In this dialogue, Kishore Mahbubni and Carma Elliot will continue the conversation they began in September 2021 on the topic of peace in the 21st century. Covering themes including changes in global geo-political landscapes, the war in Ukraine and the role leaders in maintaining international peace, the conversation will be a fitting final session for our Forum, as we explore the learning that will shape the future.
Lizzie Bray: Welcome, everyone., both online and here in the theatre. It has been simply wonderful to see so many of our community near and far attending our forum over the last two days. It's fitting that our final session then will focus on peace, a concept that sits at the heart of our mission. It's my honour to introduce our special guest and dear friend of the college, Kishore Mahbubani.
He will continue the conversation he began with Carma last September on the topic of Peace. Kishore is presently a Distinguished Fellow at Asia Research Institute National University Singapore. He has two distinguished careers in diplomacy and in academia. He's also a prolific author, having published eight books on geopolitics, particularly within Asian and ASEAN context. I have at least one signed copy on my bookshelf.
Kishore has shared his oftentimes provocative insights with audiences around the world. As a member of Singapore's Foreign Service for 33 years, Kishore served twice as Singapore's ambassador to the U.N. twice holding the role of president of the U.N. Security Council. Founding Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy and professor in the Practice of Public Policy.
He was elected as an honorary international member to the American Academy of Arts and Science. On a personal note, I was fortunate enough to serve on the board of UWCSEA when Kishore was the Chair. Every meeting was a masterclass in diplomacy. I think one of his most impressive skills is his ability to summarise a debate succinctly and accurately.
I knew that when I heard him say "there are three points" – never two, never five – that we were reaching the conclusion of the discussion. A very warm welcome, Kishore.
Carma Elliot joined UWCSEA in August 2019 as our first college president, a career British diplomat for 23 years until 2010, Carma worked in a wide variety of roles and across continents as consul general in Chongqing, China, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and Shanghai, China.
Carma has spent much of her adult life in China as a student and also as executive director of China's single largest international NGO, the Half the Sky Foundation, before she joined the British Council as Director of China. Kishore and Carma will be in discussion for about 30 minutes, after which we'll move to questions. If you're online, just drop the question into chat and we will ask it for you.
If you're in the auditorium, just raise your hand and we'll bring a microphone to you. So without further ado, over to you, Carma and Kishore.
Carma Elliot: Thanks so much.
And welcome, Kishore. And we're very glad to have you with us. And it's very fitting. I think this is the last of the events of our two days of our forum and to be able to continue a conversation that we started at the beginning of our 50th anniversary year in September last year. And a conversation that I was pleased to share with you has had about 200,000 views on YouTube.
So thank you for taking us to that global audience. And we have an audience joining us both here in the hall and online today. Since September we've launched the partnership between UWCSEA and the Asian Peace Programme at National University of Singapore. And in particular, we're very proud of the student essay competition, which you helped us launch. We saw incredible interest from our students who seized the opportunity to write a policy essay for the Asian Peace Programme and to have their essay read by some of the most prominent academics, including yourself and policy practitioners from across the globe.
The feedback was that middle school and high school students provided insightful analysis on serious conflict situations. It does give me personally hope, and I think all of us who are going to read or have read the essays, hope for the future that our young people are so engaged with these incredibly big issues. We heard earlier, in fact, that it's actually where adults have got it wrong, we now look to the young people to provide us with the solutions. And I think the essay competition is a fantastic example of that. So we have a long list of ten students. We have some of the students who wrote those essays with us today and the final winners will be announced at the end of May.
Thank you for your personal commitment to building that partnership. Our conversation today picks up on your article in The Straits Times of the 19th of March. Its title was Where Are the Peacemakers? You said then that since geopolitics is a cruel game and follows the cold and ruthless logic of power, we must be cold and dispassionate and hard headed in our analysis. The only iron law of geopolitics is that it punishes those who are naive and ignore it's cold logic.
And of course since then have seen the horrible human tragedy of war and witnessed a quarter of Ukraine's population flee as refugees. So the issues we discuss today are sadly no longer theoretical. In fact, they haven't been for many decades, but they very much a part of everyday and in fact every hour of this conversation. And of course some of the questions we're asking ourselves are of more of an existential nature than the conversation we might have had back in September.
And you referenced then what kept you awake at night was the possible use of nuclear weapons. And I think at the time for some of us, it didn't seem so real. But actually now we see the real reality that there are those who are threatening to use those nuclear weapons in the conflict in Ukraine at the moment.
So that's a reality that's been brought home to us just since September. So we talked about the topics coming out of your article. You yourself, having spoken about nuclear confrontation, you also spoke about whether we were at risk of taking our eye off the ball of some of the other issues that were alive back in September. And there is still potentially, I suppose, with much of our attention and the global world's attention on Ukraine and Russia, that there are other issues which still need our urgent attention and we can't afford to neglect those either.
So both your article and the recent article by Gideon Rachman in the Financial Times have led to the questions that we've both had from our teachers and based on your comments in the articles. So turning to Ukraine and focusing on Ukraine. So can I ask you that the position that Russia has taken as a P5 member is a challenge in many respects to the established post war conflict resolution and the frameworks that were put in place post the Second World War and would seem to be a denial of the UN Charter itself and the commitments that Russia made in signing that charter.
There's been discussion about some countries becoming very quickly now new members of the EU. And only a year ago we were talking about people leaving the EU and some of the Scandinavian countries perhaps rather faster than, well, actually people hadn't envisaged becoming members of NATO since the Second World War. What do you think we'll see next? In terms of some of these changes and what was a long established world order but actually now all bets seem to be off about what's coming next.
What do you think that that might be in the context of the Ukraine Russia situation?
Kishore Mahbubani: Yeah. Well, first of all, thank you very much for inviting me back. I'm always very happy to be back at this college and you know, also, I do think that the UWCSEA movement plays a very important role in the world. Frankly, in educating the young people who actually go on for the rest of their lives, trying to further the causes of peace.
So it's very appropriate that we are having a discussion on peace within the ambit of UWCSEA and that's what frankly made me very happy to chair the board when I did so because I felt I was participating in a really important cause. But I also have come to realise in response to your question about Ukraine and Russia that idealism is not enough in this world. The paradox about creating peace in the world is that you need to be idealistic and you need to be realistic. And balancing these two traits is very, very difficult. But that's what we need to do. So, for example, when you mention that Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council has violated the norms of the UN Charter.
That's absolutely correct. But it's also important to understand that one reason why the United Nations has survived when the League of Nations, its predecessor, died, is because the United Nations was formed on the principle that you've got to be realistic and so to be very brutally candid, the five permanent members were not chosen on the basis that these are the five peace loving saints of the world.
They were chosen because they were going to be the five most dangerous sinners of the world. And so it's important to keep the great powers who are the potential sinners inside the United Nations tent in the hope that you would try and mould their behaviour and make them more responsible. And of course, they're all in many ways, all the P5 have, in one way or another sinned, but still better to have them inside the tent rather than outside the tent.
So in a sense what we can say, that the record of the P5 has been imperfect, but that's precisely why you want to have them in the UN in the hope that you can change things. As we know, the last time we came too close to a nuclear war was in 1962 in the Cuban Missile Crisis. And the person who saved the day actually was the UN secretary general at the time, U Thant, and it was his dynamism and his willingness to stick his neck out and his willingness to talk to the protagonists to save the world from a nuclear war.
And I'm actually glad Antonio Gutiérrez is now going to try and do the same with Russia and Ukraine. So in terms of where we go from here after Russia and Ukraine, the paradox is that after a war like this, I think each such war actually drives home the message even to the great powers that wars are not easy.
So, for example, in the last major war that we've seen recently, when the United States invaded Iraq, everyone thought it'll be a walk over the US would just win easily, leave in great victory, and instead it proved to be a terrible, painful quagmire for the United States. In the same way, Ukraine is proving to be an even bigger quagmire for the Russians.
And you can see the Russians failing every day in their military offensives. And so it's a vivid reminder to every country in the world, think twice before you start a war. So that might be one of the paradoxical conclusions of this Russia Ukraine war. But of course like everyone in this room, I hope that the war will end soon because the Ukrainian people have obviously suffered enough.
I also want to mention that it's not that it's not just the Ukrainian people who have suffered. I have another column in The Straits Times today pointing out that Antonio Gutiérrez, the UN secretary general, has said that he used the figure 1.7 billion people suffering greater poverty as a result of the Ukraine war because that, as you know, has led to another spurt of inflation.
And inflation is what damages the poor more than anything else. If their necessities like rice and, you know, food and oil, they cannot buy.
Carma Elliot: Yes, food security.
Kishore Mahbubani: So I think that the damage of the war goes far beyond Ukraine.
Carma Elliot: Yeah. And just the sheer impact of food security for many nations, given Ukraine's role in that. And as a supplier to many. So you've given us some hope there and the juxtaposition between cold logic and human suffering. But I wonder if you can provide us with any hope around the threat, the very real threat, which is a very immediate threat of somebody who perhaps has gone rogue, let's just say that I won't use other nasty names, but has gone rogue, who has access to nuclear weapons?
Are there any other sort of frameworks, international frameworks? What tools do the world community have to avoid Russia taking recourse to what might just be tactical battlefield nuclear weapons or chemical weapons? As it would seem, a lot of the analysis is he may be becoming increasingly desperate to make progress before his victory day on the ninth of May.
So what other tools do we have to stop? Just a very simple press of a button.
Kishore Mahbubani: Well, I mean, that's that's that's exactly why I wrote the column in The Straits Times today, because I quoted the current director of CIA Bill Burns, who's actually, fortunately, someone who knows Russia very well, having served as ambassador, for him to issue the warning that Russia may be forced to use tactical nuclear weapons is, I think, a very important warning.
It shows the great importance of finding some kind of a solution to Ukraine, because at the end of the day, the sad part is that and this is why I also quoted John F Kennedy saying he never put the nuclear power into a position where its only recourse is nuclear weapons. So we never want to, in a sense, push Russia into that corner.
But then finding the right formula for peace as we all know is also very difficult. But nonetheless, what's missing so far in Ukraine is that there hasn't been an effort by anybody to launch a major peace effort in Ukraine. I hope Antonio Gutiérrez's mission takes off, but this is why I suggested India should attempt it, because you need a country that is big enough and strong enough and independent enough.
And of course, you've got to find a country that's trusted by both sides. And India is the only country, frankly, as far as I know, that is trusted by Washington, DC, and Moscow. It's the only one I think. So therefore, in that sense, I hope that this is my way of nudging India into trying to do something, because Peace doesn't come naturally once the logic of war starts, it becomes very difficult for either side to retreat because neither side wants to be seen to be defeated.
So you need some other force to come in to provide peacemaking. And here I hope that if there is any long term lesson we should take away from the Ukraine war, it is that we, we just don't invest enough in peace. Peace is so important. We take it for granted. It's always like oxygen in the air.
But actually peace requires a lot of effort.
And that that's something that has not been done enough in the world. So I hope that that's the big lesson from Russia and Ukraine.
Carma Elliot: So you've exposed my failure to read the media this morning when I first joined the Foreign Office actually there were two pieces of advice that my boss, my then boss gave me, which was always have a speech in your back pocket because you never know whether you walk into a room and somebody will open the brochure and somebody will say, keynote speech - Carma, and you hadn't expected it.
The second one was always read the newspapers at 7 o'clock in the morning. So I've been very busy today and I haven't read today's article, but I think the questions that I was planning to ask bring that article very much to life. So I apologise for not reading.
Kishore Mahbubani: I should have alerted you. I'm sorry.
Carma Elliot: No, no, no. That's alright. I wasn't trying to hold you to account, but it does remind me of the old days where every morning you get up and just make sure what the headlines were before you said anything. And then I think, you know your point that India is potentially the only country trusted by both sides.
I wonder if that takes us on to a conversation actually about what role China could and should play or maybe could have played if, in fact, they hadn't signed a No Limits partnership with Vladimir Putin just a couple of months ago. Is China now in a role to persuade Russia to step back? Putin's wager seems to have exposed the fact that perhaps the Chinese regime too quickly and, you know, went into that partnership without really thinking that that might have an impact on their long term relationship and its rivalry with the U.S. overall as well. Do you think China still has a role to play?
Kishore Mahbubani: Oh, it can, but I think the Chinese for a start, if you talk of the winners and losers from this Ukraine contest, so far, China has been a loser in many dimensions. So the first is that I think President Xi Jinping is, as you know, having a major party convention later this year where you will see a renewal of President Xi's term for an unprecedented third term.
So what China wants is calm and stability in 2022. Instead China is having a perfect storm. Actually having two perfect storms. One is the erosion of the zero COVID policy in China, which is going to be very, very difficult, and then managing Ukraine, which has got tremendous consequences. So in that sense, China has lost. They wanted calm and stability.They didn't get it.
And number two, Russia, as you said, is a partner of China. Russia has been wounded. So this is a second loss for China. And then thirdly, of course, from China's geopolitical interests it's better to deal with the United States and Europe as two independent actors. Now, there's been a re-galvanisation of Western solidarity, and so that's a third loss for China.
So I can assure you that the Chinese are not happy about this war. And clearly this has been a setback for them. But at the same time, there's a limit to how much influence China can exercise on Russia, because Russia is very much an independent actor. But, you know, recently when the Prime Minister of Singapore was in the US, he was asked in an interview, how do you get China on board? And I thought the Prime Minister of Singapore gave a very good answer. He says a lot depends on how you frame the issue.
If you frame the issue in terms of the UN charter and saying it is wrong for countries to invade and occupy other countries, then China as a signatory to the UN charter would say, yes, we believe in the principles of the UN Charter and we can support the principles of the UN Charter. But alternatively you frame it as a contest between democracies and autocracies.
Then you're saying automatically China is on the other side, so once you push China to the other side then you cannot enrol China to be a player, but at the end of the day, I think that from the Chinese point of view, and this also reflects the Chinese psyche. OK, the Chinese don't like chaos. They don't like instability, they don't like uncertainty. They would like to have a greater degree of predictability.
So any moves that are taken effectively to bring an end to this Ukraine issue I think, would be welcomed by China. So China will not block a peace settlement in Ukraine. China will support a peace settlement in Ukraine only because it's in the Chinese interest to do so. And that's how I think they would be able to do it. But this is, as you know, the other big issue, the other big elephant in the room is that when future historians look at the Ukraine issue, they'll see it as a sideshow.
The really big contest going on now is, of course, between the world's number one power, which is the United States and the world's number one emerging power, which is China. That's the geopolitical contest that's going to drive the history of the 21st century. So Ukraine is a sideshow from the perspective of long term historians. And from the point of view of the Chinese also, if this can settle down and move aside, they want to focus on what they want to do.
Carma Elliot: That's a very brutal cold logic when it comes to the people of Ukraine. So if Ukraine is indeed, you know, a proxy war for the conflict and competition between the US and China, the longer it goes on, it's difficult to see how that will be resolved. Do you genuinely think, without putting you on the spot a bit, that Antonio Gutiérrez has it within his scope to bring this to, at least the most violent of the interactions, to a quick end.
Kishore Mahbubani: Well, I think the thing about resolution of international conflicts is that they don't happen when either one side or the other side thinks they are winning, and they think they won over the passage of time, they're going to have a victory. So it's very important that both sides reach the conclusion, "Actually, I'm better off declaring victory and stopping the war now."
And sadly depends on who's suffering the most. But I think the key point to note is: wars are brutal.
And to prevent brutal wars you have to be very hard headed and very realistic because that's the only thing that prevents war.
You know, as I said at the very beginning, you need idealism but you need to be hardheaded. So at the end of the day, the challenge for Antonio Gutiérrez is to come out with a formula in which neither side appears to be the total loser and neither side appears to be the total winner. That's the only formula that can work.
So both sides must be seen to have lost something and both sides must be seen to have won something. But what I said again and I'm sorry, this column today is that Henry Kissinger actually proposed a peace formula for Ukraine in 2014.
It's actually a three part formula. We're back to three parts. The first part is the people of Ukraine must be free to choose their own destiny, whatever form of government they want to have, whatever union they want to join, they should be free. They should have that freedom and then, the point number two that Henry Kissinger made in 2014 eight years ago, Ukraine should not join NATO because there's no reason why it should do so if it can preserve its security without joining NATO.
And then point number three there must be a reconciliation between the eastern and western halves of Ukraine. And they've got to find a way of living with each other over the long term. And I personally think that a formula along those lines is still possible. There are ways and means of doing that.
So in that sense, as you know, Ukraine is in a sense gaining something, is getting the freedom to do whatever they want to do, have its own political system, join the European Union and then it loses something or so because it doesn't join NATO. So that is the kind of formula that you need to have. It's painful. It's difficult.
But if you want to resolve wars, there are only painful formulas. There are no painless formulas for ending wars.
Carma Elliot: Well, thank you, nonetheless, for giving us some hope. I hope Antonio Gutiérrez calls on you to help us to resolve this issue. Turning now to China more generally, you mentioned the dislike of chaos in China and I wondered if we could talk a little bit about the chaos that China may be seen to be creating elsewhere in the world.
And if you look at for example, look at Sri Lanka now, where there seems to be a perfect storm of that impact on the cost of living crisis, but also linked into the debt trap. China's legacy is being writ large there, I think, in that area of crisis. So the impact of the Belt and Road initiative and the big focus on that, you know, those trading lanes and the debt trap that Sri Lanka had already referenced, you know, they already indicated that they were starting not to be able to repay their loans and so on.
Do you think that with its eyes on what's happening in Ukraine as a sort of proxy for its relationship with the US, is China currently equipped and ready to play its role as a world player in resolving those kind of crises, which itself has helped to create?
Kishore Mahbubani: Well, I would say that I would give the people of Sri Lanka more agency over their destiny. And when countries get into problems, the easiest thing to do is to blame an outsider. The hardest thing to do is to acknowledge responsibility for your own mistakes. And, you know, I remember when I was first ambassador to the U.N. in the 1980s, you know, when third world countries got into trouble, they would blame their former colonial masters and then I would say, "Yes, you can but at the end of the day, what have you done to take care of yourself?"
So I think that countries succeed and prosper on the basis of their own actions. And in the dealings with a foreign country, it is how you manage yourself. So, for example, another country that was in deep trouble, OK, that was almost insolvent, a country called Greece, that was a member of the European Union and Greece found at the end of the day that a partnership with China in the port of Piraeus helped Greece recover its economy.
So what happens when you engage in a partnership with other countries? Depends on your actions as much as the actions of the other power. But on this debt trap diplomacy, there's actually a very thoroughly researched academic, peer reviewed paper by a Columbia University Professor called Deborah Brautigam, which I commend to you all, because it points out very clearly what are the myths and realities of the debt trap diplomacy.
And so if you take the Sri Lankan case, in the end, the question is, did the Chinese take advantage of the Sri Lankans or the Sri Lankans take advantage of the Chinese? And you can make a very strong case that the Sri Lankans actually took advantage of the Chinese. it is all very complicated, but put it very simply, first of all, the Sri Lankans got a loan to build a port so they built a port, they've got a port, then the Sri Lankans couldn't pay the loan. So what do they do? They lease the company out to the Chinese and now the Sri Lankans are not paying the loan. It's the Chinese paying the loan to the Chinese and Sri Lanka's got a port.
And so Sri Lankans are saying I got a port, the Chinese are paying the Chinese, I'm not worse off. All these issues are a little bit more complicated.
But I do think that at the end of the day, the one lesson for all third world countries, the big lesson they should take away from Sri Lanka is always watch your fiscal situation very, very carefully. And as you know, countries in Southeast Asia, the reason why they suffered so much in the 1998 Asian financial crisis is because they were not careful.
And that's why Thailand went down. Malaysia went down and Indonesia went down. And you notice that in the latest round of turbulence, many of the countries that suffered in the Asian financial crisis are not suffering now because they learned the lessons. And Sri Lankans, I think are going to learn a big lesson from this crisis and in future be much more careful with their management of their domestic situation.
So I think it's very important for all countries to take responsibility for their actions rather than to blame somebody else.
Carma Elliot: Thank you. So you've given me some homework. Thank you very much. And the lesson that we need to dig deeper beyond the headlines and your story about the port is a very clear example of that. And I'd like to come back again to the issue of nuclear and nuclear weapons. And with nuclear at the top of the agenda, again, talk about the Korean Peninsula, if I may? If Kim Jong Un is able to militarise his nuclear capability, what kind of reach does he actually have?
And there's a lot of scare stories about what's actually happening in terms of nuclear weapons there and how far they could reach. Who is it who needs to be worried about that? And again, you know, traditionally, China's had a role to play in either hosting those peace talks around the Korean Peninsula and denuclearisation. Does China still have that same role to play there as well?
Kishore Mahbubani: Well, you know, the Korean issue is very complicated and if you asked the Koreans, especially the North Koreans, which country they fear most, uou'd be surprised to discover that they're more worried about China than they are of the United States. So even though in theory, China and North Korea are allies, they're very uncomfortable allies. And I know having spoken to many senior diplomats who have worked on the Korean issue, that it's not a straightforward, simple thing where North Korea is aligned with China completely and that the players have got much more complex positions. So the one thing, though, that you can say about the Korean Peninsula is that it shows the importance of diplomacy and I actually think that when the final verdict is written on Donald Trump, it'll be mostly negative, by the way. But one of the few positive things that Donald Trump did was to go and talk to the North Korean leader.
Both of you and I have been diplomats. I can assure you that there is no substitute for face to face conversations. And the fact that Donald Trump actually tried to have two or three rounds of conversation with Kim Jong Un was, I think, a positive development. Unfortunately, the follow through wasn't there.
And that's a weakness of Donald Trump. I actually think that when the North Koreans carry out these missile tests, it's a way of getting attention. And so in some ways, if you can continue talking to them directly, all the time, then it's possible to find ways and means of stabilising the situation because I think nobody wants a war in the Korean Peninsula, especially since North Korea now has nuclear weapons. We know that for a fact.
So if you want to avoid a war, again, the solution is not a dreamy idealistic solution. It's going to be, again, very painful and difficult and messy. And we'll have to live with North Korea for a few more decades until the situation evolves. And so if you're going to live with North Korea for a few more decades, I actually have advocated several times that the first thing the United States should do is to establish diplomatic relations with North Korea, because diplomacy was invented two or 3000 years ago to enable you to talk to your enemies and not to your friends.
Because when you talk to your friends, you don't you don't need diplomatic immunity because friends don't chop off your heads, but enemies chop off your heads. So diplomacy, the concept of diplomatic immunity was invented to enable enemies to talk to each other. So I actually think that the United States could go ahead and establish diplomatic relations with North Korea, that would actually be a small step towards stabilising the situation, which, by the way, an opportunity was provided, I think way back in 1992-93, when, as you know, North Korea got mad a as hell when communist China established diplomatic relations with the Republic of South Korea. So when China established relations with South Korea, United States should have established relations with North Korea. And that would have created a more stable situation. But these are the kinds of things that, what is inconceivable today, are what you need to do if you want to keep the peace in the Korean Peninsula.
Carma Elliot: And so 74 years after the Korean War, it's still technically the peninsula is still at war with each other. And if it's another couple of decades, who is it who is still actually talking? So you said keeping up the talks. If it isn't Donald Trump, is there anybody and it isn't China, who is having those conversations with the Koreans or has that opportunity perhaps died away a little bit with diplomats being withdrawn because of COVID and so on?
Is there anybody who's having those conversations at the moment?
Kishore Mahbubani: Well, that's the challenge today, that those conversations are not happening. But I sense I'm giving lots of bad news. Let me drop bits of good news once in a while. And the one piece of good news that will surprise you all is that North Korea is actually a very rational actor. It is not mad.
It's not suicidal. So North Koreans will do various things to get attention, but I don't think they will randomly go and start off a nuclear war because they know that they will also lose in a nuclear war. So therefore, if you can get some people to talk to North Korea, that will make a difference. But of course, now the Ukraine war is a major distraction because in the past, there used to be the I think the six party talks in which Russia was also a member.
So those are the kind of frameworks that have been established that should be revitalised once again.
Carma Elliot: Perhaps after the Party Congress and China, when we have some clarity on what's happening there, that might be an opportunity to reestablish those talks. I had the privilege of working in North Korea for some time as well on people to people relations. And I think there's this great hope when you connect with educating for peace, obviously in that context was about teaching English and playing football, in fact, with North Korea, a lover of football. And building that trust and understanding in that way in the job that I was doing at that time. And I think, you know, that's very important in the UWCSEA context. And UWC more generally. The various initiatives that there are for peace and from a very young age teaching our students that peace begins with me, with us.
And we've talked a lot about student agency over the last couple of days. And the new executive director of the international office has spoken very much directly to the students individually about how needed they are now to bring to bear the teaching and learning that they are receiving about peacemaking and post-conflict situations as well. So we have a lot of hope in the room.
So thank you for ending on a note of hope as well about North Korea. And I can see Sinead is there too. So I think if we can take some questions from the room, don't be shy and I think in particular if we have any of our essay writers here, I know one of them wrote about a North Korean situation. But I can see Kevin has his hand up over there. Kevin, did you have your hand up, Kevin, on the microphone here.
Kishore Mahbubani: Some students in front.
Speaker 5: Hi, thank you very much. That was a very inspiring session. I wanted to ask about the key blockers to establishing diplomatic relations, because peace is in a sense about trust between different sides. Do you think there is a role that the media, academia and governments should play in terms of actually moving away from the zero sum mentality of perhaps demonising a different country for autocracy or any other norm and actually say, hang on, this language we use in diplomacy really does matter. And the way we talk to opponents that are political opponents, they also matter. So what are the key blockers for establishing diplomatic relations without seeming weak to your domestic voter base, for example, in America? But I would like to ask that question. Thank you.
Kishore Mahbubani: Yeah, well, that's an excellent question. And the paradoxical answer to your question is that if you actually trust each other, you don't need to have diplomatic relations. The fact is, when you distrust each other, it's when you fear each other, when you think the worst of each other, that's when you need to have diplomatic relations. Because diplomacy - and I keep emphasising this - was invented to enable you to talk to enemies and not to friends.
And actually, the paradox about our world and I may come across as being very critical of the United States, but it is actually bizarre that the world's most advanced, most sophisticated society with the best universities in the world, with the best media in the world, doesn't know the ABC of diplomacy. The ABC of diplomacy is if a country is an enemy you establish diplomatic relations and you can talk to an enemy.
And that's why diplomacy was invented. But of course, the United States works on the basis that if you're not my friend, I cannot establish diplomatic relations. So, for example, with Iran, which is another potential enemy, United States, should establish diplomatic relations. Of course there is a chapter of 1979, the Iranians actually did a terrible thing in imprisoning American diplomats and so on and so forth. But that was an unfortunate chapter. You still got to move on and do something else. So I actually, I believe that if every country in the world established diplomatic relations with every other country in the world, it's a better world because at the end of the day we all have to talk to each other, especially when we disagree with each other and not when we agree with each other.
So that's why I actually believe in that sense, when I was a diplomat, paradoxically, I didn't realise the value of diplomacy, but after leaving, after stopping my diplomat career, I said, actually that was a great profession because I got to talk to my adversary. And I will give you a simple example of how personal contacts help a lot.
When I was ambassador to the U.N., from 84 to 89, every year, Singapore and Vietnam would fight headlong in the UN because Vietnam had invaded, occupied Cambodia, Singapore had opposed the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia so we got to know each other very well when the war ended, because we knew each other so well. We became very good friends.
And we became good friends by arguing with each other.
So that's what diplomacy is. So that's why I really believe that all countries, I mean, it doesn't matter, any country, if you have a problem with another country, establish diplomatic relations.
Carma Elliot: Thank you for the question. Anymore? I think Kevin has a question.
Speaker 6: Thank you for speaking earlier about how China is challenging American hegemony because I'm very interested in that topic given I have Chinese friends and also family in Taiwan. How do you think the Taiwan issue would play out in the conflict between China and America? And do you think it will be a flashpoint for war?
Kishore Mahbubani: If you ask me to name the issues that are most likely to start a nuclear war today, number one on the list is not Ukraine. Number one on the list is Taiwan. Because if Taiwan declares independence, as you know, Taiwan - it's important for you to know this - Taiwan declares it is the Republic of China.
So Taiwan claims that it is the real government of all of China. It's a myth, but it's a very important myth because then you have two countries saying I represent China, but if Taiwan drops that and Taiwan says I'm now an independent sovereign state, then I guarantee you that China will declare war on Taiwan. And if China declares war on Taiwan and the United States gets involved, that could lead to a nuclear war.
So that's why the Taiwan issue is very, very dangerous. And therefore, to prevent a war over Taiwan, the best thing to do is don't change the status quo. Let the status quo remain. It's an unsatisfactory status quo. But sometimes unsatisfactory status quos are better than the alternative which can lead to war. And as you know right now, the people of Taiwan have enjoyed over 70, 75 years of peace.
And they have grown, they have developed. And, you know, I've been to Taiwan many times. The Taiwanese people lead a very good life, a very good life. And they're all peaceful, they're happy. And so let's not disrupt the status quo. I would say something very dangerous that happened recently was when the former Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, advocated in a speech in Taiwan that United States should recognise Taiwan as a separate independent country.
If that is done, that will start a war. So I think for those of us who don't won wars, sometimes just leave things as they are. Don't try and change things because then you start a war. And you never know what's going to happen.
Carma Elliot: So the importance of an imperfect peace, another example of over 75 years of imperfect peace. That's right. I think we have another question from Sinead?
Sinead Collins: I'm actually asking a question on behalf of one of the students who was long listed for the essay competition. I wrote regarding the situation in Kashmir. Between India and. Pakistan. My question is very simple. How do you see that situation panning out, given the geopolitical significance of India that Kishore mentioned earlier?
Kishore Mahbubani: There are many, many flashpoints in the world that remain because these are in a sense, it's what they call the debris of history. You know, whether it's Israel, Palestine, it's on the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan, you know, and one of the areas where conflict can break out is definitely Kashmir. Because you have two rival claims. As you know, India claims all of Kashmir.
Pakistan claims all of Kashmir. The claims are incompatible and therefore you can have a potential war. By the way, in every problem area, there is at least a viable theoretical solution. And the viable theoretical solution for Kashmir, which in a sense both sides have tried to inch forward to a few times, was basically accept the line of control. Again it's an imperfect peace, but accept it.
Don't try and change it, because if you try to change it or have some other kind of formula, it will not result in peace. And by the way, a couple of times India and Pakistan came quite close to accepting that reality. But then events happened and they never succeeded in doing so. But I hope over time that's what will happen that they will basically say, let's accept the line of control and we learn to live with that, but keep it peaceful.
And then you maybe then also allow people on both sides of the Line of Control or Kashmiris to be able to flow and talk to each other and interact with each other. That's the kind of thing that can be done. It's an imperfect solution.
Sinead Collins: Thank you. I think we have time for one, maybe two more questions.
Speaker 7: Hi. First of all, thank you, Kishore, for sharing your thoughts and perspectives with us here today. I'm a UWC parent, and I wanted to go quickly back to the China Ukraine invasion question, which is, you know, as you pointed out, I think China has been one of the losers of the Ukraine invasion for the reasons you articulated. I think more generally, you said China doesn't like chaos or disorder.
And then finally, you know, given I think there's a fundamental respect that China has for national sovereignty and from that sense, I think Putin's invasion should be viewed by China as deeply offensive to one of their core values. And so I guess in light of all that and given Xi Jinping's desire to secure a third term, is there not a case to be made for China to be more proactive in terms of trying to help resolve the situation, which, you know, I think as Carma pointed out, has resulted in the dislocation of a quarter of the Ukrainian population and is now fuelling inflation, which is threatening further global instability.
Is there not a chance here for China to step up and become a real problem-solver and potentially even a peacemaker?
Kishore Mahbubani: It's a very, very good question. But as I said earlier, to become a peacemaker, you must enjoy the trust of both sides. So China today enjoys the trust of Moscow. It doesn't enjoy the trust of Washington, D.C. Washington, DC sees China as its number one geopolitical rival. So in that sense, it'd be difficult for China to play a kind of mediation role.
But that's why India can play the mediation role, because India is trusted by Moscow and trusted by Washington, D.C.. But I think what China can do is at least do things quietly behind the scenes to be helpful. You know, and the good news is that the Chinese are still maintaining, as you know, their diplomatic relations with Ukraine, talking to Ukraine trying to be helpful in ways so that if there's a peace settlement and of course, as part of the peace settlement, you're going to
need a major reconstruction campaign of Ukraine, for sure. And that's where China can come in and say, OK, maybe we'll be helpful here and we'll have to reconstruct Ukraine as part of the settlement that will happen. So these are the kind of things that I think China can do.
Carma Elliot: I think we had another question here.
Speaker 8: Thank you. Kishore, I had the pleasure of listening to you a few months ago at East Campus, and I heard you talk about China's century of humiliation. And one of the reasons why they might be acting a little aggressively against certain nations, especially with their claims in the South China Sea against Taiwan and even Hong Kong. And my question to you is, there are multiple flashpoints, as you said, especially concerning China, whether it's India or China, the South China Sea, Taiwan, even the Korean Peninsula.
And there is a continuing geopolitics game going on between China and the US. So my question was, would you foresee for China in the coming century and as it shapes up to become a global superpower, how do you think its actions will become more aggressive or defensive, or how do you think they're going to be acting in the next few months, and how do we resolve those flashpoints that are existing currently?
Kishore Mahbubani: That's a very good question. And the answer to the question of how China will behave when it becomes the number one power in the world. And let me make one thing very clear, OK?
You've seen the American Century, the American Century is going to end and then you will have I call it the Asian Century. But a major part of the Asian century will, of course, be China and China's role in it. But how China will behave when it becomes the number one power will depend on how it is treated as it rises to become the number one power.
And for quite a long time, especially in the early phases, when China was not seen as a threat by the United States. The United States actually, paradoxically, was the chief enabler of China's return. It was Kissinger's visit in 1971 and the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States in 79, if I'm correct. And then the admission of China into the WTO, all these critical steps taken by the United States that enabled China to rise.
And as a result of that, if you had gone to Beijing around that time, you would have seen a lot of goodwill towards the United States of America. And so it was a happy China that was emerging. Today. As you know, a major geopolitical contest has begun. You can figure it out. You can dispute when it started.
It certainly started when the trade war began. But now the United States clearly is trying to stop China from becoming number one and then taking various actions against China. So the net result is going to be an unhappy China. And that's what worries countries in this region the most. We don't expect a happy China, but we want a stable, predictable China as our long term neighbour in this neighbourhood.
So what we would like actually is for the United States to continue engaging China in addition to whatever competition it is doing. And indeed, I was on a panel recently and an Australian academic said something I don't know whether you would agree or not, Carma, she said that at the end of World War Two, when the British saw very clearly at the end of World War Two, that in the early 20th centuries, the British and Americans had some degree of parity as great powers. As by the end of World War Two
America was here and the British were here. So what the British did to manage a power that was much more powerful than them was to wrap America up in a series of multilateral agreements like the UN Charter, like the Bretton Woods institutions and so on and so forth, so this Australian academic said that's exactly what the United States should be doing to China today.
It should be wrapping China up in multilateral instruments, institutions that will then constrain or contain, constrain China. And that would be the wisest policy for the United States to do. By the way, even if you look at one of my books, Great Convergence, President Bill Clinton also made that suggestion in a speech in Yale in 2003. So in response to your question on how China will behave.
If we handle China well, as it is emerging, we may get a happy China that is constrained by multilateral institutions. But if on the other hand, you have an all out contest between the US and China, which I'm trying very hard in my writings to avoid, then you will have an unhappy China and you will be an unhappy world. So how China will emerge depends on us as much as it depends on China.
Carma Elliot: I think we are ending on a happy note in that, you know, you referred back to Nixon's visit to China in 1971, a very important anniversary 50 years ago, like 50 years of UWCSEA. And I wonder what people were saying to Nixon at that time. I think we know and you know, we're asking those same questions of American leaders now as to what role they want to play in their relationship with China for the benefit of the wider world.
So we come back to a sense of hope. I'm feeling very hopeful at the end of this conversation. So thank you, Kishore, as always, and thank you for taking questions from the audience as well. And I think this is just going to say a few final words of thanks.
Lizzie Bray: I don't know about you, but my brain is both exhausted and energised at the same time. We've had two amazing days and it's been absolutely fantastic to hear directly from you again. Carma, Kishore, thank you very much. The audience, both our online audience and those of you who are here live and in person. Thank you for your participation.
I've enjoyed every minute of it. I hope you have as well. And we're back! Covid's gone. Thank you.
We're just going to have a final few words as a closing from Carrma. So just five more minutes.
Carma Elliot: Thank you. Thank you. I know that there are those in the audience who have a plane to catch, including me. So I just wanted to say a few words so that I can also thank those who are responsible for putting on and supporting two remarkable days of dialog. So we've had two days, six keynotes, two partners on our platforms with their contributions to the dialog.
27 other sessions, tens of thousands of engagements online. And of course, as we heard - more to come on social media, we hope, on YouTube with Kishore's final panel discussion. As Faith Abiodun said to our students, "You are needed perhaps now more than ever." And he emphasised so many times "you are needed." UWCSEA's values which shape our teaching and learning and the exhortation by Kurt Hanh our founder - that there is more in us - were also key themes in our session on the future of work with Forrest Li, so bringing to life what was said so many years ago about how our students are needed and there is more in us as teachers and parents and students themselves and preparing themselves for their lives ahead. We've had such rich scenes of discussion which increasingly have become interwoven in that way.
We've talked about our mission, our values, so much to reflect upon. Howard Gardner's three components of good work, the triple helix of ENA - excellence, ethics and engagement - resonated with so many in the audience and online. When talking about change, Andreas Schleicher talked about the need to learn and the need to unlearn if we were going to move forward for the future.
And fittingly, we finished on educating for peace, a topic sadly for all times as we discussed. Musimbi Kanyoro, our chair of the International Board. We thank you so much for your challenge to us as well in the course of the last two days to reflect on what makes a movement and what sustains a movement? What is it about the networks that we wish to build and maximising the networks that we've learned from these last two days?
The movement is alive and well. As we've heard over the last two days. There's much for us still to do to make it perfect, but maybe we need to settle for the imperfect. And I think one of the most hopeful things I've heard over the last two days is that discussion about what constitutes not just a movement but a UWC education, and the fact that discussion was had that it's not just ours, it is for the world.
And perhaps we need to shout a little bit louder about it, but also allow for what Amala is doing which is, as Musimbi said and as Faith said, that too is a UWC education because we share those values and it's part of being a movement and part of being networks which are taking a UWC education to so many who might not otherwise have what is a fantastic privilege for some but a fantastic necessity for so many others.
So we are a proud member of the UWC movement. We were the first to create a movement by being the second college because Atlantic was on its own at that stage. And so on our 50th anniversary, it remains for me to thank the many people who've contributed. I probably can't and shouldn't name them all, but I am going to name the significant names of those who brought the last two days to us.
And made it happen and brought it to life, and who will help us to sustain the messages going forward. So let me just go through: Tina Tsai, Ben Morgan, Amin Neghavati, Kate Woodford,, Lucy Snape, Ali Anasahin, Sinead Collins, Lizzy Bray, , Nick Alchin, Jill Kaplan, Rene Gallant, Malika Ramdas, Lauren Binstead, Sahiful Rashid, and so many others that I simply can't mention, but those are the ones that I'm aware of and have seen.
So busy supporting the media, the coms, the tech teams, the parents associations as well. Our Board of governors, all of the teachers and leadership teams as well, who in so many ways, in order to set up the forum and to bring it to life, have all been volunteers on top of what our everyday very busy day job.
So from the bottom of my heart, I thank you. And I know that those who have attended and those who've joined online would wish to thank you in person if they could as well. And the movement also I think thanks all of you very much for giving us the opportunity to say what does it mean to be a UWC?
What does it mean to be a movement? And the fact that Faith was able to look our students in the eye around the world and say, "you are needed." So thank you very much.