Kishore Mahbubani

Singaporean diplomat

Kishore Mahbubani (born 24 October 1948) is a Singaporean diplomat and geopolitical consultant who served as Singapore Permanent Representative to the United Nations between 1984 and 1989, and again between 1998 and 2004, and President of the United Nations Security Council between 2001 and 2002.

Kishore Mahbubani in 2008

After stepping down, he remained served as a senior advisor at the National University of Singapore while engaging in a nine-month sabbatical at various universities, including Harvard University's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation. He is currently a Distinguished Fellow at the Asia Research Institute. Between 2004 and 2017, he served as Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. In 2019, Mahbubani was elected as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Science.


  • What is truly shocking is the lack of historical knowledge of many major American strategic thinkers. They don’t seem to understand that the unipolar moment the US enjoyed for the last 30 years was an aberration. We are now returning to a multipolar world, which will be a much richer world. However, it does mean that the United States will have to learn to play a much more intelligent game globally.
  • I think that it is good for the world that China is being more of a Wolf Warrior. There is a greater danger of China remaining quiet, which would lead to its people and its leaders becoming angrier and angrier. My big message for the West is that when China emerges as the number one economy, we want to avoid it becoming an angry dragon. On the other hand, the West is shooting itself in the foot by insulting China, for example when Trump and Pompeo lectured them and launched sanctions. Beijing doesn’t believe that the West is doing all this grandstanding about China from a moral position. Instead, what they think is that when China was weak it was kicked around by the West, but now the country is strong the Western governments have decided to care about human rights there. Thus, many in China think it is a cynical ploy by the West. We must get used to the fact that China is different now, and is actually bigger than the US in terms of its GDP PPP [purchasing power parity]. As such, China cannot be expected to behave as it did in the past.
  • I think when future historians look back, they’ll be puzzled by the Western expectation that a country like China, with 4,000 years of political history, could be changed by a country like the US, with a history of fewer than 250 years. The assumption that the rest of the world will, over time, become just like the West is arrogant.
  • I consider myself a friend of America and a friend of China. And I see these two countries rushing towards a complete head-on collision from which both will suffer. I believe that if the United States could put the well-being of 330 million people in America as the number one priority; and if China puts the well-being of 1.4 billion people in China as the number one priority; then both America and China can achieve the goal of improving the well-being of their people by working together, rather than working against each other.
  • As you know, the 18th and 19th century competition between the great powers was always seen as a zero sum game — either you are number one, or I’m number one. We should be beyond that. We now live in a small, interdependent world where, apar from taking care of our own people, our number one priority should be protecting our planet, which is in peril.
  • I don’t want the West to fail, I want it to succeed. A weak and divided West is bad for the world. I am not anti-Western or anti-American. I just find that there are better ways to deal with Asia and China. The West has to realize that if history makes a turn, you cannot continue to go straight.
  • This temptation to be a free rider on American geopolitical pressure on China is understandable. It looks like an easy option, with no visible costs. However, any objective audit of the pros and cons of becoming an ally, implicitly or explicitly, of the US will show that in doing so, India would have forsaken an even bigger geopolitical opportunity to become a truly independent third pole in the global order. And the world is crying out for an independent third pole to turn to.
  • Yes, geopolitics is a cruel business. It has been cruel for over 2,000 years. The African states know well—as do other developing countries—that as the US-China geopolitical contest gains momentum in the coming de- cade, they will have to make painful choices. Since they don’t want to take sides and be forced to give up some options, they will be looking for an independent pole to light a third way for them. It will be much easier for them to resist pressure from the US and China and take the middle road if a credible independent pole has set a precedent that they can point to.
  • In short, the three chair countries, India, Indonesia and the US, face very different challenges in 2023. But if they all succeed, the world will be a far better place next year. Let’s hope that they all succeed in scoring some goals. The World Cup of diplomacy at the end will leave little doubt that it was far more significant than the World Cup of soccer.
  • This is why we should develop a new norm in international relations: leaders of major countries should automatically and unhesitatingly meet each other face-to-face when they are in the same city. Such face-to-face meetings are not that critical when relations are good. But they are critical, if not essential, when relations are bad.
  • Yet, in geopolitics we must always do two things simultaneously. We must moralise. And we must analyse. Since geopolitics is a cruel game and follows the cold and ruthless logic of power, we must be cold, dispassionate and hard-headed in our analysis. The only iron law of geopolitics is that it punishes those who are naive and ignore its cold logic.
  • Over time, China’s emergence as the world’s leading economy and power will become an undeniable reality. The big question is whether the rest of the world will prove as pragmatic as China. Most of China’s neighbors have already adapted to its pragmatism. As a result, East Asia is likely to remain calm, even as several bilateral issues and tensions simmer away under the surface.
  • Imposing sanctions may feel good. But if they are actually to do good, we must refine how they are used.
  • One cardinal mistake no small state should make is to put all its eggs into one basket, even a basket as strong as the US. Despite its huge influence, Israel cannot change the shifting geopolitical tides. America’s power has peaked: its economy will not shrink in absolute terms but it will shrink irresistibly in relative terms. This would have happened naturally but gradually. But the continuing economic crises in the US will hasten the decline in America’s influence. Shrinking budgets will cut defence and aid expenditures. A crippled economic giant with no rockets to launch its astronauts into outer space will lose its “mystique”. Countries will no longer hesitate to vote against American preferences.
Wikipedia has an article about:
Wikimedia Commons has media related to: