Thought Leader: Chan Heng Chee

October 18, 2013

ANNA KIEFER: I'm Anna Kiefer, and this is Point B.

CHAN HENG CHEE: I don't think world peace is ever possible. I'm both a Rousseauan and I'm a Hobbesian at the same time.

ANNA KIEFER: Today we feature Ambassador Chan Heng Chee. She is a professor of political science at the National University of Singapore, and a former Singaporean ambassador to the United States and permanent representative to the United Nations.

CHAN HENG CHEE:  If you think of conflict between great powers in the sense of the ideological conflict that we saw in the past between the United States and the Soviet Union—clashes between great powers—I think you will not see that. Whatever the great rivals of the future would be—the United States-China—I think it is possible to avoid conflict. But the conflict might take place through proxies. The great powers themselves may not confront each other or conflict with each other, but the conflict will be between their proxies or carried through by their allies, by their friends. That could happen.

ANNA KIEFER: Although Ambassador Chan believes wars will remain a fact of life in the future, she thinks our motivations for fighting them may change.

CHAN HENG CHEE: Because resources are scarce and finite, we will be running into a stage where countries may actually go to some conflict over scarce resources. I worry about the lack of water and whether there would be wars over water or conflict over water, if not a full-scale war. Over land—what you can grow, where you can grow, and if desertification is taking place. In Africa you can see deserts growing, taking over arable land. A lot of the African wars are because of land where you can cultivate food.

But ideological wars, the way we saw it in the past, I think that may be reduced now.

ANNA KIEFER: We also asked Ambassador Chan if she believes in a Global Ethic—a set of ethical principles shared across cultural divides. She expressed skepticism about whether this would ever be reflected in practice, but she was clear on what she would like to see.

CHAN HENG CHEE: I would like to see a global ethic emerging and accepted by all the communities in the world on women. We have declared long ago that women are equal. We recognize the equality of women. But not many countries really practice that. Even in the United States, where you have accepted it, women sitting on corporate boards are very few. The equality is not implemented in full measure.

Coming from Asia, I am really dismayed to find how women are treated in some countries, and seemingly in countries that embrace democracy, that are educated. They are up there with the science and technology. You would expect that better treatment is accorded to half their citizens, the women. And it is not.

I'm thinking of a country like India, where in the last year the cases of gang rape of women are really disturbing, are revolting, and should be condemned. It is repeated again and again. It's not condoned by the government—not at all. But that society still allows this.

ANNA KIEFER: That was Ambassador Chan Heng Chee of the National University of Singapore.