Can Asians Think?

Veteran diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, Singapore's point man in the "Asian values" debate, is an exceptionally lively and provocative polemicist. Sadly, this collection of essays, written during the exhilarating days of the Asian "miracle," is now a somewhat embarrassing read as Asian nations struggle amid economic wreckage. Even more chastening is the way he chooses to advance his case. Rather than making a substantive argument for Asian economic success, he insists that the West is in decline. Most Americans will readily admit that the United States has numerous problems, but it seems a bit much to crudely call them "fatal flaws" -- Mahbubani's favorite characterization. As he would have it, Japan's economy has already surpassed that of the United States, with China's running a close third. True, the reader can sympathize with Mahbubani's desire to toot the horn of Asian economic success at a time when American triumphalism after the Cold War had become a bit grating for the rest of the world. But the challenge of understanding the modernization of Asian cultures is far too important to be treated as a debaters' game.

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