I had the real pleasure earlier in the week to participate in an excellent show on China on TVO’s The Agenda. For those not familiar with TVO or its premier public affairs show - The Agenda with Steve Paikin TVO is Ontario’s public broadcaster. It has an education mandate and among its most successful programs is The Agenda (truth reveled Steve Paikin - the well known broadcaster and TV personality and the broadcaster for the The Agenda is my neighbor - not his fault). One of The Agenda’s principal producer’s Daniel Kitts put together a most interesting program entitled, “China’s Challenges”. Centred on Kishore Muhbubani’s new book, “The New Asia Hemisphere: The Irresistable Shift of Global Power to the East,” Steve first spent part of the show one-on-one with Muruhbubani, the Dean of Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore and then expanded it to include: Elizabeth Economy C.V. Starr senior fellow and director for Asian Studies at Washington D.C., Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Wenran Jiang, associate professor of political science and director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta and myself.
The examination of corruption in China does deserve some further comment, and I shall try and do so in the near future, but let me just begin with the one-on-one conversation between Steve Paikin and the Dean. I am hoping to comment on the Dean’s book in the near future but let me just reflect on Steve’s questions on the book and the Dean’s perspective on Asia and China. First I found myself confounded by the Dean’s identification of the ‘East’ or ‘Asian socieities’ and equally the West (I might note that both easily slipped from Asia to China - clearly not an equivalent). I am perplexed by such language. What is Aisa and what is the West especially when the Dean critiques the ‘Western mind’ which he finds self-referencial and self-congratulatory?’ Which western minds - my impression is all with a passing reference to the 950 million apparently consigned to the West. While there are many, particularly among the politicians in the United States or even in Europe I hardly think the broad brush of the Western mind is either clarifying or illuminating. It is a ‘throw back’ to the cultural civilization theories of academics like Samuel Hintington and the like. The analysis was inadequate from Huntington. It is no better from the Dean of Lee Kuan Yew. And as for the Asian societies I have no a clue what that is. Is it all the nations of South Asia, Southeast Asia, East asia? Is it China? Is it China and India. Such a broad brush all-inclusive even ‘cultural’ analysis is unhelpful. Asia is a diverse set of countries with jealousies , competitions and collaboration. One thing it is not is a ‘thing.’ So a comparison of Asia versus the West is the worst kind of international relations ‘horse race.’ And his ‘horse-racing’ commentary on the behavior of Great powers is equally apprently coarse and unhelpful. I admire, as do many analysts, how adroitly the Chinese have handled their ‘peaceful rise,’ to this point and how the Chinese leadership has avoided the serious tensions that have in the past occurred in international relations between rising and status quo powers but turning that into a Chinese handling of the United States fails to reflect the best diplomatic efforts of both sides to accomodate the arrival of China’s rise. Greater precision would be helpful in such international relations as the Dean seems to undertake.