Asia Society takes half-step forward

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 May, 2011, 12:00am


No one can accuse the Asia Society of being over-hasty. After a mere 55 years, the influential body dedicated to strengthening ties between Asia and the United States has named an Asian to lead it - Hong Kong property tycoon Ronnie Chan Chi-chung.

Chan is chairman of Hang Lung Properties and very much interested in international affairs. In January last year, he wrote an article for the Financial Times that took the US and the West to task for their 'irresponsibility' in connection with the 2008 global financial crash and said it was time to 'rebalance' the financial system from West to East. It has been increasingly obvious that global power and influence have been shifting towards Asia. So we were surprised that he has to share his honour with a co-chair, a former US government official named Henrietta Holsman Fore. It is the first time since the society's founding in 1956 that it has divided the chairmanship in two.

The organisation says it decided on the joint chairmanship to 'reflect the rise of global interdependence and growing regional partnerships'. Pardon us if it feels as if it has given the Asian guy a bicycle with training wheels; it might be too wobbly a ride if he were put in control all by himself.

Such caution might have made sense a generation or two ago, when the outreach of a Western philanthropist like John D. Rockefeller III, the society's founder, seemed part of the natural order and the organisational superiority of the West could be taken for granted. But the world has shifted. And the Asia Society should hardly be the last to know it.

We congratulate Chan. And we look forward to the day when an Asian leader gets to run the Asia Society all by himself or herself.