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  • Author: Charles Dunst
  • Publication Date: 05-2021
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s close relationship with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has led scholars and policymakers alike to suggest that Beijing’s backing will keep him in power. While Hun Sen himself seems to believe this to be true, his reliance on China is actually enflaming Cambodian discontent to such an extent that his planned patrimonial succession is at risk. Given the fragility of regimes mid-succession, Hun Sen’s Chinese shelter is augmenting the potential of his clan’s fall. Yet as Hun Sen faces increased domestic opposition, he will only further deepen ties with China in hopes of remaining in power, thereby creating a vicious cycle from which escaping will prove difficult.
  • Topic: International Relations, Power Politics, Bilateral Relations, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Cambodia, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Arzan Tarapore
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: For decades, an international order delivered security and prosperity to the Indo-Pacific. The order was based on U.S. military hegemony and alliances that preserved the strategic status quo and multilateral cooperation that enabled economic development and growth. That order is now under strain. The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging the order’s founding principles, prompting some regional states to limit their interdependency in certain sensitive sectors under the guise of supply chain resilience. The pandemic was not the first challenge to test the order; serious threats began to emerge over a decade ago, with the global financial crisis of 2008, and were sharply exacerbated by China’s economic rise and strategic revisionism, which threatens U.S. military and economic primacy and the territorial status quo. The United States, India, and like-minded middle-power partners from the Indo-Pacific and Europe have struggled to respond effectively. The other contributions in this series on navigating U.S.-China competition in the Indo-Pacific show how these states have sought to recover from the pandemic while also answering structural threats of revisionism and economic headwinds from decoupling, protectionism and changing integration patterns. Cutting across those specific policy issues are three overarching dilemmas that each state will be forced to resolve when making policy. How policymakers navigate these dilemmas will define the policy settings of their regional strategy.
  • Topic: Security, Economic Growth, Multilateralism, Regional Integration, Economic Development , Strategic Competition, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: China, Europe, South Asia, India, United States of America, Indo-Pacific
  • Author: Rani Mullen
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Understanding India’s soft power in the Indo-Pacific and the possible impact of its recent decline is essential to a well-informed American strategy in the region. As the world’s second-most populous country and largest democracy, India is an important power and American partner, as highlighted in President Biden’s March 2021 Interim National Security Strategic Guidance, which also identified the Indo-Pacific as vital to American national interests. The Great Power competition in the Indo-Pacific and India’s hard power has been analyzed in other articles in this series. As Joseph Nye pointed out in the 1980s, successful states require both hard and soft power–the wherewithal to coerce as well as the ability to entice and influence the behavior of other countries without force. America’s partnership with India is based not only on the mutual strategic interest of countering China but also on the soft power element of shared democratic values. At the same time, India’s ability to persuade regional countries to partner with it, despite it not having China’s deep pockets or hard power, is key to keeping the Indo-Pacific free and open.
  • Topic: Soft Power, COVID-19, Strategic Interests , Regional Power
  • Political Geography: China, South Asia, India, United States of America, Indo-Pacific
  • Author: Timothy D. Hoyt
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: In 2018, the United States government released The National Security Strategy of the United States and its related National Defense Strategy.1 Each document identified key changes in the national security environment, focusing on the emergence of “great power competition” with both Russia and China. President Biden’s interim national security guidance, issued in March 2021, is more circumspect. The guidance avoids the term “great power competition” but points out China’s increased assertiveness and its potential to mount a challenge to the current international system, as well as Russia’s continued interest in expanding global influence.2 The US-China competition, in particular, is regularly compared to the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union.3 The Cold War analogy should be used with great caution. It is relatively anomalous in the history of international relations – the result of a unique combination of catastrophic war, which destroyed most of the then great powers, and fundamentally incompatible ideological positions of the two remaining great powers. Similarly, efforts to compare the U.S.-China competition to other bipolar competitions should be made cautiously as well.
  • Topic: Defense Policy, National Security, Power Politics, Coalition
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, United States of America
  • Author: Rajesh Basrur
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: India has experienced rising tensions with China in recent years, as demonstrated by two border crises in 2017 and 2020-21. The second event saw the death of some 20 Indian troops, and at least 4 Chinese soldiers, in hand-to-hand combat – the first fatalities in nearly half a century of periodic border face-offs. New Delhi’s policy response has spanned both internal and external balancing. The former has involved augmenting India’s capacity to engage in limited combat of the type that nuclear-armed states have occasionally fought, as did the Soviet Union and China in 1969 and India and Pakistan in 1999. The Indian military has bolstered its border by deploying combat troops, cruise missiles, and advanced combat aircraft. However, China has done much the same, putting pressure on India to upscale its military capabilities. Simultaneously, India has tried to reduce its dependence on the Chinese economy, a more complicated task. Despite a 10 percent decline in bilateral trade owing to the Covid-19 pandemic and border tensions, China was India’s largest trading partner ($77.7 billion) in 2020. The Narendra Modi government sharply cut Chinese investment when the 2020 border confrontation in Ladakh broke out, expelling major Chinese companies like TikTok, WeChat, and UC Browser. Despite these measures, India’s ability to shut China out of its economy is limited. The Indian market depends heavily on Chinese electronic components (70 percent in value terms), pharmaceutical ingredients (70 percent), and consumer durables (45 percent).
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Bilateral Relations, Economy, Trade
  • Political Geography: China, South Asia, India, Asia
  • Author: Prakash Gopal
  • Publication Date: 06-2021
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: The past year has witnessed tumultuous and unforeseen changes in the global geopolitical landscape due to the pandemic. While India struggles to contain its devastating second wave, it is simultaneously confronted with a significant national security challenge from across the disputed Himalayan border with China. A skirmish along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) that started in May 2020 escalated rapidly into a full-blown crisis, with clashes in Galwan on June 15, 2020, causing casualties on both sides. After multiple rounds of talks, the crisis remains unresolved and has starkly exposed India’s lack of credible deterrence that could either deny or punish China’s belligerence across the unsettled border. In response to the border crisis, the Indian government promoted and contributed to the rapid coalescence of the quadrilateral security dialogue (Quad)—a loose coalition of the United States, Japan, Australia, and India. Notable milestones in the Quad’s accelerated development include the addition of Australia in the Malabar series of naval exercises and several high-level meetings of officials from the four countries, the highest-profile of which being the first leaders’ summit in March 2021. The assumption that India’s sudden moves to consolidate the Quad were driven primarily by Chinese actions along the LAC may be debated. Nevertheless, if that is the case, it follows that India views its renewed efforts in coalition-building as part of a solution to its China problem. Though the Quad may be useful in tackling security threats in the larger Indo-Pacific region, in the near term, it is unlikely to meaningfully contribute to bolstering India’s ability to deter China along land borders or in the maritime domain.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Security, Geopolitics, Borders, Dialogue
  • Political Geography: China, South Asia, India
  • Author: Nancy Davis Lewis, Jonathan D. Mayer
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Experience in Asia suggests that public health and medical capacity are critical for an effective response to an emerging infectious disease. Political will and previous experience with disease outbreaks also play a role. Singapore ignored an important segment of its population and is now experiencing a huge spike in cases. China and Vietnam were able to enforce draconian measures, while in Japan and Hong Kong, civil society had a greater role in initiating effective controls. In several countries, local political outcomes have been affected by the perceived success or failure of leaders in controlling the crisis.
  • Topic: Health Care Policy, Leadership, Crisis Management, Public Health, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Japan, China, Asia, Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong
  • Author: Christopher A. McNally
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: With both the US and China facing a long economic slowdown, the bilateral relationship between the globe's two largest economies faces massive challenges. Making matters worse, Washington and Beijing have attempted to divert domestic attention away from their own substantial shortcomings by blaming each other. Given the economic uncertainty, each side has limited leverage to force the other into making concessions. Harsh rhetoric only serves to inflame tensions at the worst possible time. For better or worse, the US and China are locked in a messy economic marriage. A divorce at this time would exact an enormous cost in an already weakened economy.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Bilateral Relations, Economy, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: James H. Spencer, Sumeet Saksena, Jefferson Fox
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: The current COVID-19 pandemic, which started in Wuhan, China, underscores what the public health community has warned about for more than two decades—the risk of viral diseases capable of spreading from animal to human hosts. The first outbreaks of “bird flu” (highly pathogenic avian influenza—HPAI, subtype H5N1)—raised similar concerns 20 years ago, concerns that have persisted with the outbreak of SARS in 2002–2004 and COVID-19 today. A recent study compared information on infrastructure and other aspects of economic development in Vietnam with outbreaks of avian influenza. While this research focuses on avian influenza in Vietnam, the study of links between infrastructure characteristics and new and reemerging health risks has broad applicability, especially given the global importance of today’s rapidly expanding urban landscapes.
  • Topic: Infectious Diseases, Urban, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Vietnam
  • Author: Jonathan Pryke
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: In an atmosphere of heightened geostrategic competition, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has raised questions about the risk of debt problems in less-developed countries. Such risks are especially worrying for the small and fragile economies of the Pacific. A close look at the evidence suggests that China has not been engaged in debt-trap diplomacy in the Pacific, at least not so far. Nonetheless, if future Chinese lending continues on a business-as-usual basis, serious problems of debt sustainability will arise, and concerns about quality and corruption are valid.There have been recent signs that both China and Pacific Island governments recognize the need for reform. China needs to adopt formal lending rules similar to those of the multilateral development banks, providing more favorable terms to countries at greater risk of debt distress. Alternative approaches might include replacing or partially replacing EXIM loans with the interest-free loans and grants that the Chinese Ministry of Commerce already provides.
  • Topic: Debt, Development, Diplomacy, Geopolitics, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Asia-Pacific
  • Author: Denny Roy
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: The COVID-19 pandemic threatened to damage China’s international reputation just as the Chinese government under Xi Jinping was peaking in its promotion of China as a model political system and superior international citizen. Beijing launched a massive diplomatic effort aimed at both foreign governments and foreign societies. The goal was to overcome initial negative publicity and to recast China as an efficient and heroic country in the eyes of international public opinion. The crisis created an opening for China to make gains in its international leadership credentials as the world saw the superpower United States falter. Ultimately, however, Chinese pandemic diplomacy contributed to a net decrease in China’s global prestige, largely because domestic political imperatives motivated behavior that generated international disapproval and distrust for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government. This paper summarizes the content of Chinese pandemic diplomacy through the key period of January through May 20201, identifies specific strengths and weaknesses of China’s effort, and briefly assesses its global impact.
  • Topic: International Relations, Diplomacy, Pandemic, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Riaz A. Khokhar
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Within the Indo-Pacific region, the United States and Pakistan have sharply divergent strategic objectives. While American objectives have changed over time, focusing in recent years on rivalry with China, Pakistan’s strategic objective has remained constant—to maintain a balance of power with India. Yet Pakistan retains close strategic and economic ties with China, and the United States considers India an important strategic partner. Nevertheless, the two countries have worked together for nearly two decades toward two tactical goals—achieving a political settlement in Afghanistan and eliminating terrorism in South Asia. There is potential for them to cooperate more broadly, for example, increasing direct foreign investment to Pakistan and helping Islamabad balance its relations with the United States and China. Washington’s willingness to expand such cooperation will depend on Pakistan’s cooperation in fighting terrorism in the region.
  • Topic: International Cooperation, Terrorism, Power Politics, Foreign Direct Investment, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Afghanistan, China, South Asia, India, North America, United States of America, Indo-Pacific
  • Author: Rebecca Strating
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: The seas are an increasingly important domain for understanding the balance-of-power dynamics between a rising People’s Republic of China and the United States. Specifically, disputes in the South China Sea have intensified over the past decade. Multifaceted disputes concern overlapping claims to territory and maritime jurisdiction, strategic control over maritime domain, and differences in legal interpretations of freedom of navigation. These disputes have become a highly visible microcosm of a broader contest between a maritime order underpinned by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and challenger conceptions of order that see a bigger role for rising powers in generating new rules and alternative interpretations of existing international law. This issue examines the responses of non-claimant regional states—India, Australia, South Korea, and Japan—to the South China Sea disputes.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Territorial Disputes, Geopolitics, Maritime, Jurisdiction
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, North America, United States of America, South China Sea
  • Author: Robert Sutter
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: The so-called “truce” in the trade war with the signing of the phase one U.S.-China trade agreement on January 15 comes amid indicators that the intense U.S. government consensus pushback against a wide range of perceived challenges posed by China may be subsiding.
  • Topic: Government, Bilateral Relations, Economy, Trade Wars
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, North America, United States of America
  • Author: H. H. Michael Hsiao, Alan H. Yang
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: The elections in January 2020 marked a new era for Taiwan, clearly demonstrating citizens’ resistance to China. The results showed that incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen, leader of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), was re-elected with a landslide victory of 8.17 million votes (57.1%) which is higher than the previous record high of 7.65 million votes obtained by the Kuomintang (KMT) President Ma Ying Jeou in 2008. Michael Hsiao and Alan Yang, Chairman and Executive Director, respectively, of the Taiwan‐Asia Exchange Foundation in Taiwan, explain that “The Taiwanese people firmly defended Taiwan’s sovereignty and cherished democracy through free and open elections.”
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Sovereignty, Elections, Democracy
  • Political Geography: China, Taiwan, Asia
  • Author: Huong Le Thu
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Dr. Huong Le Thu, Senior Analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, explains that “To many, shared concerns about China are the driving force for Vietnam‐U.S. relations.”
  • Topic: Bilateral Relations, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: China, Vietnam, North America, Southeast Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Alicia Campi
  • Publication Date: 08-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Dr Alicia Campi, President of the Mongolia Society, explains that “The [“Third Neighbor”] policy was reinterpreted in content and meaning to include cultural and economic partners as diverse as India, Brazil, Kuwait, Turkey, Vietnam, and Iran. With increased superpower rivalry in its region, Mongolia has expanded this basic policy.”
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Partnerships, Economy
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Turkey, India, Mongolia, Asia, Kuwait, Brazil, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Courtney Weatherby
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has re-centered discussion of geopolitical competition in Asia around infrastructure. Responding both to BRI and the region’s well-known infrastructure gap, the United States has launched efforts to unlock US private investment for infrastructure. Japan’s engagements in the region emphasize high-quality infrastructure and best practices (an implicit criticism of China’s sometimes less rigorous standards). The foreign policy approaches of the United States and Japan dovetail nicely and have led to many new initiatives and institutional partnerships, as well as the quality-focused Blue Dot Network. But despite the two countries’ intentions to work collaboratively, their efforts have been held back by differences in organizational practices, the lengthy overhaul of US financing, and a lack of immediate movement from US-Japan consortia. For now, a less ambitious approach of closely coordinating technical assistance and conditional funding on proposed projects may serve as a model for closer US-Japan collaboration as efforts mature.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Energy Policy, Bilateral Relations, Infrastructure, Geopolitics, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Renewable Energy, Strategic Competition
  • Political Geography: Japan, China, Asia, United States of America
  • Author: Denise Layla P. Miram
  • Publication Date: 12-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: The Duterte administraƟon’s move toward favoring non‐tradiƟonal partners above other equally valuable— and perhaps more beneficial—trade and development partners, such as the United States and the European Union, has significantly changed the direcƟon of the country’s foreign policy and impacted its naƟonal security. While the government maintains that it is pursuing an “independent foreign policy”, many experts have criƟcized the administraƟon’s supposed strategy for its lack of clarity and posiƟon. In the absence of clear guidelines and a well‐defined vision, the administraƟon has merely pivoted away from one superpower, its treaty ally in the US, to global superpowers China and Russia.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Foreign Direct Investment, European Union, Trade, Rodrigo Duterte
  • Political Geography: Russia, China, Philippines, Asia-Pacific, United States of America
  • Author: Khin Ohnmar Htwe
  • Publication Date: 10-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: East-West Center
  • Abstract: Myanmar lies in the northwestern part of Indo-Chinese Peninsular or mainland South-East Asia. It is bounded by China on the north and north-east, Laos on the east, Thailand on the south-east, and Bangladesh and India on the west. There are 7 major drainage areas or catchment areas in Myanmar comprising a series of river- valleys running from north to south. The drainage areas in Myanmar are Ayeyarwady and Chindwin Rivers and tributaries (55.05%), Thanlwin (Salween) River and tributaries (18.43%), Sittaung River and tributaries (5.38%), Kaladan and Lemyo Rivers and tributaries (3.76%), Yangon River and tributaries (2.96%), Tanintharyi River and tributaries (2.66%), and Minor Coastal Streams (11.76%). Myanmar possesses 12% of Asia’s fresh water resources and 16% of that of the ASEAN nations. Growing nationwide demand for fresh water has heightened the challenges of water security. The transboundary river basins along the border line of Myanmar and neighboring countries are the Mekong, Thanlwin (Salween), Thaungyin (Moai), Naf, and Manipu rivers. The Mekong River is also an important transboundary river for Myanmar which it shares with China, Laos, and Thailand. The Mekong River, with a length of about 2,700 miles (4,350 km), rises in southeastern Qinghai Province, China, flows through the eastern part of the Tibet Autonomous Region and Yunnan Province, and forms part of the international border between Myanmar (Burma) and Laos, as well as between Laos and Thailand. The Mekong River meets the China–Myanmar border and flows about six miles along that border until it reaches the tripoint of China, Myanmar, and Laos. From there it flows southwest and forms the border of Myanmar and Laos for about 60 miles until it arrives at the tripoint of Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand. This is also the point of confluence between the Ruak River (which follows the Thai–Myanmar border) and the Mekong.
  • Topic: Natural Resources, Water, Governance, Borders
  • Political Geography: Bangladesh, China, India, Thailand, Southeast Asia, Laos, Myanmar