By invitation: Kishore Mahbubani
HISTORY HAS turned a corner. The era of Western domination is ending. The resurgence of Asia in world affairs and the global economy, which was happening before the emergence of covid-19, will be cemented in a new world order after the crisis. The deference to Western societies, which was the norm in the 19th and 20th centuries, will be replaced by a growing respect and admiration for East Asian ones. The pandemic could thus mark the start of the Asian century.
The crisis highlights the contrast between the competent responses of East Asian governments (notably China, South Korea and Singapore) and the incompetent responses of Western governments (such as Italy, Spain, France, Britain and America). The far lower death rates suffered by East Asian countries is a lesson to all. They reflect not just medical capabilities, but also the quality of governance and the cultural confidence of their societies.
What has shocked many in Asia is the reluctance of some Western governments to allow science—and basic epidemiological modeling—to determine the policy responses. After its initial missteps in Wuhan (which were clearly disastrous), China firmly deployed good science and robust public policy measures to break the back of the problem. It responsibly released the genetic data as soon as Chinese scientists sequenced the genome of the virus on January 12th.
A half century ago, had a similar global pandemic broken out, the West would have handled it well and the developing countries of East Asia would have suffered. Today the quality of governance in East Asia sets the global standard. The leaders who turned their countries around, such as Deng Xiaoping in China and Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, planted the seeds of knowledge, internationalism and order in their societies. These have blossomed into a respect for science and technology, a culture of pragmatism, a willingness to learn best practices from around the world and a desire to catch up with the West. These went along with deep investments in critical public goods such as education, health care and the environment.