C! Interview with Parag Khanna

Convoco talked to Parag Khanna about:

the rise of Asia for Convoco's 2019 topic The Standing of Europe in the New Imperial World Order.

Parag Khanna proclaims the 21st century to be the century of Asia after the 20th century was the American and the 19th the European one. He emphasizes that we must find mutually acceptable ways forward, “in all spheres of global life, there is a need to graduate from dialogue to synthesis: Western atomism and Eastern holism, humanism and scientific materialism, freedom and harmony, democracy and technocracy.” 

Convoco: You see technocracy as the future of Asia. Could it be a global future as technologies like AI and big data work in favor of these? China for example has introduced the Social Credit System (SCS). Does this give technocracies a major advantage? Do you think European democracies will be affected?

Parag Khanna: The idea of technocracy is in fact a European idea, and it rests more on the administrative capacity and excellence of the state than on technology per se. But now there is a marriage of data and democracy, the ability to have rapid citizen feedback through elections, surveys, and social media, but also for the government to harness it for more effective citizen engagement and public service delivery. Asians are certainly doing this very well, but so too are Europeans in many countries, especially the smaller ones of the Nordics. China’s Social Credit System (SCS) is an example of both the positive and negative applications of big data to governance at the same time. 

C: How does Asia deal with what Fukuyama labelled the “Bad emperor problem”? A government with few checks and balances on executive power, like independent courts, a free media or an elected legislature, has amazing power when the emperor is good. But there is also the backside of the medal. The rule of law is one of Europe’s core principles. What kind of role does it play for you? Does the West need to change its idea of a “global-rules based order” in favour of the Chinese phrase “community of common destiny” which is preferred by Asians?

PK: Because most European countries today are multi-party parliamentary systems, you do not have the risk of a bad emperor problem as much as the risk of rudderless recycling of ineffective leaders! As for Asia, remember that far more people live in democracies in Asia than in authoritarian states. India, Indonesia and the Philippines alone represent 1.8 billion people, which is greater than the population of China. So, let us be clear that in Asia, there are checks on authority in most countries, and most people are not afraid to throw out bad leaders. Indeed, we see how India’s Modi and Duterte in the Philippines are struggling in their political campaigns due to their illiberal practices that the people resent. As for global governance, in the book I make clear that the notion of a “global rules-based order” in contrast to a “community of common destiny” is a false choice: They are two sides of the same coin. 

C: What does your statement “Asians seek not conquest but respect” imply for the relationship between Asia and Europe? Does in your opinion Europe have unique strengths on which a long-term strategy should be based? What does it mean to seek respect from the perspective of Asian countries?

PK: Asians largely know from the experience of the Japanese in the 20thcentury and due to the inherent multipolarity of their vast and diverse system that conquering each other is not possible. They have more of a “live and let live” approach to each other. Europe has innate strengths around democracy, the rule of law, and its highly developed and diversified economies that share the great Eurasian landmass with Asia. They are converging rapidly in trade and infrastructure through the new Silk Roads and I expect this process to accelerate. Europeans must be more unified in their approach to Asia to avoid being divided by China and others in areas of investment and human rights. 

C: You emphasize that Asians want economic globalization, not free trade. What is the difference between Asians and Westerners with regard to the market? According to orthodox capitalist view growth in itself results in redistribution. For Asians fiscal redistribution drives equitable growth. Is this view mirrored in the recently devised inclusive development index (IDI) that has become the preferred measure of national progress in Asia instead of the GDP?

PK: The West no longer represents “free markets” versus an Asian “state capitalism” since in reality the whole world practices some kind of “mixed capitalism” with various roles for the state in the economy. By now everyone should realize that growth alone does not entail adequate redistribution to have an equitable society in an age of financial globalization. The “Inclusive Development Index” (IDI) is a step in the right direction. 

C: China has labelled its role in the Asian Security System “peaceful rise” (Hu Jintao) or “harmonious world” (Xi Jinping) indicating that peaceful co-existence and co-operation is mutually beneficial. Prior to WWI Europe had benefited from unprecedented growth and economic integration. Ongoing peaceful co-operation would have been mutually beneficial but the break-down of the balance of power led to war. Do you think that the mainly peaceful co-operation in Asia may be at risk at some point? Which are the most severe areas of tension in your opinion? 

PK: I identify at least nine major conflict scenarios for Asia such as Taiwan, Kashmir, North Korea, the South China Sea, and others. Any of these may explode into conflict, but none has so far because Asians have done a good job of balancing their geopolitical tensions with their geoeconomic integration. Furthermore, conflicts in Asia do not necessarily spill over into others in Asia as they have in European history. Asians largely view these situations as isolated from each other. In that sense, even if there are one or more wars in Asia in these situations, there is also a subsequent settlement and continued advance of the Asian system. 

Out now:
Parag Khanna – The Future is Asian – available here.

Previous C! supports the Darmstadt Science Declaration


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