Posts Tagged ‘Wang Gungwu’

Looking at The Challenges of The New World Order

November 4, 2017

The Straits Times

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A woman holds a Chinese newspaper with a picture of US President Donald Trump at a news stand in Shanghai.PHOTO: AFP

The winds of change are blowing.

This year, change swept through the corridors of power in the United States, Asia and Europe, with US President Donald Trump taking office, China’s President Xi Jinping unveiling a new team at the top, and new leaders taking over in countries such as France and South Korea.

Free trade came under growing pressure from the forces of protectionism and populism, jeopardising agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Political and economic changes aside, new technologies continued to both enrich the lives and endanger the livelihood of millions worldwide.

The Straits Times Global Outlook Forum returns on Dec 5, to help readers make sense of these changes and what they can do to prepare for the challenges in the new year.

Titled 2018: Facing The Challenges Of A New World Order, the annual conference is organised by The Straits Times in partnership with presenting sponsor OCBC Premier Banking. The keynote speaker for this year’s forum at the Ritz-Carlton hotel will be Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat.

One panel discussion at the forum will be dedicated to the issue of cyber security. Experts from the government and private sector will look into hacking and what can be done to fend off such attacks at the discussion to be moderated by ST senior technology correspondent Irene Tham.

One speaker is Mr David Koh, chief executive of the Cyber Security Agency (Prime Minister’s Office) and deputy secretary (special projects) and defence cyber chief at the Ministry of Defence.

He will be joined by Mr Richard Skinner, partner (strategy) of consultancy PwC Singapore, and Mr John Lee, president of the Singapore chapter of Isaca, which advocates for professionals in information security, assurance, risk management and governance.

Eleven-year-old Reuben Paul, a Texas-based cyber security ambassador and “child hacker”, will also be delivering a special address.

Another topic at the forum is global politics. One question to be discussed is what the world can expect as President Xi wants China to move centre stage in global affairs, while leaders in the West are increasingly distracted by populism, nationalism and voter discontent.

The audience will hear from prominent historian Wang Gungwu, Associate Professor Elvin Lim, head of the department of political science at the National University of Singapore (NUS), and Mr Richard Jerram, chief economist of the Bank of Singapore.

Professor Wang, chairman of the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, the East Asian Institute and Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (NUS), will give his views on China after the recent 19th national party congress; Prof Lim, who specialises in US politics, will offer his take on America in the Trump era.

Joining them from ST are associate editor Rahul Pathak, who will talk about his recent reporting trip to North Korea, and Ms Audrey Quek, Opinion editor (global affairs), who will moderate the discussion.

• To register, go to

• Registration fee is $230, but there is an early bird special of $185 if you register by Nov 20. There are further discounts for group purchases and OCBC card holders.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2017, with the headline ‘ST forum to look at challenges of new world order’. Print Edition | Subscribe

Asean Worries About China’s Aggression: “Might Makes Right, The strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must.”

June 25, 2015



ASEAN’s leaders are worried about what history tells them about the future of Southeast Asia. The fears about the lessons of history are a discordant note as ASEAN steps up to a great moment in its history—the creation of an economic, political-security and social Community in December 2015.

Perhaps this moment of historic creation is partly driven by dark understandings of history. As ASEAN embraces a date with regional destiny, its leaders are invoking some tough history as reference points,The National Interest reports.

The President of the Philippines, Benigno Aquino, stirs headlines by comparing China with Hitler’s Germany. In this metaphor, the Philippines has the role of Czechoslovakia. Aquino ran this line last year to The New York Times and during his recent visit to Japan.

The point about Aquino’s history is not just the Germany–China analogy, but the casting of the US in the Britain/France role—the great powers that stood mute while the small state (the Philippines as Czechoslovakia) got monstered.

Another history that keeps popping up is Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian war 2,500 years ago, the conflict between Athens and Sparta. The Thucydides trap that ASEAN sees is different to the Thucydides trap that worries China and the US. Different aspects of history for different folks.

Professor Graham Allison’s version of the trap is the danger posed when a rising power confronts a ruling power.

For Allison, the crucial news is this line: ‘It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.’ Applied today, this becomes China’s rise, US fear and inevitable conflict:

“Never has a nation [China] moved so far, so fast, up the international rankings on all dimensions of power. In a generation, a state whose gross domestic product was smaller than Spain’s has become the second-largest economy in the world. If we were betting on the basis of history, the answer to the question about Thucydides’s trap appears obvious. In 11 of 15 cases since 1500 where a rising power emerged to challenge a ruling power, war occurred.”

The trap has captured the attention of China’s leader, Xi Jinping. He told the Berggruen Institute:

“The argument that strong countries are bound to seek hegemony does not apply to China. This is not in the DNA of this country given our long historical and cultural background. Also China fully understands that we need a peaceful and stable internal and external environment to develop ourselves. We all to need to work together to avoid the Thucydides trap—destructive tensions between an emerging power and established powers, or between established powers themselves.”

When ASEAN leaders go to Thucydides, however, they are interested in a different trap – what big powers can do to the small.

The Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, had his Thucydides moment at the Asia Pacific Roundtable last year, with this bit of dark history:

“Imagine a world where institutions, rules and norms are ignored, forgotten or cast aside; in which countries with large economies and strong armies dominate, forcing the rest to accept the outcome. This would be a world where, in the words of the Greek historian Thucydides, ‘The strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must’.”

Going Peloponnesian a few weeks ago, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, worried about the same history:

“It should not be a world where might is right, where the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must. It should be a world where legitimacy and constructive engagement are the international norm, and every country, big and small, can compete peacefully for the chance to prosper.”

The strong doing as they will and the weak suffering as they must is what Athens told the small state of Melos in the Melian dialogue, demanding surrender and payment of tribute. Melos refused to yield, claiming the right to remain neutral (or lean towards Sparta) on grounds of justice and honor. After a siege, Athens infamously carried out its threat to kill every Melian male of arms-bearing age and sold the women and children into slavery.

Such history speaks to core aims of ASEAN neutrality and centrality. Neutrality for individual ASEAN states has a distinct Melian flavor—the right to stand aloof or to lean between China and the US, depending on the issue. The ASEAN fear is of not being central to decisions and being forced to pick sides under duress.

The ASEAN version of the Thucydides trap is another version of the conundrum expressed by Wang Gungwu: ASEAN’s problem is to form a realistic assessment of China’s intentions and America’s resolve.
Musing on the prospect of tough choices is such a habit it qualifies as part of the ASEAN way. Coral Bell’s line was that NATO is ever in crisis; in the same manner, ASEAN is ever tormented by existential angst. The history lessons feed the angst.