Playing with Power

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The United States, Russia, and China have entered a new era of “power grabs”. Smaller regional powers are emerging and flexing their muscles in anticipation of expansion like dogs impatiently waiting under the dinner table. North Korea, South Korea, the Philippines and Japan consider themselves among the contenders in Asia.

Dr. Victor Cha is an impressive figure and notable expert on Asia. He serves as   Professor of Government and International Affairs at Georgetown University, Korea Chair at CSIS and former Director for Asian Affairs on the National Security Council. Dr. Cha made an appearance at SAIS with his books in tow when the Sejong Society and the U.S.-Korea Institute hosted him on October 14, 2016.

Why did Asia never have its own form of NATO? Unlike Europe, Asia is a combination of large landmass and separate islands. During the Cold War, Europe’s bipolarity was clearly defined, even down to a dividing wall. Meanwhile, a third actor, China, further complicated the situation in Asia. Economic interdependence brought Europe closer together as a community but initially separated Asia. Dr. Cha focused his attention on Asia’s choice to not have a NATO equivalent, thus differentiating his book from those already on the table that merely regurgitate history.

The U.S. originally oriented itself towards Asia through trade interests and Christian missionary activities. Due to the growing threat of Communism in Asia, the U.S. executed a grand strategic policy of containment and intervened in countries like Korea and Vietnam. Much to China’s dismay, the U.S. is now imposing its interests on Asia and containing China. In reaction, China is making its own “power play” by creating the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and assertively pressing claim to the South China Sea using multilateral institutions and bilateral relations.

Compiling his concluding remarks, Dr. Cha predicted that Asia would not have one single community resembling a NATO or an EU. Instead, the architecture of Asia is a “noodle bowl” of institutions that are partially overlapping and parallel. Albeit a complex and messy state of international relations, Asia is replete with issues of unresolved history, territorial disputes, and security dilemmas. Regime theory suggests that an increasing number of institutions in Asia does not result in a zero-sum scenario. Rather, this complexity can play a positive role.

“Don’t expect Asia to look like Europe, because it won’t,” is the mantra to take up. The U.S., Russia, and China are in a counterbalancing act in Asia as each vies for power, and the rest of the countries in Asia are meddling with the entwined love-hate triangle.

Despite sharing a last name, Joniel Cha and Dr. Victor Cha are not related.

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