Not wrong for countries to protect their interests

Professor Kishore Mahbubani's prognosis that China's entry into the World Trade Organisation is a bigger threat to the national security of the West than Islamic extremism is highly speculative, given the proliferation of terrorism worldwide, compared to a global trading order that is still functioning despite some setbacks (America is unable to admit that it will become No. 2 to China; June 9).

The Brexit sentiment failed to sway the majority of French and Dutch voters in their recent national elections.

Welfarist states like the Nordic countries can hardly be accused of betraying their socialist principles of redistributing vast wealth from the elites to the rest.

Is it so wrong for some Western countries to insist on protecting their cultural identity from negative elements, like their Asian peers are doing, given the repercussions of misguided immigration policies in Europe, the United States and even Singapore?

The "West" does not comprise merely the US and Britain.

Few can argue credibly against the net overall positive of globalisation in this more interdependent and interconnected world.

But it is just as important for government officials not to gloss over its dark sides with sweeping and simplistic optimism.

Democracy and capitalism are under stress in many countries because their application has been lopsided towards idealistic liberalism, not because their basic principles have broken down irrevocably.

There will always be winners and losers in any contest.

Win-win collaborations are certainly very good to have, but not par for the course in a level playing field of market competition.

The least that responsible politicians can and must do is create "just" conditions for their citizens to have a fighting chance of success in fulfilling their talents and aspirations, regardless of background.

The rest is really up to them.

While there are good reasons to oppose some of US President Donald Trump's administrative methods, should he be condemned for trying to secure "fairer" trade deals for his country, especially from some of the world's most rampant free riders of environmental and human capital on earth?

Whether the US, China or another country eventually becomes the biggest superpower in history is really immaterial in the broader scheme of humankind.

What underpins the status of the No. 1 power on earth?

Hopefully, the influence and substance of global leadership will be assessed by actions of enlightened self-interests, not by the size of one's population, economy or rhetoric.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2017, with the headline 'Not wrong for countries to protect their interests'. Print Edition | Subscribe