The Closing of the European Mind

PARIS – Kishore Mahbubani, a prominent Asian voice from Singapore, and a man often highly critical of Europe, was recently asked what Asia could learn from Europe. His reply: Europe was above all the continent of peace, compassion, and cooperation.

“Asia” may not exist culturally, historically, religiously, socially, and economically, the way that Europe does. It is a much more varied continent. But “Asians” have been looking at, and reflecting upon, the European experiment for a long time. Enlightened Japanese elites are fascinated by Franco-German reconciliation. Could that model be applied to Japan’s relations with its former enemies, from Korea to China? And today, with the irresistible rise of a more assertive China, the European example of a continent where the prospect of war between traditional enemies – or contemporary rivals – has simply disappeared is more attractive than ever.

One does not naturally associate China with the quest for compassion. Yet some Chinese have recently discovered the virtues of the Nordic social model, and Chinese delegations have been coming to Oslo regularly to see what lessons they can bring home.

The reasoning of China’s elites is pragmatic: if the Chinese were reassured by the existence of a social–welfare state, they would probably save less and spend more, allowing the domestic market to take over from export-led growth. Although the European Union’s image has deteriorated, Asians still find Europe’s “sharing of sovereignty” model appealing in many ways.