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Fareed Zakaria and Tommy Koh: “The Unfolding 21st Century”

All PostsNewsFareed Zakaria and Tommy Koh: “The Unfolding 21st Century”

story | Kanako Sugawara, Editor

photo | Yale-NUS Public Affairs


On Oct. 31, a President’s Speaker Series event featuring Dr. Fareed Zakaria and Dr. Tommy Koh was held on campus. Titled “The Unfolding 21st Century”, Dr. Fareed Zakaria and Dr. Tommy Koh addressed a packed Performance Hall about their respective beliefs and theories regarding the progression of 21st century politics, economics, and technology.

Both Dr. Zakaria, the host of CNN’s international affairs program Fareed Zakaria GPS, and Dr. Koh, Singapore’s Ambassador-at-Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, have long been vocal advocates of Yale-NUS College: Dr. Zakaria mentioned Yale-NUS in his 2015 book In Defense of a Liberal Education, and Dr. Koh wrote an article in 2012 for the Straits Times lauding Yale-NUS as being a “timely, visionary initiative”.

The dialogue started out with a speech by Dr. Zakaria and Dr. Koh, both of whom highlighted their respective stances on the 21st century being a “Post-American Age”. Dr. Zakaria, understandably, as the author of the book The Post-American World, believed that the turn of the 21st century marked the end of American hegemony and argued that it was precisely the end of such a hegemony that is causing our current emerging geopolitical, socioeconomic challenges.

Dr. Koh, on the contrary, believed that we did not live in a post-American world yet, and that although we certainly live in a multipolar world, America and more specifically, Washington D.C., is still the center of the world. He also mentioned that although different “poles” such as China and India are becoming stronger, both have not been able to quite reach the level of America’s hegemony, which still extends from the 20th century.

The panel discussion, led by Dean Trisha Craig, went on to discuss China and India, and their respective socioeconomic transformations. Dr. Zakaria said that in the 21st century, such transformations are engineered by “globalization and information transfusion”.

He gave an example of his own experiences growing up in India in the 1960s and being cut off from the rest of the world during his childhood years, a result of “India…[being] colonized by a multinational corporation, not a country”. He also humorously recounted his experiences having to consume three to four-week old news on the daily, and seeing televisions whose single channel was dominated by Indian governmental propaganda: “They managed to introduce T.V. that no one wanted to watch.”

Dr. Zakaria also talked of seeing India open up to the West with his very own eyes, reminiscing how he and his family passed around cassette tapes with copied Dallas episodes like Soviet dissidents. Dr. Zakaria argued that even the Dallas episodes on cassette tapes contributed to information transfusion and helped open India up to the rest of the world, to a more prosperous future.

A more prosperous future, Dr. Zakaria joked, was one where his nine-year-old daughter could talk to her little friend living halfway across the world for hours while eating breakfast, especially since he still remembered a time where, as a poor college student, he had to cut off phone calls with his family at three minutes as to avoid the exorbitant costs of international calls.

Finally, the talk spanned the current spread of populism in the world, and the political situation in America. Both Dr. Koh and Dr. Zakaria concurred that the rise of populism, xenophobia, and protectionism lay in the “West [getting] indigestion from globalization”.

They argued that the common denominator for countries with rising populism was a significant population of immigrants, and that while capital accumulated around white-collar corporations, said immigrants are being disempowered, and their labor extorted.

Dr. Zakaria then joined students and faculty members for dinner in the Cendana Rector’s Commons, where students had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Zakaria.

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