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[ 40 ] asia policy Learning Asia the Asian Way Parag Khanna Asia is entering a new geopolitical phase, one driven as much by economics and culture as political and military trends. An older generation of academics and government officials has relied for too long on a U.S.-centric view of Asian diplomacy. “Offshore balancing,” “huband -spoke” alliances, “outside-in” diplomatic management are concepts that I believe have outlived their usefulness at least as dominant lenses for understanding dynamics in the Far East today. Recently, Georgetown’s Institute for the Study of Diplomacy convened noted scholars of China and Japan, who concluded that they had collectively underestimated, among other trends, the extent of Sino-Japanese “new thinking” and how interdependence at various levels is now more characteristic of this bilateral relationship than the traditional “nationalist rivalry” perspective.1 This particular tension is best illustrated in the surprise appointment of John Roos, Silicon Valley lawyer and venture capitalist, as ambassador to Japan over the widely expected Joseph Nye, former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School and a one-time assistant secretary of defense for East Asia who is a well-known Japanophile. Roos represents a new generation of Americans (including Chinese and Japanese immigrants) who wish U.S. policy toward Asia to focus on economic integration and capitalize on the vast market opportunities of China—precisely as Japanese policymakers are doing. Nye, on the other hand, represents a potentially outmoded approach toward the region, which focuses on reconciling “national interests.” This episode seems to be an example of policymakers being a step ahead of mainstream academics, specifically security studies specialists. It is of course possible that an overly sanguine view of Asian regionalism, most vocally represented by Singaporean diplomat-scholar Kishore Mahbubani of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, swings too far in the direction of arguing that “the guns have fallen silent” in Asia. In private conversations with members of the U.S. defense establishment, however, I have been struck by their reluctant acceptance of the fact that Taiwan, for example, has clearly fallen down the list of geopolitical flashpoints due to 1 See, for example, Aaron Friedberg, “Ripe for Rivalry: Prospects for Peace in a Multipolar Asia,” International Security 18, no. 3 (Winter 1993/94): 5–33. parag khanna is Director of the Global Governance Initiative and Senior Research Fellow in the American Strategy Program at the New America Foundation. He can be reached at . [ 41 ] roundtable • training the next generation the same economic integration dynamic that characterizes Sino-Japanese relations. Indeed, in the case of Taiwan, China’s strategy of co-opting neighbors through commercial integration is much further advanced. This could serve, then, as an example of academics or intellectuals being a step ahead of the policy and defense communities. The major denominator of “Asia for Asians” thinking is the argument, most cogently argued by David Kang of the University of Southern California, that Asian geopolitics is returning to a period of Sino-centric hierarchy.2 Particularly in the wake of the global financial crisis, this approach seems to have been validated by widespread expectations that it is China rather than the United States that will lead Asia’s economic recovery (if not the world’s). The passing of the “Chindia” fad also seems to have lent credence to the hierarchy school as well, with India increasingly seen not as a rival for Asian dominance but as a geographic free agent intent on multi-directional influence from the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean to the Far East. The business community’s embrace of China and the country’s ubiquity in the media round out a robust list of factors that have pushed China to the center of American mental geography about Asia. Many of these debates have taken place within the community of U.S.-based scholars, but it is very important to note the role of Western scholars based in the region, who to a strong degree challenge potentially oversimplified paradigms. At the risk of sounding overly critical, scholars who make a once annual pilgrimage to their region of interest largely to reconnect with old friends may not really be leaving the echo chamber...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2960
Print ISSN
1559-0968
Pages
pp. 40-43
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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