“Covid-19 did real damage to the global economy. The world should send a thank you note to China for succeeding in achieving positive economic growth in 2020. China saved the world economy in 2020.” Kishore Mahbubani, a Distinguished Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, and author of the book, Has China Won? (which will soon be published in China), told the People’s Daily in a recent written interview.
“Covid-19 has had a massive impact on humanity,” Mahbubani noted, adding that the pandemic reinforced the message: All of humanity now belongs to one community with a shared future.
As he documented in his book “The Great Convergence”, before modern globalization, when humanity lived in 193 separate countries, it was like living in 193 separate boats. But now, “we no longer live in 193 separate boats. Instead, we live on 193 separate cabins on the same boat. It would be suicidal for us to only take care of our cabins only. We also have to take care of the boat as a whole because if the boat sinks, our cabins will sink,” he said.
Mahbubani praised China’s efforts to integrate with the world. China has continued to join the Free Trade Agreements, like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). It has also indicated that it may join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). “This is the best contribution that China can make to uplifting and improving the human condition: to keep its economy open and continue integrating with the world,” he said.
Mahbubani believes that countries around the world should uphold and strengthen multilateralism to address global challenges. “It was a huge mistake for the US (with the complicit support of some European countries) to progressively weaken the UN multilateral system, especially by depriving it of funding,” he said.
In his new book, Has China Won?, Mahbubani concluded that a rational and objective analysis of the core interests of the US and China will show that there are at least five non-contradictions between the US and China. “For example, if the core goal of the US government is to improve the well-being of the American people (as it should be), and if the core goal of the Chinese government is to improve the well-being of the Chinese people (as it should be), there is no contradiction between American and Chinese interests here. Similarly, both US and China share common interests in dealing with common global challenges like Covid-19 and global warming,” he said, hoping that his book will help to improve mutual understanding between the US and China.
However, “the Biden Administration has not worked out a coherent and sensible balance between competition and cooperation in managing relations with China,” Mahbubani said, adding that the US should halt the trade war and withdraw all the trade tariffs and sanctions to improve the livelihoods of the American workers.
As Covid-19 is still raging across the world, Mahbubani found that some countries, including China, have handled the pandemic well and competently, while others have not. Mahbubani believes China’s success lies in its quality of governance. “China, learning from its East Asian neighbors, regenerated a culture and system of meritocracy in its government agencies. Hence, the quality of mind of government administrators in China has been going up,” he explained.
“The best formula for any country to apply to improve its governance was to implement meritocracy, pragmatism and honesty (MPH). This MPH formula explains Singapore’s extraordinary success. It is also being implemented in China. Hence, I am optimistic that the quality of governance in China will continue to improve,” he believes.
A rigorous academic study of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government has documented how support for the Chinese government has gone up from 86% in 2003 to 93% in 2016. Similarly, last May, an Edelman Trust Barometer trust and credibility survey showed that trust in government in China has surged to 95 percent. Mahbubani quoted from a Stanford University psychologist, Jean Fan, saying “China’s culture, self-concept and morale are being transformed at a rapid pace – mostly for the better”.
Mahbubani believes that China will play an even more important role in the coming decade. “Countries all over the world, especially in the poor developing countries, will be looking for export markets to boost their economic growth. This is where China can play an important role. It can open its markets faster, especially for poor developing countries. History has taught us that trade is more effective than aid in promoting economic growth and reducing poverty. The world will be truly grateful if China can import more from the rest of the world,” he said.