On the SOTU Address, the Rise of India, and the U.S.’s Precarious Global Position

In his new book, Professor Kishore Mahbubani, a Dean at the National University of Singapore, compares the world’s 192 countries to cabins on one boat, without a single captain. That’s not good. He took a break at Davos to speak with Fast Company.

Professor Kishore Mahbubani


You may have heard that the World Economic Forum is underway in Davos. While there, Professor Kishore Mahbubani, Dean in the Practice of Public Policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, took time to chat by phone with Fast Company about the rise of India and China and the United States’ teetering world standing.

Mahubani has a book out later this year that compares the world’s 192 countries to cabins on one boat, without a single captain. That concerns him, to say the least, and what also concerns him is that “many Asians don’t believe in the rise of Asia. Many don’t believe this is real.” His own country of Singapore is “massively investing in R&D,” he says, and “so many of the world’s leading companies are now investing in Singapore.”

For his part, Mahbubani is primarily focused on Asia’s ascent. “The world is small so we need greater global coordination and global institutions. There’s a big difference between global government, which will not happen, and global governance, which will happen.”

The outspoken professor–he says that “traditionally most Asians are very polite and don’t say what they really believe–Asian voices should be more reflected at Davos”–talked with us about the grave state of the U.S. budget deficit, the future of green technology, how the Internet is changing Asia and the world, and the miracle that is Singapore’s economy.

What struck you from Obama’s State of the Union speech? And what is the mood like at the WEF right now?

The big general comment is that those in the rest of the world are alarmed that Americans don’t seem to understand the scale of the problem and the sacrifices needed to fix the problem. This budget deficit can’t carry on forever. There is a high level of concern over the future of the U.S. economy.


Within Asia, what role will the smaller countries play?

The rise of Asia began with Japan, then the next batch came 100 years later. The rise of South Korea and Taiwan, for example, has inspired the rise of other small countries such as Indonesia.

If Nepal had a more stable government and sound economic policies, it’s in a perfect position to take advantage of the growth of China and India, being sandwiched between the two. There will be spillover effects. In Southeast Asia, the number of Chinese tourists is growing leaps and bounds.

The governments that are dynamic and innovative will do well. The ones that are not will not do well. This is the age of opportunity in Asia. This is the best period in Asian history in over 200 years. Last year Singapore’s economy grew 15%. That is miraculous.

What does the future hold for Asia in terms of green technology and green innovations?

Everyone thought green tech would be based in America and Europe, but China is leading the way. And that’s because the Chinese government is supporting investment in this area. The U.S. is not–they’re leaving that to the private sector.


The number of Internet users worldwide has reached 2 billion. How is this transforming Asia’s role in the world?

Most of the new Internet users come from Asia, and Mandarin is now the most dominant language online. This is a very good trend.

What about Central Asia? The OECD Central Asia Competitiveness Outlook is to be released today.

The main drivers will remain China and India, that’s for sure.

Related Story: Innovation Nation: Obama’s State of the Union Speech and Dambisa Moyo’s New Book Call for American Enterprise

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About the author

Jenara is an overseas reporter for Fast Company and a freelance writer/producer in Asia, regularly on CNNGo, and a graduate of Harvard and UC Berkeley.