The liberalist discursive system leaves little room for one to contemplate the possibility that a strong government can also be a good government, much less the positives of the East Asian developmental state or Asian values. In fact, under the East Asian social contract, people are willing to empower the government for greater outcomes for all, and the government works to win the approval of the people as a means to preserve their legitimacy. Now, when the flaws of liberalism are laid bare by Covid-19 and other crises, it may be worth taking a closer look at the merits of the East Asian social contract.
Having lived through the Cold War era when people were misled by empty slogans and labels, Taiwanese writer Chiang Hsun cautions that we may once again find ourselves under the influence of such meaningless words in the noisy internet age. Have we lost our basic cognitive skills to observe and contemplate in solitude?
Professor Wang Gungwu, eminent historian and university professor of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the National University of Singapore, was awarded the 2020 Tang Prize in Sinology earlier this year. At the 2020 Tang Prize Masters’ Forums — Sinology held last month, Professor Wang traced the evolution of sinology in the West and East, observing that today, a “pluralist sinology” is emerging alongside a rising China. This allows for the term “sinologist” to be applied to a much larger group of scholars, and for the bringing together of various knowledge traditions and academic disciplines in the study of China. While there is much to be cheered by this, Professor Wang also urged his fellow scholars to be ready to “douse the fires that others had fanned”, as knowledge gathered by pluralist sinology could be used as a weapon amid intense rivalry between the US and China. This is the transcript of his speech.
China and the US fought their first major war against each other during the Korean War. China's ill-equipped volunteer troops suffered huge losses, sacrificing eight lives for every one lost on the US side. Nonetheless, China showed great determination and resilience during the war. Historical photo collector Hsu Chung-mao delves deep into the images and facts of the Korean War, and reflects on how it has shaped modern international geopolitics.
For all of President Trump’s failings, says US academic Han Dongping, he did persist in his belief that the US has over-extended itself abroad and sought ways to pull it back. Whoever becomes the US president next will have to recognise that the US’s global role has changed irrevocably since 1945.
Chinese academic Zhu Ying says the US is reviving its rhetoric of ideological crusades against China that harks back to the time of the Truman doctrine. Such tactics will only get worse with post-pandemic tensions and greater strategic competition between the two countries.
The CIA itself admitted that much of the intelligence it had gathered on China in the Mao era was proven wrong, says US academic Han Dongping. Later when it tried to cultivate academics in the US and when it supported pro-democracy groups, it arguably still did not achieve its aim of getting China to change. What were its missteps?
Even though the countries are in a state of “non-war”, US-China tensions will not go away, says Chinese scholar Deng Qingbo. The US can only be expected to continue using China as a bogeyman even after the presidential election. While he is confident that China will be able to handle containment measures thrown at it deftly, he warns that it needs to guard against being increasingly withdrawn from the world as it nurses its bruises from its battles with the US. Failing to do so would only mean the US has succeeded in thwarting its goal of greater reform and opening up.
Senior research fellow at the East Asian Institute Lance Gore says that China must learn to rein in its rage and impatience and do its fair share of self-reflection. What good would it do if it gives in to petty emotions and provokes a US-led coalition against it? For sure, it still has room for manoeuvre, thanks to the attractiveness of its huge consumer market. But it must not miss the woods for the trees: the US is still more powerful than it is and the two are better off as friends than enemies. Question is, will China be able to be humble, look itself squarely in the mirror, and refrain from doing the things it must not?