Tomorrow evening I will attend a lecture by prof. Kishore Mahbubani on the rise of Asia.
I am very much looking forward to this, as I am interested in whether the Asian rise means a compounding of the worlds environmental problems, or an opportunity to bring about change for the better. Mahbubani holds that it will be the latter, but that much also depends on how the West will react. In the introduction of his book The New Asian Hemisphere he points to how the rethoric of a number of western nations is filled with references to a more ‘dangerous’ world. I find I share Mahbubani’s optimism, though I am cautious as well as far from holding romantic notions about how disruptive and ugly certain trends can be.
As a kid in primary school I never forgot the time my teacher explained that demographically it would be unavoidable that the economic epicenter of the world would move to Asia over time. That was in 1982, so my primary school teacher was way ahead of most people. His message stayed with me very clearly.
In the past decades millions of people in primarily China and India have been lifted out of abject poverty, though much remains to be done. That is for certain a good thing. Over the past years I have seen how in the nearby Ruhr area many steel plants and related factories were literally packed up and shipped to China to be rebuild there. That I find promising from an economic perspective, but worrying from an environmental one. More recently I noticed how mainly Chinese are playing a bigger role in Africa. And of course there has been the clear rise and power of the Japanese economy in the past 3 decades, from which other Asian countries, such as South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore took their cue. All in all, we are not talking about competition here, though resources in raw materials are strained and finite (oil, ores), because when there are more connections there are more transactions and the pie gets bigger accordingly.
I also suspect there is much to do in terms of getting to know each other, we know little about Asia, and I very much suspect Asia knows little about us, apart from the tv-fed stereotypes we both hold. This was reinforced by the conversation I had with Hank Horkoff (of ChinesePod) on Online Educa in Berlin last week. He has been living in Shanghai since 2001 and had interesting stories about young Chinese that knew little about Europe and North America, but based on a millennia long history had an air of entitlement about their growing role in the world. That is bound to ruffle some feathers with us here in the West, unless we can get to know each other better. That means getting familiar with a different set of views and cultural values. Perhaps it is time to start making the effort of finding and adding more voices from Asia to my feed reader.
The lecture by prof. Kishore Mahbubani is organized as a Masterclass by HAN (a higher ed institute in the Netherlands) and Dutch national newspaper NRC. Previous sessions saw Charles Leadbeater and Peter Senge present I found out. That makes me look forward to this one too.
Full disclosure: I was asked to blog about this Masterclass, in return for being invited to the event by Hans Mestrum.