by Esther Ng

05:55 AM Jun 09, 2009

Professor Wang Gungwu

HIS first love was literature, but if his professor had not returned to England, Wang Gungwu would not have become a historian, much less a distinguished one.

On Friday, Prof Wang, now 78 and the chairman of the East Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, will receive an honorary doctorate of letters from Cambridge University for his contribution to Chinese history and culture.

As a historian, Prof Wang has seen it all - from the Second World War, the Cold War, 911, right up to the present. But never in his 78 years did he predict the 1949 takeover by the Communists in China, the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, nor China's present mercurial rise to the world stage.

"As historians, we learn from history - not predict it," he said.

Still, he dismissed the notion that China will replace the United States as a superpower in the foreseeable future, even as the financial crisis brings America to its knees while China's influence continues to grow through its trade ties, especially in places such as Africa.

"China has too many problems - the environment, social equity, justice - to deal with."

On criticism from human rights groups that China was fuelling the war in Darfur with its arms sales, Prof Wang said: "China's policy is not to interfere in another country's sovereignty. Yes, they do sell arms, but they sell to everybody. But so do the French, the Americans and everybody else."

Come Friday, Prof Wang will join Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen in receiving their honorary doctorates.

From TODAY, World – Tuesday, 09-Jun-2009

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