Home / Articles / The Best of FPRI’s Essays on Asia, 2005-2015
In the sixty years since the founding of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, no region of the world has undergone greater transformation or posed more varied and complex challenges for the foreign policy of the United States than has Asia. In 1955, China was six years past its Civil War and Communist Revolution, still seemingly a durable ally for the U.S.’s Cold War rival, the Soviet Union. The reforms that would transform China into the world’s most dynamic economy, a country deeply integrated with the outside world, and an aspiring superpower would not begin for another quarter-century. Japan was only beginning to emerge from wartime devastation, and there were few signs of the East Asian economic model that Japan would pioneer and other states in the region would later adapt with great success, reaching OECD levels of prosperity. Democratization in Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia, and elsewhere in the region would not occur for another three to four decades. India was still reeling from the trauma of partition, its now-consolidated democracy still in its infancy, and the economic reforms that would finally launch the subcontinental state on a path to rapid development were still decades away. The nations of Southeast Asia were newly independent or not yet independent, and the wars in Indochina still lay ahead. The region’s most formidable international institution—ASEAN—would not be founded for a decade, and its pivotal role in regional affairs would take years more to emerge. A fraught and fragile peace had only recently been established on the divided Korean peninsula.
Within the past ten to fifteen years (the period that is the focus of this collection), changes in the region and the resulting issues for U.S. foreign policy have been less fundamental than during the entire post-1955 period, but they have been, nonetheless, dramatic for the states affected and challenging for Washington’s policies. The selections collected here address major events and trends from these more recent times, grouping them into several thematic categories. The first, and largest, cluster of essays considers the most striking and defining development in Asia in the first part of the twenty-first century and its earlier roots: China’s astounding rise as an economic and, in turn, military power, and the sometimes troubling consequences of China’s rise for U.S. geostrategic interests, the security of American friends and allies in the region, and values that Washington’s foreign policy tries—at least at times—to promote abroad. Essays in this part of the collection provide concise overviews of contemporary China’s economy, politics and society, reflect on the failures and prospects of democratic change in China, and address China’s national security posture and its implications for U.S. policy. A second section of the collection addresses aspects of a rising China’s relations—primarily security relations—with great powers in its region and beyond, including the U.S., Japan, Russia, and India. The final pair of essays in this second section offers examples of Chinese scholars’ perspectives on China’s relations with great powers (specifically, the U.S. and Japan).
The third group of essays samples from an area of special strength and focus within FPRI’s Asia Program: Taiwan and cross-Strait relations. These selections probe the relationships among Taiwan’s domestic democratic politics, Taiwan’s relations with the Mainland, and U.S. strategic and values-based interests. The fourth section in this collection turns the focus to regional economic issues, ranging from the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s to the 2015 forging of the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and the establishment of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. A fifth section offers a broad overview of regional security issues. A final section further underscores the importance of developments in Asia beyond the rise of China and its impact. Individual selections address India, Southeast Asia, and the Korean Peninsula, as well as a report from the FPRI Asia Program’s 2015 annual conference, focusing on subnational and supranational challenges faced by states across the region and the challenges posed for U.S. policy.
The essays in this collection were selected to showcase FPRI writings on the major issues and patterns that have shaped international relations in Asia and U.S. foreign policy toward Asia. They are also meant to illustrate the variety of FPRI outputs, ranging from Footnotes that provide overviews of major issues and that can appeal to students as well as specialists and scholars, to Enotes that take up more narrow and timely topics in greater depth and with more academic rigor, to Asia Program conference reports that summarize the proceedings of annual gatherings of leading experts on a major topic in Asian affairs and foreign policy, and public remarks by Asia Program-affiliated scholars. The format does not permit inclusion of longer, more scholarly pieces published in Orbis, or examples of the many works that FPRI Asia Program scholars publish in non-FPRI venues. The collection consists primarily of work by the Asia Program’s core group of most active Senior Fellows, along with examples of works by more occasional contributors.
We hope that this volume of selected essays will give the reader a sense of the range, breadth and quality of the commentary and analysis produced by FPRI’s Asia Program. More important, we believe that the pieces collected here will provide insight and guidance to those interested in understanding the challenges of the moment and the underlying trends and enduring patterns that shape international relations in contemporary East Asia and U.S. policies toward the region.