The following is a guest-post by my good friend Dave Kang of USC. Below he complements his recent TNI essay with the full flow of charts and graphics they screened out. This post is an important rejoinder to the constant assertion (think Robert Kaplan) that East Asia is on the brink of war and that everyone is freaked out by China. The thing is, East Asian military spending doesn’t actually suggest that at all…
“In a recent National Interest essay I argued that military expenditures in East Asia do not appear to be excessively high. In this post I’d like to post the figures that informed the TNI essay (for some reason, TNI made me take out all the graphics – isn’t that what the web is for?). The figures are quite vivid, and help explain why I made the fairly straightforward interpretation of the data that China’s neighbors, according to IISS and SIPRI, aren’t balancing it the way everyone says they are.
I am so burned out on this issue, I’m ready to say we should just nuke the Liancourt Rocks (left) to end this whole thing. But it’s everywhere now in the regional media. Park pointedly won’t meet Abe, which the Japanese media is reading as a huge snub. She even said she’d talk to Pyongyang before Tokyo (yikes!). The Japanese are getting more open in expressing loathing for Korea. The Americans are livid. And the Chinese and Norks are loving it all, I have no doubt. So here’s yet another essay on this topic. This is the English version of a long-form essay I wrote for Newsweek Korea last week.
The short, IR-ish version is that: a) S Korea is a middle power that risks ‘overplaying its hand’ against Japan, as a think-tanker friend put it, because of the ‘moral hazard’ facilitated by the American alliance (as Katzenstein noted long ago, Japan is the US anchor state in Asia, and Koreans can’t change that no matter how much they resent that special relationship); b) the Americans believe in the democratic peace and simply don’t accept that Japan is some kind of proto-fascist state (this is a real breakpoint with the Americans); and c) Korean geography basically traps it in a ‘balance of threat’ quandary: even though it is small, its proximity means it will get pulled into the Sino-US/Japan stand-off whether it likes it or not. The only possible way out I can think of for Korea is unilateral nuclearization (more yikes). Also, my continuing skepticism of the pivot pops up. I still don’t think Americans actually care enough about Asia to really get pulled into a major competition with China. Here’s that essay…
It’s always a pleasure to guest-post my good friend Dave Kang. Dave teaches at the University of Southern California and runs their Korean Studies Institute (the pic). Here are some previous guest posts he’s written (one, two, three).
Here is his encouragement to actually apply international relations theory to East Asia. I can’t agree more. There is far too much superficial, think-tank wonkery about East Asia (how many nukes does China have? will Pyongyang test another missile? and so on), and not nearly enough real theory. Dave does that, and you should too. So instead of yet another, I’ve-read-this-all-before policy essay about the South China Sea or China’s aircraft carrier, the essays referenced below should be good encouragement that we write something richer.
“Thanks to Bob and DoM for letting me guest-post yet again. I have an article on “International Relations Theory and East Asian History” that appears in the current issue of the Journal of East Asian Studies, edited by Stephan Haggard. In conjunction with this post, Lynne Rienner will make the article freely available to all for the next 30 days; you can download it here until October 1.
The entire issue is devoted to the international relations of historical East Asia. The special issue features essays by James Anderson, Kirk Larsen, Jiyoung Lee, Seohyun Park, Kenneth Robinson, and Yuan-kang Wang, all exploring different aspects of IR and East Asia in many disparate epochs and areas.
The conventional wisdom on the US presence in Asia is that we re-assure all players. Specifically, US allies don’t need to arms race local opponents, because the US has extended deterrence to cover them. Hence Japan and South Korea don’t need to go nuclear, for example. Among academics, this logic pops in the work of Christensen, Ikenberrry, and Nye; among policy analysts, here is the US military saying this, and here is the DC think-tank set.
But there’s flip-side to this logic that really needs to be investigated – whether the US presence also freezes conflicts in place, by reassuring Asian elites against their own reckless nationalist rhetoric, racially toxic historiographies, and Fox News-style inflammatory media (just read the Global Times op-ed page occasionally). I think the Liancourt Rocks fight is a particularly good example of this ‘moral hazard’ mechanic, as is the recent comment by no less than the South Korean foreign minister (!) that Abenomics’ threat to Korean export competitiveness is a greater danger to SK than North Korea’s nuclear program. That kind of preposterous, reckless myopia can only be explained by taking the US security umbrella for granted.
Newsweek Japan asked me to write an introductory essay for a special issue on tension in Northeast Asia. Basically I plea not to throw out all the remarkable growth of the last 35 years in an orgy of nationalism. It’s almost certain that the post-79 Asian peace was a necessary condition for simultaneous economic growth. So fighting over some empty rocks (Liancourt Rocks, Pinnacle Islands) is a terrible idea. And for IR, I think the current Sino-Japanese tension is a good test of the old liberal hypothesis that economic interdependence encourages peace. It’s fascinating to watch China especially try to figure out just how much economic gain to forego to push Japan over the Pinnacle Islands. Here we go:
This is a guest post by Jarrod Hayes. Jarrod is Assistant Professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs. He received his PhD in Politics and International Relations from the University of Southern California in 2009. From 2009 to 2010, he was the ConocoPhillips Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Oklahoma, a joint appointment between the Department of Political Science and the School of International and Area Studies.
Last week, my wife and I were hiking with a local day hiking group in Hong Kong. We were discussing Hong Kong’s pollution and the surprising fact that recycling does not appear to be a priority here. One of the women, an Australian expat who has been in Hong Kong for a number of years, made the observation that it is difficult to get the citizens of Hong Kong and Chinese generally to act for the sake of the community. I was immediately struck by the comment. Specifically, it brought to mind the ‘Asian Values’ argument—part of which argues that Asian societies value the community over the individual—that had a high profile in the 1990s and continues to pop up with varying degrees of frequency.
Usually (almost always?) the argument is deployed by China and other authoritarian states in the region to justify the denial of individual rights. I had always assumed there was probably something to the argument, if for no other reason than I did not want to be guilty of cultural imperialism. But the expat’s comment gave me reason to reflect on the last six months or so that my wife and I have spent in East and Southeast Asia. In doing so I have found there does not seem to be much evidence to support the ‘Asian Values’ claim. Certainly economic norms are as individualistic as they are in the West, perhaps even more so. It seems to me that the major cities of East and Southeast Asia have come close to perfecting consumerist capitalism (or are working hard at it), with its emphasis on the needs and wants of the individual. The social safety nets (i.e. community oriented economic provisions) here are also minimal, as the widespread and active panhandling in Chinese cities suggests. In terms of economic norms, individualism rules the day.