Goh Chok Tong to West: R-E-S-P-E-C-T Asia's Rise

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in ,, at 2/27/2008 05:06:00 AM
Singapore's former PM and current Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong recently made a noteworthy speech at the Second Annual Asian Leadership Conference in South Korea. In the speech, he asked the Western powers that be to consider a greater role for Asia in global governance. This is the introduction:

For more than 200 years, the West has dominated the international system both politically and economically. But Asia is now growing rapidly, shifting the balance back towards the East. It began with Japan, and was followed by Korea and the Newly Industrialised Countries, and now China and India. Asia’s continued economic growth will compel political and strategic adjustments to the established international order. Such adjustments are best brought about through win-win global cooperation rather than a winner-takes-all competition. Therefore, it is in the interest of the West to give the emerging Asian powers a stake in the existing international order and accommodate its legitimate interests. In turn, Asia must play a greater role, as a partner and not a rival of the West, in maintaining international order and preserving global stability. This requires an adjustment to relationships, based on respect on the part of both the West and Asia of each other’s aspirations. This is common sense but is easier said than done for it involves a change of mindsets and redefinition of interests by both sides. How this process is managed is a basic strategic challenge.

As you would expect, Goh has lots of meaningful things to say. He is also critical of the notion of the West imploring the developing world to become "responsible stakeholders" without having much of a stake in institutions of global governance such as the UN Security Council, the World Bank, and the IMF:

Former US Deputy Secretary of State, now World Bank President, Robert Zoellick, made the case for China to become a “responsible stakeholder” in the international system. China would then be responsible for strengthening the international system from which it has benefited and enabled it to grow and prosper. What Bob Zoellick said applies equally to the other major economies in Asia, and ultimately, to all stakeholders in the world.

But to be a “responsible stakeholder” requires a stake. And it is not unreasonable for Asia to expect some say in determining what that stake should be and not just accept the existing order or norms. Whether the West likes it or not, Asia will seek economic, political and even cultural influence commensurate with its growing economies. The awkward truth is that current international political norms, practices and institutions, as they have evolved after World War II, were driven by the West, and no longer accurately reflect the real distribution of power in the world. They are therefore unable to fully meet key global challenges or the aspirations of rising powers.

At the apex of the post-World War II institutions is the UN Security Council (UNSC). The current Permanent Members of the UNSC need to accept the fact that the inclusion of the rising powers, particularly those from regions that are currently unrepresented, would help enhance international stability and the relevance of the UN. Similarly, why, to take another example, should international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank only be run by European and American appointees?

To be sure, this is not the first time that calls have been made for reform at the UNSC, IMF or World Bank. But we need to go beyond words to real action. The World Bank, under Bob Zoellick, has taken small steps in this direction, such as appointing Justin Lin as its Chief Economist. Lin, an eminently qualified Chinese, will be the first to occupy the position from an emerging economy. But more needs to be done, at a faster pace, to increase the representation of not just China but other emerging players from key regions.

Read the entire speech. It has several more sensible ideas.