By DOMINIQUE MOISI
KISHORE Mahbubani, a prominent Asian voice from Singapore, and a man often highly critical of Europe, was recently asked what Asia could learn from Europe.
His reply: Europe was above all the continent of peace, compassion and cooperation.
“Asia” may not exist culturally, historically, religiously, socially and economically the way Europe does.
It is a much more varied continent.
But “Asians” have been looking at, and reflecting upon, the European experiment for a long time.
Enlightened Japanese elites are fascinated by Franco-German reconciliation.
Could that model be applied to Japan’s relations with its former enemies, from Korea to China?
And, today, with the irresistible rise of a more assertive China, the European example of a continent where the prospect of war between traditional enemies – or contemporary rivals – has simply disappeared is more attractive than ever.
One does not naturally associate China with the quest for compassion. Yet, some Chinese have recently discovered the virtues of the Nordic social model, and Chinese delegations have been going to Oslo regularly to see what lessons they can bring home.
The reasoning of China’s elites is pragmatic; if the Chinese were reassured by the existence of a social-welfare state, they would probably save less and spend more, allowing the domestic market to take over from export-led growth.
Although the European Union’s image has deteriorated, Asians still find Europe’s “sharing of sovereignty” model appealing in many ways.
For Mahbubani, the “lessons of Europe” are crystal clear.
If emerging Asia begins to look more and more “like a socially and politically harmonious Europe”, the world would be a much better place.
At a time when Europeans are full of self-doubt, though perhaps not as morose as the French, this praise from thoughtful Asians is more than welcome.
Europeans, unfortunately, too often fail to see the merits of their peaceful conquest over their own worst natures.
Moreover, Europeans should, in the same spirit of openness, ask themselves what they can learn from Asia.
In a multipolar world, the flow of examples and inspiration has become a two-way street.
Europeans can no longer look down upon Asians with a “Western” combination of arrogance and ignorance, perceiving themselves as the unique carriers of a universal message.
The problem, of course, is that the concept of Asia is largely a Western one.
Asians do not perceive themselves as Asians in the way that most Europeans view themselves as Europeans.
India’s historical patrimony is very different from China’s, for example, not to mention the singular experience of Japan.
Yet, it is legitimate to ask what, for Europeans looking at Asia, would be the equivalent of the “peace, compassion and cooperation” that Asians see in Europe?
Could it be a combination of hope, energy, long-term thinking, and curiosity?
Hope is a state of mind and not only the result of economic growth.
Hope means confidence, and young Asians are exuding the stuff, whereas young Europeans – arrogant towards others and diffident towards themselves – too often lack “appetite” and cling to the status quo, seeming to demand protection from life.
Many Chinese may dream of spending like Europeans, but the nightmare of most Europeans nowadays is that they might have to start working as hard as the Chinese. – Project Syndicate
*Dominique Moisi is the author of The Geopolitics of Emotion.