Anis Hafar: Learning how to avoid wars

Many thanks to readers for the feedback that often follows my weekly columns. That’s how I usually scratch for ideas about what to write. Additionally, there are particular readers I tend to contact for opposing views and advice to balance my own thinking.

Without the intellectual provisos embedded in the feedback, it’s doubtful that I’d have sustained the responsive and cerebral stamina to have published in the Daily Graphic some whopping 520 articles – as of now – since the past 25 years or so.

Of course, traveling around Ghana and many parts of the world (and having for many years taught a wide range of nationalities in the United States) do help with examples, perspective, and empathy.

Peace in ASEAN countries

Following the massive physical wreckage and huge death toll in Gaza of civilians including many thousands of little children – which the International Court of Justice (ICJ) adjudicated as “plausible genocide” – I contacted Archbishop Palmer Buckle about his views for resolving the persistent chaos in the Middle East.

He said, “The essence is to find lasting peace for the generations to come.” He added, “The density of animosity in the area is such that the whole world must come together and commit to embrace peace there.”

Earlier, a reader had sent me a video interview about how the ASEAN countries have succeeded in avoiding wars among themselves. It was moderated by Orville Schell, a Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society in New York. A former Dean at the University of California – Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and a Fellow at Columbia University, he served as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

The guest was Kishore Mahbubani, a Fellow at the Asia Research Institute – National University of Singapore. He served the Singapore Foreign Service for 33 years (1971 to 2004). With various postings in Cambodia, Malaysia, Washington DC, and New York, he was Singapore’s Ambassador to the United Nations. [Slightly edited for clarity, the interview went as follows:]

Kishore Mahbubani
Kishore Mahbubani

Realities of geopolitics

Orville Schell: I think you Singaporeans and I use you as a metaphor for many people in Southeast Asia [that you] feel rather profoundly comfortable with Americans. And actually, many people feel rather uncomfortable with China. But you don’t want to express it too loudly because you don’t want to rock the boat. Fair enough, I get it. But I would love to hear you address what I think some would call China’s hegemonic pretensions in Asia, and the destabilizing effect of that throughout the entire region.

Kishore Mahbubani: Well, I can assure you that one lesson I learned after studying geopolitics for about 50 years is that the concept of a benevolent great power is an oxymoron. And there’s no such thing as a benevolent great power. All great powers, without exception (and this has only been true for 4000 years) will pursue their own interests.
There are price makers and price takers. The United States and China today are price makers. We are price takers. And if we have any kind of illusion that there’s a nice, benevolent, cuddly, great power that will look after you and sacrifice his own interests, then you’re in trouble.
Geopolitics is a very cruel game, and the countries that don’t understand geopolitics are the ones that get sucked into conflict and get sucked into problems. And here I want to add a very important point, because I think to some extent, you’re being unfair to the Southeast Asian states.
There are, at the end of the day, 660 million people living in Southeast Asia. That’s about double the population of the United States of America. And this region of the world, I want to emphasize, is the most diverse region of planet earth. Out of 660 million people, 250 million are Muslims; 150 million are Christians; 150 million are Buddhists: Mahayana- Buddhist; Hinayana-Buddhists; Taoists; Confucianists; Hindus.

Live and let live

Kishore Mahbubani: We have lots of communists also in Southeast Asia. If there was one region on planet Earth that should be destined for war and conflict – and the British describe it as the Balkans of Asia – that was Southeast Asia.
Now, can you please ask yourself a simple question? Why have there been no major wars in Southeast Asia since 79? That’s 45 years. There is a hidden genius in Southeast Asia. In ASEAN, we know how to manage geopolitics. We know how to adjust, adapt, be flexible. We know how to maintain good ties with the United States. And we do.
When President Biden invites the ten ASEAN leaders, they come, right! And when President Xi invites the ten ASEAN leaders, they go. And when Prime Minister Albanese of Australia invites ten ASEAN leaders, they go. So, if you want to learn – if you want to enter a world in which different cultures and civilizations want to learn HOW to live in peace with each other, and CAN live in peace with each other – come to ASEAN: come to Southeast Asia.
Please don’t be condescending towards this region! This region has accomplished some remarkable things that the whole world can take lessons from. And lesson number one: learn from us how to avoid wars!
[Note: The ASEAN group consists of ten countries, namely: Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam.]

DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.

DISCLAIMER: The Views, Comments, Opinions, Contributions and Statements made by Readers and Contributors on this platform do not necessarily represent the views or policy of Multimedia Group Limited.