China not exporting its model as they know what works for them may not work for others: Kishore Mahbubani

China has no intention for the rest of the world to be like them, unlike the Americans, he opined.

Kayla Wong | May 31, 2020, 01:33 PM

China does not wish to export its own political model to other countries as it understands that what works for it might not necessarily work for others, former Singapore diplomat Kishore Mahbubani opined in a virtual interview that was published on May 14.

Mahbubani was responding to a point of contention that the interviewer Denis McClean, founder of Geneva Literary Aid Society, raised.

McClean, who is also the spokesperson for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, had asked if the world should "aspire" to become like China, a country that he said has "no democracy", and has "a very repressive approach to freedom of expression and human rights in general".

McClean then asked if such characteristics will be an inevitable downside of a country becoming the world's top economic power.

No longer appropriate to apply past lenses on 21st century China

In response, Mahbubani said that by asking such a question, McClean is using the lenses of the 19th and 20th centuries to look at the 21st century.

He proceeded to tackle the overwhelming impression that much of the West holds towards China, that 1.4 billion people there are "suffering so bad because their human rights are being deprived", and they are "just being oppressed by a wicked, evil communist party government".

Such a perspective is exactly the "black and white" world that the West has gotten used to in the 19th and 20th centuries, but is no longer relevant in the 21st century, Mahbubani opined.

The Chinese are going to make their own choices about the kind of society they are going to have, Mahbubani said, before fighting to continue talking when McClean attempted to interrupt him.

The West trampled on China when it was weak, and continued to view it with condescension

From the Chinese point of view, when they were weak and disunited, the West never exported human rights or democracy to them, and instead, trampled on them, Mahbubani said.

For instance, the British forced the Chinese to accept opium in return for Chinese tea.

"The West seized Chinese territories, the West took settlements from China, the West burned down the Summer Palace," he said.

"You've forgotten all that, but now you want to come as the saviours of China, and say don't you want a better government, what's wrong with you?"

This is the sort of condescension that the West applies on China, and the West has got to get used to the idea of stopping to do that, Mahbubani added.

China is going on its own way, and others have got to respect that

This is because the Chinese are going to "find their own way", and while it certainly may not be as good as the Western way, it will be the Chinese way.

He continued to say that the Chinese would be very shocked if other countries try to emulate them.

This is because, he said, the Chinese, unlike the Americans, don't believe they represent "a universal civilisation that is relevant to the rest of the world".

"What we're doing in China is good for us, you do what's good for you, we do what's good for ourselves."

He said: "The Chinese are not exporting the Chinese model to anybody, so you shouldn't feel threatened in any way by the Chinese succeeding in their own way."

McClean responded by saying he has "a lot of sympathy" for China's history as being an Irishman, he understands the depredations they all suffered under the British Empire.

While he said he has visited China before and saw for himself that the people there were friendly and kind, and that it was not "a brutal police state", people still have to understand the "reality" that a million people are "incarcerated in China because of their religion".

"How do you explain that away?" he asked when concluding his question.

Has China or the West killed more innocent Muslims?

Mahbubani then responded by saying that China is not perfect, before asking the interviewer rhetorically whether it was China or the West that has killed more innocent Muslims in the last 20 years.

He went on to say that former United States President Barack Obama, a relatively "peaceful" president, had dropped 26,000 bombs on seven countries.

The aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks saw the U.S. invade Afghanistan and then Iraq, which resulted in the loss of many Muslim lives, he said.

"I want to emphasise that China also experienced a 9/11 moment, that Chinese were killed in Chinese cities by people from Xinjiang."

China said this has got to stop, which was why they started a deradicalisation programme in Xinjiang, he added.

No Muslim country stood up for the Muslims in Xinjiang, and they are not necessarily beholden to China economically

He continued to say that while the West objected to the programme and tabled a resolution at the UN, not a single one out of the 50 Muslim countries in the world supported the West in what they were trying to do to defend the Muslims in China.

"To put it very bluntly, the rest of the world could see the hypocrisy of what the West was doing, and that's why not a single Muslim country joined in."

He then said the world can try to help the Muslims in China, but if a country posture and tell others what to do, nobody is going to listen to it.

When McClean raised the counterargument that no Muslim country stood up for the Uyghurs in China as they are so heavily indebted to the country, Mahbubani responded by saying such an assertion is not factually true.

He pointed out the fact that American allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates did not support the U.S. in the resolution, and that the former is a lot more indebted to the U.S. than China.

"Maybe the Muslims can make decisions without being bribed economically," he said.

You can watch the full interview here:

The U.S. has to accept that it will not be number one forever

Mahbubani talked about his new book, Has China won?, briefly as well.

Joking that he would reveal the answer to the question as he is generous, he said that while China has not won, it will go on to become the number one economic power in the world within his lifetime.

He reiterated that the U.S. has to prepare itself for the day when it might be number two in the world instead, which is something that many Americans are not willing to accept.

He also opined that the world is now leaving the 200-year historic aberration that is being dominated by western powers, when it was China and India which dominated for the previous 1,800 years as the two largest economies.

Mahbubani said the world is now entering an "interesting", and "hopefully peaceful" phase where it is "multi-civilisational" with many successful civilisations.

Such a world would be much richer and more interesting, and so we should be "sharing it", rather than dreading it like the U.S. is doing when it comes to the prospect of it no longer being the top power in the world, he said.

China threatening global balance of power led by the U.S.

Mahbubani has spoken on the great power rivalry between the U.S. and China on multiple occasions.

He opined that China's rise could not be contained, and while China can afford to communicate better, the West has to accept that it is now in a world where it can no longer "dominate anymore".

In a debate he won, he also said what China is threatening is not the international liberal order, but is in fact, the global balance of power that is currently led by the U.S.