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Sunday, 24 January 2010

Some notes on "The New Asian Hemisphere"

The New Asian Hemisphere is a book by Kishore Mahbubani.

Mahbubani gives an Asian viewpoint of the current economic and political balance or imbalance and posits the thesis that Asia has risen to take control of half the globe away from the hold of the West headed by Imperial America. He contends that the struggle between supposedly two main protagonists Asia and the West (America/EU & allies) will shape global relations and policy in this next decade and into a new Age (of Asia).

The book glosses over a few issues such as human rights, political oppression and economic exploitation. It also chooses to ignore the fact that the success of the Asian tigers is owed mainly to the principles of free market and the current economic order effected through globalization.

Mahbubani does advance the positive Asian values of meritocracy, pragmatism and open-mindedness that are the ingredients to global leadership. He is optimistic that these Asian traits will lead them to prevail.
Mahbubani thinks the Asian hemisphere is inevitable, although many consider his arguments debatable.

I have compiled some notes from the book of the positive aspects of the Asian tigers:
• Asian domination in research in science and technology. It is predicted that soon 90% of all PhD scientists and engineers will be based in Asia.
• Massive increases in funding, investments and spending in research and development.
• In India, they are reaping the rewards of decisions made decades ago by Nehru who founded Indian Institutes of Technology. These IITs collect the best talent pool in India and are very successful in churning out very talented and internationally renowned graduates. This fact led a TV host in America (CBS’ 60 Minutes) to state that the status of IITs is comparable to Harvard, MIT and Princeton put together.
• China’s gains in science and technology match that of India.
• The World Bank has reported that from 1983-2003 more than 50% of US PhD degrees (nearly 90,000) in science and engineering were awarded to students from Asia (China, Taiwan, India and South Korea). This is four times more than those from Europe (23,000).
• Japan successfully modernized by applying Western best practices. They learned from the French and American education systems and implemented them. They also adopted Western civil service and jurisprudence systems.
• Singapore has the most meritocratic civil service in the world. Pay scales of senior government officials almost match the private sector. Department heads earn as much as US$1.5M a year, more than President Obama ($400K). Singapore also applied Western techniques in its fledgling years of independence after 1965.
• The principle of meritocracy rigidly applied in Harvard and a few other organisations, has been adapted and applied ruthlessly and systematically in China’s government structures. China also gained from following the success of Singapore after Deng Xiaoping visited there in 1978.
• Malaysian leader Dr Mahathir implemented economic policies by “looking east” and learning from Japan and South Korea.

What of the Philippines? Has it missed the boat?
Mentions of the Philippines in the book highlight Asian non-achievement. The Philippines is noted as an example of where meritocracy has failed:
• The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism PCIJ (2007) shows that two-thirds of congress are traditional politicians (second- and third- generation).
• The Makati Business Club showed that only one-third of 86 bills passed in 2007 were of national import.
• Roger Olivares found that political dynasties control 75% of provinces and 100% of cities. This hold on power by the traditional elite, and by extension their grip on the economic wealth of the Philippines has resulted in what the late Fr Miguel Bernad described in a review of Olivares’ Noli... 2,
the degradation of the Filipino people who must export one million persons every year, because the leaders have neglected to develop the agricultural and the industrial resources which might have provided them with decent jobs at home. A total of eight million Filipinos are now abroad, most of them in menial jobs. ... Government officials gloat over the number of Overseas Workers (OFW) and the amount of dollars coming in from them – not realizing that this situation is an indictment of their neglect: they should have been doing something to improve the economy so that people need not seek a better life abroad (underscoring mine).
Mahbubani states the obvious that the Philippines is still very much crippled by feudal mindset.

The Philippines is an Asian country and yet likes to adopt the Western mindset and cultures of its former colonial masters, including the Christian religion. The Philippines proudly boasts to be the only Christian nation in Asia. It’s motto is: Maka-Diyos, Maka-Tao, Makakalikasan, at Makabansa ("For God, People, Nature, and Country").

The Philippines is indeed a Christian nation. People go to their churches and absorb christian values which inform their politics. Come election time, influential people, including the clergy apparently hear voices from God to endorse this or that candidate. How many Christian gods are there though? How come he endorses so many? Politicians themselves claim to have divine approval. So then may we ask - with God on their side - why have they abandoned their fellow Filipinos by the wayside? I read that the Philippines became a Christian nation in 1521. Being a Christian must be so hard to do. I’ll just be an Igorot, tend to my fields, and thank the anitos for the palay and camote that sustain me. I’d be very afraid to face God in the other life if I were or profess to be a Christian.

And therein lies the paradox. The Philippines is the most professedly Christian of the developing countries in the world, and yet is the most un-Christian in its standing. How does one reconcile that?
The Philippines is going backward because of corruption and all sorts of unchristian practices not least  hypocrisy. And going back to meritocracy - the principle of equality somehow goes against the grain, in the minds of the Filipino ruling class.
The above shows that traditional Politicians are not the solution, they are the problem. The journalist Sheila Coronel also stated an obvious 'known known' (thanks rummy):
“I think our problem is we ask the politicians to save us from our misery when they are the cause of our misery.”
So back to the question: has the Philippines missed the boat?
Well bet your house on it (i would if i owned one) - that the Philippines has missed the boat. The ship has nearly arrived at its destination, and we haven’t even got to the port yet.
Is it too late? Hey we're Christians aren't we? We believe in miracles. But we need to find a catapult to breach that ocean and hope for that divine intervention to delay the ship “The New Asian Hemisphere” so we can swim along in its wash.
Where to start?
First we need to learn to swim or we’ll just sink.
Let us start from the basics: that democracy is best practised in the grassroots and thus must emanate from the grassroots. As the notes above show, it is time for a change. Get rid of the traditional politics that have been an albatross around our necks. The huge majority of Filipinos are morally upright citizens with enough intelligence to run national affairs capably and well.

It is time for us to change our culture of popular politics and look to those acclaimed in the community for leadership. Our tradition of the ato where the Council of elders is formed not through wealth or name or connections, but by virtue of one’s standing, may be the key. This is the egalitarian philosophy at work.
It may be a schoolteacher, a government official, a local Councillor, or just someone with enough experience that the people can entrust their confidence in. If there is someone who combines some of these and is willing to be drafted to serve, that would be ideal.

Wikipedia has attributed part of the success of the Asian tigers to the role of traditional philosophies:
  • In Japan the existence of harmonious labor-management relations resulting in an "invented" tradition that has played an important role in the evolution and character of Japanese economic values and behavior of social peace for economic development. Thereaffirmation of ancient Confucian values and native Japanese traditions of harmony, self-sacrifice and non-individualistic group striving in pursuit of a common cause. The emphasis on long-term growth, scrupulous market evaluation, and process engineering are all well regarded as important components of its economic development.
  • These "Asian values" are the foundations ("Grund" as it used to be) of "Asian political economy". Abandoning import substitution, the model advocated in the developing world following the two world wars, the Four Asian Tigers pursued an export-driven model of economic development with the exportation of goods to highly-industrialized nations. Domestic consumption was discouraged through government policies such as high tariffs. The Four Asian Tigers singled out education as a means of improving productivity; these territories focused on improving the education system at all levels; heavy emphasis was placed on ensuring that all children attended elementary education and compulsory high school education. Money was also spent on improving the college and university system.
  • Since the Four Asian Tigers were relatively poor during the 1960s, these nations had an abundance of cheap labor. Coupled with educational reform, they were able to leverage this combination into a cheap, yet productive workforce. The Four Asian Tigers committed to egalitarianism in the form of land reform, to promote property rights and to ensure that agricultural workers would not become disgruntled. Also, policies of agricultural subsidies and tariffs on agricultural products were implemented as well. (underscoring mine).
  • These places had strong industrial economies which set them apart from all other places in Asia.
Indeed we could do worse than to be 'looking East' and learning from our Asian tigers.