Asian countries such as China, Malaysia, Japan, and the Republic of Korea (ROK) rank above the United States in a global leadership responsibility index.
The index (GLRI), worked out by the United Nations University International Leadership Academy, reflects three areas of global responsibility - war and human rights, corruption perception and environment.
Western opinion usually presents Asia as having a poor record in those aspects, but from this first comprehensive examination of international data, the statistics present a different picture.
The GLRI, in which the US ranks only 15th, is based on data showing the conduct of political and commercial leaders. It includes ratifications of human rights and other international agreements, Transparency International's corruption indices, and environmental assessments such as the Ecological Footprint. The index appears in a new book published last month in London called "Leadership Accountability in a Globalizing World."
The reasons why some Asian countries rank above the United States are straightforward. First, although leaders might sign international agreements, they often fail to ratify them.
The United States is not then bound by the standards that its leaders encourage other countries to adopt. Washington ratified neither of the United Nations Human Rights Covenants at their inception. In contrast, the "axis of evil" countries - Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea - ratified both. Even if the United States ratifies international agreements, Americans cannot use US courts to hold their political leaders accountable for their own agreements.
Second, although China's environmental problems are serious and growing, when analyzed in relation to size of population, China uses proportionately less resources and creates lower global environmental impacts than the United States per capita.
Finally, the US unilateral military intervention in other countries has involved considerable violence.
In contrast with Western rhetoric, those Asian countries has progressively detached themselves from war and violence. There are major ongoing disputes in the region, but in the past 50 years, there have been remarkably few related deaths. In contrast to the 1,373 military deaths from border skirmishes in the Korea Peninsula since 1953, there were 3,500 deaths in tiny Northern Ireland and around 2,600 military and 34,000 civilian deaths in just two years resulting from the US-led occupation of Iraq.
Perhaps the difference stems from an ethic expressed in "The Art of War" by Chinese author Sun Tzu 2,500 years ago: "The supreme act of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting."
The low ranking of the United States in the responsibility index does not arise from a methodological flaw. None of the data could reflect jealous or vindictive perceptions of US leaders. If anything, the methodology should give the United States an advantage, because it measures participation in the international institutions that were set up and nurtured by US leaders, not least the United Nations itself. And all the data is produced in the West, much of it by US scholars.
The world now recognizes the growing economic strength of Asia, but it fails to recognize that the region is working to achieve moral development equally quickly.
Initiatives such as the ROK's OPEN anti-corruption project and China's Discipline Inspection Commission are making in impact on international perceptions of Asian business leaders.
If China wants to continue this positive trend, can they find a better way, which embodies genuine peace-making, proper international integrity, international relations that are not based on deceit?
The author is a researcher with the Centre for International Education and Research, University of Birmingham (UK).
(China Daily 05/20/2006 page4)