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  • IDFR Distinguished Lecture Series 2023: Professor Kishore Mahbubani

IDFR Distinguished Lecture Series 2023: Professor Kishore Mahbubani

DLS 2023 main

This year, IDFR kicked off its first instalment of the Distinguished Lecture Series, featuring the renowned Professor Kishore Mahbubani, on July 6, 2023. The lecture titled “When Elephants Fight, Will ASEAN Get Trampled?” was held at IDFR Auditorium with the attendance of 188 participants from various organisations, including diplomatic corps, government officials, corporate leaders, and members of academia from think tanks and universities. 20 officers from Malaysian Missions abroad have also joined the lecture online.

Professor Mahbubani is a Distinguished Fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, and holds 33 years of experience in the area of diplomacy with the Singapore Foreign Service. Among the highlights of his diplomatic career are serving as Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, two stints as Singapore's Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN), and also serving as President of the UN Security Council.

Professor Mahbubani has also authored nine books including best-sellers such as “Can Asians Think?”, “The Great Convergence”, “The ASEAN Miracle” and “Has the West Lost It?”. His latest book titled “Has China Won?”, and “The Asian 21st Century” was released in January 2022.

The event commenced with a welcoming remark by Dato’ Dr Shazelina Zainul Abidin, Director General of IDFR, and was moderated by Dato Dr Ilango Karuppannan, Adjunct Professor at University Malaya and also former Malaysia’s High Commissioner to Singapore.

During the one-hour talk, Professor Mahbubani enlightened the audience with one of today’s central subject matters - the geopolitical tensions between the United States (U.S.) and China and the role of ASEAN amid the great power competition. The topic was said to be chosen given that ASEAN is facing a huge threat from the geopolitical contest which will continue to accelerate for years to come.

Comparing ASEAN to a Ming vase, he emphasised that the regional organisation is valuable and successfully exceptional, as exemplified by its economic growth, Global FDI, and growing trade relations with the US and China. While many speculate about the life span of ASEAN, Professor Mahbubani alluded to the fact that it has survived until now amid various predicaments, as compared to other regional organisations that went their separate ways.

In describing “the elephants” as the US-China rivalry, Professor Mahbubani pointed out an intriguing fact that there is no common narrative of the geopolitical contest that affects every country in different ways. He believed that the breakout of the contest stemmed from the iron law of geopolitics, which has been around for 2000 years, such that no great power will give up its number one position.

Professor Mahbubani highlighted the priceless value of ASEAN, which needs to be protected to avoid being crushed in geopolitical competition. He concluded his lecture by saying that “it is very important for us to understand how precious ASEAN is, and this is why we have to pay attention to these two elephants because they are about to destroy something precious to us”.

The lecture wrapped up with an engaging Q&A session with the audience and was followed by a private networking dinner at the Pullman Hotel Kuala Lumpur.

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Prepared by:
Ms. Hanun Insyirah Ishak and Ms. Aida Yasmin Azhar
Centre for Political Studies and Economic Diplomacy (PSED)

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