Former President of the United Nations Security Council Kishore Mahbubani sees the 21st century as Asia’s century, with a great opportunity to improve the lives of billions of people, but also a great threat to the current world structure.

Please find below the transcript of the opening day speech from Kishore Mahbubani, former president of the United Nations Security Council. The following transcript has been edited for clarity:

There’s an Arab proverb which says: He who speaks about the future lies even when he tells the truth. And we all know that the future is unpredictable. I’m sure we all keep getting surprised. And yet at the same time, the paradoxical thing about our world today is that the future, I assure you, is going to be very surprising, but there are still four certainties. That’s paradoxical. We can make confident predictions about what’s coming. So in the five or ten minutes assigned to me, I’m going to speak about the four certainties about the future and one big uncertainty.

So one of the four certainties, the first certainty is that the 21st century will be the Asian century, just as the 19th century was the European century, the 20th century was the American century. The 21st century will be the Asian century, and that will be a return to the norm because from the year 1 to the year 1820 — for 1,800 of the last 2,000 years — the two largest economies of the world were always those of China and India. So the return of China and India to the center stage is normal. The 200 years of Western domination of world history was abnormal.

And through a personal quirk, I have come to discover that the world is actually getting ready for the Asian century because in early 2022, thanks to my good friend, I published a book of essays with Springer, a German publisher, called the “Asian 21st Century.” The German publisher expected 20,000 downloads of the book. Instead, in 16 months, there have been 2.9 million downloads of the book in 160 countries. The world is psychologically preparing for the Asian century.

And here, just to reinforce a key point that my good friend Andrew Sheng just made — if you look at the future of Asia, the growth will be driven by what I call the new CIA. The CIA is not the Central intelligence Agency. The CIA is China, India, and ASEAN. And remember that — the new CIA. The CIA countries make up 3.5 billion of the world’s population. Now in the year 2000, out of the 3.5 billion people, only 150 million were in the middle class. By 2020, the number had grown to 1.5 billion and increased 10 times in 20 years. And by 2030 it will grow to 3 billion people. That middle class is going to drive this growth. So that’s one certainty, the Asian century.

The second certainty, if the first one was good news, the second one is bad news. I predict, sadly, with great certainty, that the US-China geopolitical contest, which has already begun, as you know, will gain momentum over the next 10 years. A few weeks ago out in the United States, I delivered a lecture at Boston University. In that lecture, I discussed and predicted that this geopolitical contest will gain momentum because it’s driven by an iron law of geopolitics, which tells us that whenever the world’s number one emerging power, which today is China, is about to overtake the world’s number one power, which today is the United States, the number one power will push down the world’s number one emerging power. That’s the iron law of geopolitics, and you’ve seen that. And you’ve seen the trade tariffs that have been imposed. You see the Chips Act that has been passed. And I confidently predict, sadly, that there will be other measures that will come. So that’s the second certainty.

The third certainty, which also has been referred to by many of the distinguished speakers before me, is that climate change is coming. It’s real, it’s accelerating and all the things that we are doing, all the development that we’re creating — I gave you the figures of the new middle-class populations in CIA — the more they consume, the more the greenhouse gas emissions of the community. So that is something clearly we all agree we should do something about. But that’s going to be a challenge.

And the fourth certainty and that’s why we are here today, is that science and technology will continue to develop and strengthen. Now let me be very honest with all of you: I’m not an expert in this field. I was so impressed with some of you who were nodding your heads when the speaker before Andrew Sheng was speaking — Professor Jia about quantum physics — I didn’t understand a word. I couldn’t understand the equations. I didn’t know what you were talking about, but I did know that it is going to lead to a great leap forward in terms of our understanding of the world that we live in. And so in that sense, we should be seeing, we should be expecting an era of great promise.

And yet, all this brings me to my one uncertainty. The big uncertainty that the world faces is whether humanity will be wise enough to use all this information that we have, all this accumulated understanding of science and technology. Can we bring it all together to save our world and to save our planet? In theory, all of us are becoming more intelligent and have gone to universities. We studied the best theories, the best practices, we should be wiser and more capable. Yet, despite that, the big uncertainty is whether humanity is wise enough to realize that when we used to live in under 193 separate countries, it was as though we were living 193 separate boats — now all of humanity lives on one boat in 193 cabins on the same boat. If you just take care of one of our cabins, we will not save the world. We have to take care of the world as a whole.

And that’s why I’m very glad that President Xi Jinping has launched a concept of a community with a shared future. That’s what’s coming to us. Humanity is going to have a shared future. If we can all come together, the world will be a better place. If we don’t, it will be very challenging. So be ready for the uncertainties, also. Thank you very much.