Will China continue to grow three times faster than the United States to become the No. 1 economy in the world in the decade ahead? Does China aspire to be the No. 1 power in Asia and ultimately the world? As it becomes a great power, will China follow the path taken by Japan in becoming an honorary member of the West?
Despite current punditry to the contrary, the surest answer to these questions is: No one knows. But statesmen, investors, and citizens in the region and beyond are placing their bets. And U.S. policymakers, as they shape the Obama administration's pivot to Asia, are making these judgments too. In formulating answers to these questions, if you could consult just one person in the world today, who would it be? Henry Kissinger, the American who has spent by far the most time with China's leaders since Mao, has an answer: Lee Kuan Yew.
Lee is the founding father of modern Singapore and was its prime minister from 1959 to 1990. He has honed his wisdom over more than a half century on the world stage, serving as advisor to Chinese leaders from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping and American presidents from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama. This gives him a uniquely authoritative perspective on the geopolitics and geoeconomics of East and West.
Lee Kuan Yew's answers to the questions above are: yes, yes, and no. Yes, China will continue growing several times faster than the United States and other Western competitors for the next decade, and probably for several more. Yes, China's leaders are serious about becoming the top power in Asia and on the globe. As he says: "Why not? Their reawakened sense of destiny is an overpowering force." No, China will not simply take its seat within the postwar order created by the United States. Rather, "it is China's intention to become the greatest power in the world -- and to be accepted as China, not as an honorary member of the west," he said in a 2009 speech.
Western governments repeatedly appeal to China to prove its sense of international responsibility by being a good citizen in the global order set up by Western leaders in the aftermath of World War II. But as Kissinger observes, these appeals are "grating to a country that regards itself as adjusting to membership in an international system designed in its absence on the basis of programs it did not participate in developing."