“This is going to be one of those moments where all the theories don’t apply,” said John Yasuda, a faculty member at IU’s School of Global and International Studies, as he and three other panelists sought to predict the future in Asia. The panel, titled “Asia’s Rise,” was part of the third annual America’s Role in the World conference convened in Bloomington by SGIS on March 28 and 29.
Although Yasuda’s comment could apply to the entire region, the China specialist was talking in particular about the Chinese legislature’s recent abolition of term limits, which permits President Xi Jinping to rule indefinitely. However, “it would be inaccurate to characterize this as a moment of strength,” Yasuda cautioned. “I really see this as a crisis moment for China,” he explained, citing the many pressing issues the country must face, involving, among others, the environment, its debt problem, and labor unrest.
Moderated by SGIS professor David Bosco, the panelists considered an array of other developments in Asia, including the prospect of U.S.- North Korean talks and the Asian role in world trade.
Speaking of North Korea, panelist Mark Minton, a former U.S. ambassador to Mongolia, noted that the situation is changing so quickly, “it’s a little like trying to pin a living, flying butterfly to your collection board.” Minton, now a professor of practice at SGIS, played a leading role in U.S./Asia relations during his three decades of foreign service.
“I don’t think we will stumble into a military conflict with North Korea,” Minton predicted. “One thing to understand about the North Koreans is that their nuclear program is not about military matters. It’s about diplomatic leverage. They have no intention of attacking the United States.”
Minton was cautiously optimistic about the talks, given that all parties—North and South Korea, the U.S., and China—share an interest in their success. “The lumber is sitting there in the lumberyard,” Minton said. “The question is, are the carpenters skilled enough to put it together?”
Bosco asked the panelists to consider whether China will replace the U.S. as the principal defender of the international trading system, given the current American administration’s abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and its preference for bilateral, rather than multilateral, trade agreements.
Panelist James Keith, who served as the National Security Council director for China, said he did not believe that China is ready to replace the U.S. just yet. China is happy to reap the benefits of international trade, noted Keith, who served as U.S. ambassador to Malaysia and now heads the Asia practice for McLarty Associates. But, he added, “China has not necessarily lived up to the responsibilities that go with being a member of a rules-based global economy.”
And panelist Alyssa Ayres, the author of Our Time Has Come: How India is Making its Place in the World, wasn’t confident that India could fill the void, either. “I think you see that India both welcomes and seeks greater engagement with global economic powers and companies,” commented Ayres, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. But she reminded the audience that the Indian economy is one fifth the size of China’s. And, referring to import tariffs that India has recently imposed, Ayres concluded that it “is not quite ready to bring down some of its remaining barriers to open trade.”