Kishore Mahbubani: China and the U.S. must reflect on their long-term interests and cooperate on global issues
On the sidelines of the Credit Suisse China Investment Conference, we spoke to Kishore Mahbubani, Distinguished Fellow of the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore and former President of the United Nations Security Council, about prospects for cooperation between China and the U.S. and why Asian countries need to speak out.
Beijing has said China is willing to work with the U.S. to find ways to cooperate. How do you think the U.S. and China should manage their competition to reach a more cooperative and productive relationship?
Kishore Mahbubani: It's very important for the United States and China to step back and ask themselves: what are the major priorities for their own people? Do their people want to see a confrontation? Or do people want to see an improvement in their lives? That is the key question. If they step back and reflect on their real long-term interests, they will come to a realization that a win-win relationship will ultimately be good for both the peoples of United States and for China
The only way to get China's cooperation is to compromise on other issues. There have to be trade-offs. And therefore, given the importance of the battle against climate change, the U.S. may have to ease pressure on China in other areas.
Kishore Mahbubani, Distinguished Fellow, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore
Is there room now for the world’s two superpowers to cooperate on matters of global importance like climate change?
Kishore Mahbubani: Clearly, the one big change when the Biden administration won the election is that they understand the importance of the battle against climate change. And I sincerely hope the Biden administration will realize that you cannot succeed in tackling climate change without China's cooperation. And the only way to get China's cooperation is to compromise on other issues. There have to be trade-offs. And therefore, given the importance of climate change, the U.S. may have to ease pressure on China in other areas.
To what extent can other countries in Asia avoid taking sides in China’s competition with the U.S.?
Kishore Mahbubani: It is important for countries in Asia, especially the 10 ASEAN countries, to speak out more loudly and clearly on the issue of U.S.-China competition. Fortunately, Singapore has done so; the Prime Minister of Singapore has said that Singapore doesn't want to take sides in this competition. That is also the view of the vast majority of other Asian countries. It is important, therefore, for Asian countries to speak out as loudly as they can.
What does the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict mean for Asian nations?
Kishore Mahbubani: The Russia-Ukraine conflict hasn't just destabilized Europe and Russia; it has destabilized the entire world. The resulting spike in energy prices has contributed to global inflation and created problems even for far-removed countries like India, which has to now pay much higher energy bills as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. It is in the interests of all Asian countries, especially the two leading Asian countries—China and India, who have tried to stay neutral—and ASEAN countries to now call for peace in Ukraine, because unless you have peace, the world will be destabilized.
To what extent does China’s importance to the global economy limit the U.S.’s ability to contain its rise?
Kishore Mahbubani: China's importance to the global economy does limit the United States’ ability to contain China's rise because one thing that the U.S. is trying to do is to decouple itself from the Chinese economy. China has become hugely integrated with the global economy and does more trade with the rest of the world than the United States does. So if the United States tries to decouple from the Chinese economy, it could effectively be decoupling from much of Asia, and from much of the rest of the world. And since it is not in the United States’ interest to decouple from the rest of the world, this will be a major constraint on America's ability to decouple from China.