication to reason and its use to improve societal well-being. Fifth, their values are different but need not clash, Mahbubani contends. Chinese value social harmony and Americans individual rights. If each side has treated Muslims poorly (as in Xinjiang and Guantánamo), each should try to clean up its own act and not hector the other.

Critics may object that Mahbubani descends into moral relativism. Police brutality and de facto segregation have repressed American Blacks but have not amounted to a top-down policy aimed at cultural genocide, as seems to be happening in Xinjiang and other Chinese borderlands. Donald Trump’s America first orientation is different from what came before and what will commence under Joe Biden in 2021. But even hard-line political scientist John Mearsheimer agrees that drone killings have made US presidents, Obama as well as Trump, assassins-in-chief (quoted by Mahbubani, pp. 278–279).

Like Khanna, Mahbubani knows both China and the United States very well. Each embodies the fusion he sees on the world stage. Mahbubani has been Singaporean from birth.1 Born in India and raised largely in the United States, Khanna now chooses to live and work in Singapore.2 Both Khanna and Mahbubani know the strong and weak points of Western and Asian countries. Both authors hint at remorse over the US transition from an energetic rainbow under...


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pp. 469-477
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