A Cycle of Cathay
Information Processing has a translation of Lee Kuan Yew's interview with Der Spiegel on the future role of China in the world. Lee believes China is patiently building up the basis of its power, carefully avoiding any outright confrontations with the United States, yet pushing forward industrially, in outer space and geopolitically. (Hat tip: K) The rise of the non-European world is not a new development, Lee says, but a springing back after the removal of the historical distortion of 19th century European expansionism. An older equilibrium is returning.
SPIEGEL: The political and economic center of gravity is moving from the West towards the East. Is Asia becoming the dominant political and economic force in this century?
Mr. Lee: I wouldn't say it's the dominant force. What is gradually happening is the restoration of the world balance to what it was in the early 19th century or late 18th century when China and India together were responsible for more than 40 percent of world GDP. With those two countries becoming part of the globalized trading world, they are going to go back to approximately the level of world GDP that they previously occupied. But that doesn't make them the superpowers of the world.
Lee says Europe has lost the technological edge which once enabled it to bestride the world. Today, it has become just another collection of small countries that must work hard if it is to survive in the world.
SPIEGEL: When you look to Western Europe, do you see a possible collapse of the society because of the overwhelming forces of globalization?
Mr. Lee: No. I see ten bitter years. In the end, the workers, whether they like it or not, will realize, that the cosy European world which they created after the war has come to an end.
SPIEGEL: How so?
Mr. Lee: The social contract that led to workers sitting on the boards of companies and everybody being happy rested on this condition: I work hard, I restore Germany's prosperity, and you, the state, you have to look after me. I'm entitled to go to Baden Baden for spa recuperation one month every year. This old system was gone in the blink of an eye when two to three billion people joined the race - one billion in China, one billion in India and over half-a-billion in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
SPIEGEL: The question is: How do you answer that challenge?
Mr. Lee: Chancellor Kohl tried to do it. He did it halfway then he had to pause. Schroeder tried to do it, now he's in a jam and has called an election. Merkel will go in and push, then she will get hammered before she can finish the job, but each time, they will push the restructuring a bit forward.
SPIEGEL: You think it's too slow?
Mr. Lee: It is painful because it is so slow. If your workers were rational they would say, yes, this is going to happen anyway, let's do the necessary things in one go. Instead of one month at the spa, take one week at the spa, work harder and longer for the same pay, compete with the East Europeans, invent in new technology, put more money into your R&D, keep ahead of the Chinese and the Indians.
Read the whole thing. Although it is unstated, the concept underlying Lee Kuan Yew's outlook is that the confluence of the scientific revolution, maritime navigation and the industrialization which fueled the expansion of Europe into a dominant position across the globe, culminating in the grand empires of the 19th century, has passed. Now that those methods have been diffused, all the countries that opened their systems are potentially equal to the West. Under those equalized conditions, demography and culture will reassert itself; the giant and ancient civilizations of India and China will rise again to their 'rightful' places. He does not address the subject of Islam, but it would logically be both a winner and loser in the retreat of Western empires. Winner in that it will no longer lie beneath the shadow of the Western Mandates; loser in that it must confront resurgent and ancient civilizations, which in its time it had endeavored to conquer. In his own way, Lee asks Kipling's question, inviting Europe to raise its eyes from the level of its little, politically correct streets to the drama in the globalized world.
Winds of the World, give answer! They are whimpering to and fro --
And what should they know of England who only England know? --