Singapore Diplomat Addresses China’s Future in Lecture

On Monday, September 19, the Second Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Singapore Bilahari Kausikan visited campus to deliver a lecture entitled “East Asia & the West: A Long In­terregnum” to international rela­tions students. During the lecture, Kausikan described the changing international system and forecasted his thoughts on what the future would bring to US-China relations.

Kausikan opened by recalling the historic moment at the 2009 G20 Summit in Pittsburgh when President Barack Obama acknowledged that the G20 would soon replace the G8. Kausikan suggested that this moment signified the U.S.’s acceptance of the end of the First and Second World War era and that the U.S. was willing to recognize and partner with other international interests. He emphasized that only America could lead the tran­sition from one international system to another.

“I think a new global architec­ture will evolve organically, the re­sult of discrete decisions (or lack of decisions) taken in response to spe­cific events,” Kausikan said. “It can­not be planned, or rather all plans are futile.”

He suggested that a peaceful transi­tion from one international system to another requires three synchronized adjustments: international, regional and domestic.

This results in a process that could span several decades.

In particular, Kausikan stressed the im­portance of China’s development in shaping the 21st century. He suggests that US-China relations will grow to be the most important relations for the world, as were US-Soviet relations during the Cold War era. While China, he admitted, may be in denial of the role it plays in the geopolitics of the East Asia region, he assured that China will remain in­fluential (even if just economically) because of its size.

Kausikan’s lecture was well-received by students and faculty alike.

“What I thought he would bring is what he did bring: a realistic appraisal of the Asian region, its emerging role in the global system and the position – wide­spread in Asia – that the US is deluding itself by not facing up to its problems and its responsibilities,” Associate Professor of Political Science Douglas Macdonald, who brought Kausikan to campus, said. “I think he got that across very well, and I was very pleased that he could come to campus.”

“I enjoyed Mr. Kausikan’s lecture and think he delivered his views well and with good humor,” Charles Evans Hughes Profes­sor of Political Science Albert Yee, who spe­cializes in US-China relations, said. “We are fortunate to have him as a speaker.”

However, Yee was disappointed by some of what Kausikan left out.

“[Kausikan] did not discuss how this new global architecture might be built in practice and how it might be effective in organizing international relations,” Yee said. “He thinks it will be a gradual pro­cess with much incrementalism and ex­perimentation. He also did not consider and refute arguments that posit a more conflictual outcome of the rise of China. I share his view that such a conflictual out­come is unlikely, but it would have been rewarding to hear how he might oppose such arguments.”

Kausikan’s visit was sponsored by the Office of the President, the International Relations Program, the Department of Political Science, the Asian Studies Pro­gram, the Center for Freedom & Western Civilization and The Kulla Family Lec­ture Fund. After the lecture, he traveled to New York City for the opening of the United Nations.

Contact Anna D’Alessandro at [email protected].