The Asia Foundation’s recent report on ‘Asian Views on America’s Role in Asia’ seeks to provide policy recommendations for the new U.S. administration’s continued engagement in Asia.

Carnegie India, in partnership with the Asia Foundation, hosted the release of the report with David Arnold, president of the Asia Foundation; Ellen Laipson, president emeritus and distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, who chaired the American task force; and the regional chairs of the initiative, Yoon Young-kwan, professor emeritus at Seoul National University, Thitinan Pongsudhirak, associate professor at Chulalongkorn University, and C. Raja Mohan, director of Carnegie India. The discussion was moderated by Ambassador Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.

DISCUSSION HIGHLIGHTS

  • Rolling the Liberal Order Back: A participant, disagreeing with the new U.S. administration’s “America First” policy, pointed out that since the end of the second World War, U.S. support for the liberal rules-based order has been based on considerations of national interest and economic prosperity. Other participants pointed out that the perception of disharmony between U.S. interests and globalization is not new in Washington. Nor is it unique to the United States, panelists pointed out; this discomfort with globalization is evident across several countries, particularly among low-skilled workers who did not benefit from the process. The pushback against increasing globalization in the United States seems to be more consequential because of the leading role it has played in upholding the liberal international order. However, participants also emphasized that it still is too early to understand the exactly how U.S. policies would be recalibrated.
  • Leadership Vacuum: Participants expressed concern that the decline in U.S. credibility among Asia-Pacific states after the abandonment of the Trans-Pacific Partnership may lead to a leadership and security vacuum in the region. Participants also discussed the possible negative impact of shifting U.S. priorities on global democratization and climate change. At the same time, participants recommended that the rest of world not take U.S. security commitments for granted and make their own strategic preparations accordingly. Participants agreed on the possibility of a middle power concert (including India, Japan, and Australia) emerging but cautioned that this process would take time.
  • A U.S. China Policy: While participants expressed appreciation of the recent mellowing of Trump’s confrontational stance vis-à-vis China, they disagreed on the implications of this change. They questioned whether this shift demonstrated the new administration’s openness to striking a deal with China, or if the administration is a “paper tiger”? Participants underlined the need for cooperation between Washington and Beijing in resolving the North Korean problem, through a combination of secondary sanctions and dialogue. Participants also discussed the opportunities presented by Trump’s transactional deal-making for promoting greater engagement with and among U.S. allies in Southeast Asia. Discussants noted that with the failure of Obama’s rebalance to Asia, countries in the region are looking for strategic engagement, backed by action, to change the trajectory of growing Chinese influence.
  • Consequences for India: Countries in South Asia needs to work together in new ways to cope with the emerging pushback against greater globalization, participants concluded. Discussants underlined the need for India to rethink its strategy of slow and hesitant trade negotiations and take the lead in promoting greater integration and openness in South Asia. Participants appreciated the possibility of India taking on a greater role in regional security, given the country’s ability to provide capacity-building assistance to smaller states and take the lead in establishing regional security mechanisms. Finally, panelists pointed to the impact on South Asia of changes in U.S. policy towards Russia as well as the emerging possibility of a U.S.-Russia-China triangle.

This event summary was prepared by Sharanya Rajiv, an intern at Carnegie India.

Agenda

2:30 p.m.

Registration

3:00 p.m.

Welcome remarks by Sagar Prasai, country representative, The Asia Foundation

3:05 p.m.

Opening remarks by David Arnold, president, The Asia Foundation

3:15 p.m.

Remarks by Yoon Young-kwan, professor of International Relations, Seoul National University and former minister of foreign affairs of South Korea

3:25 p.m.

Remarks by C Raja Mohan, director, Carnegie India

3:35 p.m.

Remarks by Thitinan Pongsudhirak, professor of International Relations and executive director, Institute of Security and International Studies, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

3:45 p.m.

Remarks by Ellen Laipson, distinguished fellow and president emeritus, The Stimson Center

3:55 p.m.

Question and answer session moderated by Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty, distinguished fellow, Observer Research Foundation

4:55 p.m.

Concluding remarks by Shivnath Thukral, managing director, Carnegie India

5:00 p.m.

High tea

 

Ellen Laipson 

Ellen Laipson is president emeritus and distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center. She is the chair of the American task force for Asian Views on America’s Role in Asia.

David Arnold

David Arnold is the president of the Asia Foundation. Prior to joining the Foundation, David was the president of the American University in Cairo and the Ford Foundation’s representative in India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka.

C. Raja Mohan 

C. Raja Mohan is director of Carnegie India, the foreign affairs columnist for the Indian Express, and a visiting research professor at the Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore. He is the South Asia chair for the Asian Views on America’s Role in Asia.

Thitinan Pongsudhirak

Thitinan Pongsudhirak is director of the Institute of Security and International Studies and associate professor of International Political Economy at the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University. He is the Southeast Asia chair for Asian Views on America’s Role in Asia.

Yoon Young-kwan

Yoon Young-kwan is professor emeritus in the department of Political Science and International Relations, Seoul National University. He served as minister of foreign affairs and trade for the Korean government from 2003 to 2004. He is the Northeast Asia chair for Asian Views on America’s Role in Asia.

Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty

Pinak Ranjan Chakravarty is a distinguished fellow with Observer Research Foundation’s Regional Studies Initiative. A former member of the Indian Foreign Service, he served as the high commissioner to Bangladesh, ambassador to Thailand, and secretary (economic relations) in the Ministry of External Affairs. He is a contributor to Asian Views on America’s Role in Asia.