Twenty years ago apartheid South Africa attempted to deal with the first impact of the Asian economies by ruling that the Japanese were “honorary whites” – it being unwise to suggest that Toshiba’s president should be confined to a bantustan. Asia’s rise is now so universally recognised that even much softer forms of racist thinking will not work. The people of China and India will expect to be treated as first-rate Chinese or Indians, not second-rate Europeans or Americans. Inheritors of great civilisations, and now creating the world’s most dynamic economies, they will have the muscle to enforce respect.
For those of us who believe in human equality, this is of course giant progress. Interaction with the cultural richness of the rest of Europe has already liberated us from the shackles of “Africa begins at Calais”. A truly global cultural exchange will open still greater horizons. That which is best in our culture – its contributions to universal civilisation – will survive. Any traits that do not deserve to survive – narrowness, insularity, racism – will be undermined by brutal economic facts.