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  • Asia Watcher: Introduction to a Festschrift in Honor of Sheldon W. Simon
  • See Seng Tan (bio)

Among the titans who bestride the analytical world of Asian security studies, few have been as consummate a student of the region as emeritus professor Sheldon Simon, who recently retired from academia after 48 years at Arizona State University. In an illustrious career spanning over five decades, Professor Simon—“Shell” to his friends and colleagues—has assiduously observed and analyzed developments in Asia and its subregions from the Cold War to the present. In honor of this Asia watcher extraordinaire, this Asia Policy roundtable features a collection of short essays on the themes and issues, both enduring and emerging, that have occupied his attention as an analyst and a scholar. The ten authors assembled for this festschrift include former students, collaborators past and present, and long-time friends and admirers. In addition to their voices, Simon has furnished his personal retrospective reflection on the region.

William Tow leads off the roundtable with an analysis of the continuities and contradictions of the Trump administration’s Asia policy. He worries over what the hollowing out of Asia expertise within the U.S. leadership might mean for the stability and security of the region. Kai He follows by examining the growing strategic interdependence between China, as the Gulliver of Asia, and the Southeast Asian countries, as the region’s Lilliputians. His essay ends with the cautiously optimistic suggestion that the way interdependent ties are being institutionalized possibly implies a regional outcome more peaceful than many analysts have allowed. Kevin Cooney contends that Japan’s policy toward Asia has been “purpose driven” rather than ad hoc, as evidenced by Tokyo’s astonishing adaptability in a rapidly evolving regional security environment. Chris Lundry examines the persistent gap between Indonesia’s grand aspirations, on the one hand, and its limited capabilities and capacity to realize those aspirations, on the other. He concludes that Indonesia is unlikely to forgo its hitherto strong commitment to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), despite the Joko Widodo administration’s purported preference for bilateralism. [End Page 4]

Beyond single-country case studies, my essay in the roundtable addresses the complex ramifications that ongoing strategic interactions among the great powers could have on Asia, particularly in light of growing worries over the region’s possible ensnarement in what some have termed the “Thucydides trap.” I make a plea for the return to enlightened agency among great powers and regional actors alike, without which the region could well enter into conflict and war. Ralf Emmers examines the contributions of middle powers, particularly Australia and Indonesia, to Asia’s “inclusive multilateralism” and quest for a rules-based order, but he also rues the inability of these middle powers to mitigate against great-power rivalry. Siew-Mun Tang argues that ASEAN has provided leadership in promoting and facilitating regional cooperation. Yet it faces existential challenges today in maintaining a balanced approach to the great powers as well as responding to growing demands by external parties for ASEAN to share leadership of the region. Maria Ortuoste discusses the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF). She argues that the ARF has been and remains a useful vehicle for its members to advance their separate interests but warns that such a self-serving utility stymies the forum and puts it at risk of backsliding. Huiyun Feng highlights the positive contributions to regional security by Track 2 institutions such as the Council for Security Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific (CSCAP), while acknowledging the manifold constraints facing these networks today. Last but surely not least, Donald Emmerson offers a critical dissection—through the help of an idea introduced by Simon in 1985, namely, “Beijing’s that China must play a primary role in determining regional order”—of China’s words and deeds vis-à-vis the South China Sea. Emmerson argues that a joint declaration by interested parties stating that no single country should exercise sole, exclusionary control over the South China Sea could prove invaluable in facilitating regional progress over those troubled waters.

This introduction would not be complete without a few words on Simon and his seminal contributions to Asian security...


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