7/17/18: Benjamin D. Hopkins Participates in Borderlands Studies World Conference in Vienna and Budapest

Dr. Benjamin D. Hopkins, Director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies, participated in the Association for Borderlands Studies’ 2nd World Conference 2018, the world’s largest convention on borders and border-related issues. The organizing theme was Border-Making and its Consequences: Interpreting Evidence from the “post-Colonial” and “post-Imperial” 20th Century. Dr. Hopkins served as a chair and discussant in multiple panels on topics such as “Statelessness and the Consolidation of National Territoriality” and “Rebordering the current world – Case studies from around the world.”

Click here for the conference website and here to read the final program!

7/14/18: David Shambaugh Quoted in South China Morning Post Article

Dr. David Shambaugh gave his opinions on China’s Confucius Institutes in an article for the South China Morning Post. In the article titled “Confucius Institutes: China’s benign outreach or something more sinister?” Dr. Shambaugh was quoted as saying that he saw the institutes “as quite benign and devoted to their primary mission of teaching language and cultural studies.”

Click here to read more!

7/06/2018: Celeste Arrington Discusses US-North Korea Talks on Hearst TV

Dr. Celeste Arrington, the Korea Foundation Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, commented on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s recent trip to North Korea on an interview for Hearst TV. Dr. Arrington stressed that during the US – North Korea talks, both sides would have to come to an understanding on what denuclearization of the Korean peninsula means.

Click here to listen to her comments!

6/28/2018 Robert Sutter Quoted on US- China Competition in the South China Sea in USA Today Article

Dr. Robert Sutter was quoted in an article published in USA Today. The article titled ” High-stakes brinksmanship in the Pacific as China expands reach into the South China Sea” talked about China’s increasing presence in the South China Sea and its implications. Dr. Sutter’s comments in the article pertained to President Trump’s National Security Strategy and the US – China competition in the South China Sea.

Click here to read what he said!

6/23/2018: Christina Fink Publishes Article on “Myanmar: Religious Minorities and Constitutional Questions”

Dr. Christina Fink recently published her article on “Myanmar: Religious Minorities and Constitutional Questions” for Asian Affairs, vol. 49, issue 2, June 2018.

Abstract

This article examines the experience of religious minorities in Myanmar between 2011 and 2017 in the context of the 2008 constitution and a new system of governance. It highlights the precarity of religious minorities and argues that neither the constitution nor the state were reliable sources of protection or redress during this period. The first section considers the multiple identities of religious minorities with regard to citizenship and national belonging. The second section elucidates how an enabling environment for Buddhist nationalism emerged and what types of actions state and non-state actors have taken with regard to religious minorities. The final section addresses the 2008 constitution and rule of law in Myanmar in order to understand the challenges for religious minorities in securing justice and protection.

                                                  Here is a link to the complete piece.

6/20/2018: Robert Sutter Discusses “Black Swan” of China’s High-Tech Rise in PacNet Commentary

Black Swan Trips Alarm, Fouls Moderate Outlook on China’s Rise

By Robert Sutter

This excerpt is from Dr. Sutter’s article, which was originally published in PacNet #41, part of CSIS’ Pacific Forum, on June 20, 2018

I have long had a moderate outlook on China’s rise, a view that did not fundamentally change despite widely publicized challenges China poses to US leadership. The constraints on and limitations of China’s actual power and influence remain substantial. China is not dominant in Asia and is not in a position to undertake global leadership, replacing the United States. The US retains the capacity to counter or otherwise deal with China’s challenges.

Unfortunately, my thinking did not take sufficient account of China’s headlong advance to control the advanced technological industries seen as essential to US power.

Click Here to read the complete piece.

 

6/30/18 Janet Steele mediates on the research for her new book at a talk in Malaysia

On Saturday, June 30, Dr. Janet Steele will hold a book talk in Kuala Lumpur’s famous counter-culture bookstore, Gerakbudaya Bookshop. The talk will be on her new book Mediating Islam: Cosmopolitan Journalisms in Muslim Southeast Asia and how Islam influences journalism in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Click here for details of the event!

6/25/18 – 6/26/18 Janet Steele talks about the role of Islam in Journalism in Southeast Asia

On Monday, June 25, Dr. Janet Steele will participate in a panel discussion on how Islam is shaping media coverage in Southeast Asia. The panel discussion is a part of the International Media Conference hosted by the East-West Center in Singapore.

On Tuesday, June 26th, Dr. Steele will hold a research presentation at the Institute for Southeast Asian Studies on her latest book –  Mediating Islam: Cosmopolitan Journalisms in Muslim Southeast Asia. Click here to learn more!

 

5/8/18: Reset and Realism in India-China Relations

Reset and Realism in India-China Relations

By Deepa M. Ollapally

Originally published by China-India Brief #115, Centre on Asia and Globalisation, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, on April 25, 2018 – May 8, 2018. Access original publication here

Following a season of diplomatic tensions and a military face-off in Doklam, China and India seem to have embarked on a different path in Wuhan. Many observers have called the surprise informal summit in April 2018 between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping in the Chinese city a “reset” in India-China relations. With this, the American practice of the “reset” idea with Russia and China has now arrived in South Asia. It has been met with both criticism and praise, with international relations analysts of the realist ilk most critical of India. Why is the concept of “reset” so highly popularized, and conversely, how well does the realist critique hold up in the case of India-China relations?

Reset and Great Power Relations

It is hardly surprising that the idea of a reset in great power relations captures the popular imagination. A deteriorating trend in relations between major rival states is unsettling. When it happens between large and important territorial foes, it is even more so. When contentious behaviour begins to lead to a clear downward spiral, the biggest challenge for state leaders is how to change course; a reset seems to have become a choice diplomatic tool in recent years. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even gave her Russian counterpart an actual red reset button in 2009 after a particularly fraught year.

But for those whose thinking is shaped by the realist theory of international relations (especially as postulated by John Mearsheimer), showing any sign of weakness is even more dangerous than correcting course. In the case of India and China, they argue that the competition between the adversaries is structural in nature, something that a simple reset cannot fix. Further, realists assert that the benefits of a reset right now will only go in favour of China—five times richer and three times more militarily powerful than India. They criticize the Indian government for not holding out for real moves by Beijing to settle their disputed border and even more importantly, taking into account India’s huge discomfiture with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) section of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Most of all, they lament the reset as an indication of India caving in or appeasing China despite having shown signs of willingness to finally “stand up” to its rival in 2017—militarily in Doklam and diplomatically by boycotting the BRI Summit.

While the realist argument has a certain intuitive persuasiveness, on closer inspection it has several shortcomings that need to be kept in mind when looking at the India-China “reset.” First of all, realism takes away leadership agency and suggests that structural factors have to be determining at all costs. Secondly, it downplays the balance of interests between India and China that may dominate balance of power considerations at this particular conjuncture. And thirdly, it does not sufficiently take into account the global uncertainty unleashed by President Donald Trump and its impact on Indian strategic options.

Realism and its Shortcomings on the Reset

The underlying pessimism of conventional realist theory is rooted in the importance given to international power structure and, by extension, the lack of capacity on the part of individual leaders to determine outcomes. President Richard Nixon’s historic reset with China in 1972 most graphically calls into question this assertion. Not only that, Nixon managed to effectively confer great power status on a country that was not much different from other developing countries in Asia, with high rates of poverty and resource scarcity and no global economic position to speak of. Constructivists would suggest that the meaning of particular structures can be shaped or interpreted by leaders in different ways . In other words, leaders are not doomed to be prisoners of structure or pessimistic realist thinking for that matter. Xi is in an especially powerful position to make major policy changes after consolidating his position with the lifting of term limits. Given the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s image as being tough on foreign policy, Modi may be in the unique position of being able to engineer closer ties to China even after Doklam and CPEC. And when Xi gives “strategic guidance” to the military to maintain peace on the Himalayan border where China has some advantage, and Modi agrees to a joint economic project in Afghanistan where India has great credibility, it could portend real change.

Realism’s emphasis on balance of power variables invariably overlooks the possibility that balance of interests on other issues can be as important or even more important. For both countries, reaching developed country status in a comprehensive manner is an enduring objective. This is especially important for India, and under both Congress and BJP governments since 1991, the strategic edge of India’s engagement with Southeast and East Asia has remained economic. The widening trade deficit with China has dampened Indian enthusiasm on the economic front. Realists will point out that growing economic ties have not translated into more cooperative strategic behavior by China and that the logic of military competition is more compelling. At the same time, it could be countered that the only viable way to address this is through dialogue, not stand offs as the hard realists would have it. A downward spiraling military competition is certainly not going to solve the economic imbalances, and it could very well derail India’s development priority.

Finally, the role of the United States in Asia’s regional security environment is highly uncertain under President Donald Trump. The so-called structural factors that realists like to see as fixed, with inevitable US-China geopolitical competition and a resulting US-India security partnership, could experience flux along the way. The latest US National Security Strategy has termed China “revisionist,” but it is certainly not beyond Trump to do his own reset of US-China relations in the future. A certain extent of de-coupling of the India-US and India-China relations may be in order to keep India’s strategic options open. At the global multilateral level, India and China have their own strong reasons for cooperation, from climate change to trading regimes to non-interventionism.

Ultimately, realists do not have an attractive strategy for India if it wants to stop the downward slide in relations with its next-door neighbor. The option of a dangerous spiral is apparently not acceptable to the leaders of the two states, whatever risks the realists are willing to take. With a reset, Xi and Modi might just have created an opportunity to change the terms of engagement between their two countries, even if Modi cannot change India’s structural power gap with China any time soon.

photo: Deepa Ollapally

Deepa M. Ollapally is Research Professor of International Affairs and Associate Director of the Sigur Center for Asian Studies, George Washington University, Washington DC.

The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy or the National University of Singapore.

6/15/18: Shawn McHale Receives Prestigious Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Research Fellowship

Dr. Shawn McHale has been announced as a recipient of The Robert H. N. Ho Family Foundation Research Fellowship in Buddhist Studies 2018 – a prestigious award affiliated with the American Council of Learned Societies. His research project with the fellowship – titled “Crossing the Mahayana-Theravada Frontier: Vietnamese-Khmer Relations and the Vietnamese Search for ‘Original’ Theravada Buddhism in Cambodia, 1930-1989” – will investigate one of the most important developments in modern Vietnamese Buddhism, the search for “Phat giao nguyen thuy” – “original” or Theravada Buddhism.

Click here to read more on his research project!

6/11/18: Gregg Brazinsky Discusses the U.S. – North Korea Summit in an Interview with GW Today

Dr. Gregg Brazinsky discussed the U.S.-North Korea Summit – which is going to be held in Singapore on Tuesday, June 12, 2018 – in an interview with GW Today. In the interview, Dr. Brazinsky weighed in on the summit’s possible outcomes, the chances of fruitful negotiations, and the summit’s implications for other countries in the region.

Click here to read the full interview!

6/6/18: Robert Sutter Meets President Tsai Ing-wen during 2018 Formosa Forum

Robert Sutter joined other international experts and scholars in attending the Formosa Forum: 2018 Maritime Security Dialogue in Taiwan. President Tsai Ing-wen met with the group of international experts on the morning of May 31st. President Tsai commented on the importance of maintaining peace and security in the Asia-Pacific, voiced support for continued dialogue on maritime security, and noted Taiwan’s contributions to regional maritime security.

Click here to read a transcript of President Tsai’s remarks and here for the video of her remarks.

Photo caption: Robert Sutter (left) meets President Tsai Ing-wen (right) during 2018 Formosa Forum.

5/25/2018: VIDEO: Dr. Shambaugh Gives Talk at East-West Center on China and the United States in Southeast Asia

David Shambaugh presented his findings on the relative balance of power and influence between the United States and China in Southeast Asia at the East-West Center Distinguished Lecture in Honolulu, Hawaii. His lecture was based on extensive travel and research in the region in 2017, and an acclaimed article recently published in International Security (Spring 2018). He argued that China’s role in the region is currently overestimated and America’s role is underappreciated. How each big power plays its hand, and how the ASEAN states manage their ties with each, will define the regional balance in the years to come.

Click here to watch the full lecture!

5/22/2018: David Shambaugh – Can America meet the China challenge in Southeast Asia?

Can America meet the China challenge in Southeast Asia?

By David Shambaugh

Originally published in East Asia Forum on May 22, 2018. Access the original article here. Article is below:

The strategic sands are shifting in Southeast Asia, as China makes multiple moves while the United States seems on its back foot. This is the predominant perception throughout the region. Seen from Beijing, countries in the region are making practical choices to build their economies and China is there to assist.From Washington’s perspective, as captured in the Trump administration’s National Security Strategy, ‘China seeks to displace the United States in the Indo-Pacific region, expand the reaches of its state-driven economic model, and reorder the region in its favour’.

Clearly, over the past two years, a subtle but noticeable gravitation towards China has been apparent across the region. The principal question is whether this is a temporary and tactical or a more long-lasting and secular trend. Further, are all ASEAN states gravitating equally towards China? What does the apparent ‘bandwagoning’ with Beijing suggest about Southeast Asians’ vaunted hedging strategies to avoid dependence on external powers? If Beijing is pulling these countries into its strategic orbit, what is pushing them? Might China overreach and overplay its hand? Can Washington compete effectively in the game of strategic competition? What strengths and weaknesses does each major power bring to the competition?

The United States possesses broad and durable security ties, diplomatic interactions and commercial presence across the region. Its military assistance programs and security cooperation are second to none, and Beijing cannot compete in this sphere. US cultural exchanges are also robust, and the appeal of American soft power is strong — whereas China’s remains weak. US–ASEAN trade totalled US$234 billion in 2015, while US companies invested US$32.3 billion in ASEAN countries in 2012–2014 alone — more than three times that of China. The total stock of US foreign direct investment (FDI) in the region is US$226 billion — more than that of China, Japan and the European Union combined. Washington also contributes a variety of regional aid programs such as the Lower Mekong Initiative, and its US$4 billion in aid (as of 2015) outstrips that from Beijing three to one.

For its part, China’s strengths are primarily its geographic proximity and vast sums of money. Beijing’s lack of criticism concerning human rights and governance is also appreciated by Southeast Asian countries. China benefits from a more regular diplomatic presence, much greater trade, rapidly growing FDI and close geographic proximity. China’s economic footprint is huge and growing fast in the context of the Belt and Road Initiative. China’s trade with ASEAN reached US$345.7 billion in 2015. The trade relationship received a big boost in 2010 when the China–ASEAN Free Trade Area (CAFTA) came into effect.

Chinese investment into ASEAN has also been spiking upward, reaching US$8.2 billion in 2015, with a total cumulative stock of US$123 billion by the end of 2014. China is already the largest foreign investor in Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia and Myanmar, and the second largest in Singapore and Vietnam. China is also beginning to increase its military assistance programs and public diplomacy outreach in the region.

On the other hand, China’s weaknesses include (ironically) its geographical proximity (too near and overbearing), its South China Sea claims and militarisation and its occasional diplomatic manipulation of ASEAN. China has no real ability to provide security or defence for the region, and there remain historical suspicions that Beijing uses ethnic Chinese communities as ‘fifth columns’ in several Southeast Asian societies.

Thus, on balance, when comparing China’s regional involvement to that of the United States, I come to the counterintuitive conclusion that the United States possesses comprehensive comparative strengths vis-a-vis China in Southeast Asia. The United States is truly a multidimensional actor, while China remains primarily a single-dimensional power.

Recognising this, the United States needs to capitalise on its strengths and develop a comprehensive plan to effectively compete with China in the region and undertake a major public diplomacy effort to educate Southeast Asians about what the United States has to offer.

One major challenge is to correct the pervasive perception that the United States has repeatedly proven itself to be episodically engaged and not dependable. Washington should substantially raise Southeast Asia as a strategic priority in its Asian and global foreign policy — it is too important a region to cede to China. Many Southeast Asian states look to the United States as an offshore balancer, a role that the United States can and should play. This role should not be confined only to the security sphere, but should be comprehensive in scope — including the full range of diplomatic, cultural, public diplomacy and economic instruments.

When China overreaches and becomes too assertive in the region, which is quite likely (and there are already indications), then the United States needs to be physically present and be perceived to be a reliable partner for Southeast Asia.

David Shambaugh is the Gaston Sigur Professor of Asian Studies, Political Science & International Affairs and Director of the China Policy Program at George Washington University in Washington, DC. Parts of this essay are adapted from his article ‘US–China Rivalry in Southeast Asia: Power Shift or Competitive Coexistence?’ (2018).

5/8/2018: Deepa Ollapally – How Does India’s Look East Policy Look after 25 Years?

 

How Does India’s Look East Policy Look after 25 Years?

By Deepa M. Ollapally

Originally published as part of a roundtable discussion titled “Frédéric Grare’s India Turns East: International Engagement and U.S.-China Rivalry” by the National Bureau for Asian Research (NBR) in its Asia Policy (13.2, April 2018 edition) publication. Access the full roundtable discussion of the topic here.

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