Welcome to Council on Asian Affairs!

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message from the co-founders of the Council on Asian Affairs, Riley Walters and Olivia Enos

A little more than a year ago, the Council on Asian Affairs (CoAA) was just a figment of our imaginations. Little did we know it would grow to more than one hundred  young Asia policy professionals in such a short amount of time.

After attending events around town, and talking to leaders in our respective fields, we recognized the need for a group devoted exclusively to connecting, informing, and empowering young Asia policy professionals.

We eventually created what is now the Council on Asian Affairs.

CoAA is a non-partisan, off-the-record group for under- thirty Asia policy professionals in Washington, D.C.Through monthly meetings, our members are able to meet and form friendships with other young Asia policy professionals in the D.C. area while simultaneously learning from the top experts in the field.

Members of our diverse group come from a variety of think tanks, academia, the policy and business communities, small trade associations, embassies, and abroad. Council members are not without exposure to great thinkers and writers, but lack opportunities to put into practice their valuable skills. The Council was created to fill that void by providing a platform for members to think, write, and speak on political, economic, and defense issues facing Asia.

As our membership continues to expand, it seems fitting to launch an official website. Our hope is that the creation of this website will serve as an excellent publishing opportunity that expands the influence of our members – allowing members to create new content for the website or re-publish from other prestigious outlets.

We are excited for the year ahead as we host new and exciting events, seek to expand our membership, and deepen our friendship with existing members.

We look forward to seeing you at our next meeting,

Riley and Olivia

Taiwan and the Rebalance

City lights of Taipei, Taiwan Source: Flickr

by Lauren Dickey

Taiwan has been called an “unsinkable aircraft carrier,” a “beacon of democracy” in the Asia-Pacific region. Despite such rhetorical framings and an acute awareness of the island’s geostrategic and political importance, Taiwan has had a heretofore underwhelming role in Washington’s rebalance to Asia. Under the leadership of President Ma Ying-jeou in Taipei, it is essential Taiwan finds its voice and role in support of the rebalance; and, more importantly, that Washington policymakers work with their counterparts in Taiwan to include the island in economic and security components of the ongoing rebalancing.

In a December 2014 study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, polling of Taiwanese policymaking elite and business leaders suggests an optimistic, even hopeful, perception of the U.S. rebalance. Deepened economic ties and trade relations with the United States can bring benefits to Taiwanese from all walks of life; and U.S. leadership in Asia as a stabilizing presence is supported by both the traditionally pro-independence Democratic Progress Party (DPP) and pro-mainland China Kuomintang (KMT) parties. Moreover, for Taiwanese politicians, the U.S. rebalance offers incentive for restructuring the priorities of the Taiwanese government. Seen most clearly in persistent attempts tomodernize the Taiwanese fighting force, despite declining defense budgets jeopardizing military preparedness, the Taiwanese military envisions a role for itself in the security component of the rebalance. Of course there is also the hope that deeper, closer ties with the United States—even if predominantly economic in nature—will further Taiwan’s footing at the international level, creating opportunities for the island to engage with other countries more on an informal, but still productive, basis.

Beyond these aspirations for how the U.S. rebalance can support and include Taiwan, there are those that remain concerned that Washington’s strategy will ultimately do more harm than good for Taiwan. Since Ma Ying-jeou was elected president in 2008, Taipei has witnessed tremendous progress in cross-strait ties to Beijing. Before Ma took the helm of Taiwanese leadership, not even cross-strait trade and travel could happen directly; all goods and people going between the two sides of the strait were required to transit in Hong Kong or elsewhere. In addition to the opening of direct linkages, the Ma Ying-jeou years have also ushered in closer economic ties, including the 2010 signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA). Yet recent months have seen far less progress in cross-strait rapprochement. Some blame the lack of strategic flexibility under Chinese President Xi Jinping toward Taiwan; others note the shift of domestic politics in Taiwan and widespread concerns of increased vulnerability caused by economic interdependence with mainland China; and still others blame the rebalance for exacerbating tensions between the United States and China, leaving little room for deepening the cross-strait relationship.

Leadership in Taipei can only maintain strategic ambiguity for so long. It may be strategically sound for Taiwan to avoid public, or official, comments on the U.S. rebalance to Asia, but a failure to openly discuss the role Taipei wants to play in the rebalance will come at the expense of closer ties with both Washington and Beijing. While Taiwan is eyeing participation in the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) with keen interest, other elements of Taipei’s support for the rebalance remain unclear. The rebalance creates an irreplaceable opportunity for Taiwan to become more involved in the Asia-Pacific region, giving the island a voice in regional affairs it may otherwise struggle to acquire of its own accord.

It is time the government in Taipei actively and openly supports the rebalance, through smart, fiscally sound military modernization effortsand requisite economic reforms. President Ma Ying-jeou owes it to the Taiwanese population to delineate a clearer strategy for the island vis-à-vis the United States and mainland China, honoring his pledge to support a future for the island as shaped by public consent. A Taiwan that knows what role it will play in the rebalance, and a Washington that is committed to supporting Taipei under the legacies of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act, bolsters stability and the Asian regional order. Taiwan has mattered and will continue to matter in the U.S. rebalance to Asia—the island is poised to be an important partner and should act and be treated as such.

Looking East and Marching West: Where China and India Meet

Source: Flickr, Russ Neumeier, http://bit.ly/18cAaRq

By Ashlyn Anderson and Lauren Dickey

All eyes are on the meetings this week between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, both regarded as decisive leaders.

As India “looks east” and China “marches west,” the timing of the meetings between the dragon and elephant powers is particularly auspicious. Although the focus of the meetings will be the forging of grand business schemes, the two leaders will likely highlight other avenues for expanded regional and international cooperation, all while tiptoeing around contentious issues.

India remains wary of China’s political motives, but nonetheless eager to attract Chinese investment to meet its infrastructure needs and narrow the trade deficit. President Xi Jinping is expected to ink a number of investment deals in industrial parks and railways this week. Today, the two leaders also set up a pact to develop Modi’s home state of Gujarat as the sister province to China’s Guangdong province. By drastically stepping up its economic engagement with India—with investment commitments expected to reach $100 billion–China hopes to gain strategic influence at a time when leaders across the globe are making efforts to woo Modi.

The Xi-Modi meetings this week also have the potential to yield action steps for increased cooperation in regional and international multilateral initiatives. While the United States will continue to play a strong security role in the region, Asian countries are increasingly looking to build up their own regional security architecture. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with its focus on security issues from counterterrorism to Afghan stability, has recently put finishing touches on procedures for new members: India, Pakistan, and Iran. With a memorandum for expanding membership now signed, India, a current SCO observer, has since submitted its application for full membership, a move intended to solidify India’s regional coordination through the SCO on security, energy, and economic issues. President Xi delineated a similar vision at the Conference on International and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) in May, with China looking to India as a prime partner in developmental initiatives targeted at improving lives and narrowing the wealth gap in Asian societies. For both countries, sustainable regional development and economic cooperation are the foundation for regional security. But India has yet to decide just how much it wants to be involved in multilateral initiatives, including the SCO and CICA, when such bodies are closely steered by Beijing.

While China increasingly views India’s rise as an opportunity, recognizing common interests in the two countries’ economic visions for Asia and beyond, India is carefully balancing its engagement with China and other countries in the region. Although Modi’s development goals for India stand to gain from collaboration with China on its westward-looking projects, such as the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar economic corridor–a part of China’s larger New Silk Road vision–New Delhi is less enthusiastic about the expansion of Chinese influence in its neighboring countries, economic benefits aside. Plus, as a part of its “Look East” policy, India is actively involved in its own regional development initiatives with its neighbors and the ASEAN countries, such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation.

A key priority for President Xi Jinping during his tour this week is to generate support for the new Maritime Silk Road (MSR), and Modi will likely use the opportunity to express New Delhi’s concerns. While the MSR would undoubtedly increase trade within the region and beyond, China’s strategy could also impinge on New Delhi’s economic role with its neighbors along the route. In Sri Lanka and elsewhere, port cities central to the MSR are seen by Indian strategists as a “string of pearls” intended to contain New Delhi’s regional reach. It is notable that India signed accords this week with Vietnam, one of China’s competitors in the South China Sea, focused on deepening security and energy cooperation just as President Xi visited Sri Lanka and Maldives.

At the multilateral level, if China asserts tight control or leadership of organizations and initiatives, India will be less likely to be an active participant. Indian engagement with China in multilateral organizations is a positive development; at the same time, such cooperation may also be seen as a means to sidestep – or even distract New Delhi from – other concerns such as China’s support to Pakistan, the Sino-Indian border dispute, and China’s influence on India’s periphery. Over the weekend, for instance, more than two hundred PLA soldiers crossed the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh to what India considers its territory, using cranes and bulldozers to build a 1.2 mile road. Indian soldiers challenged the Chinese to withdraw and promptly demolished the PLA’s road building efforts. Already, there is ample evidence that India is taking steps to ensure it does not become subordinated to Beijing’s regional sway, with Modi signing new defense cooperation agreements with Japan and Australia, and signaling greater engagement with neighboring countries.

Still, there is unusual optimism for the Xi-Modi meetings, mostly attributed to the current leadership of both countries. Indeed, President Xi Jinping remarked today in the Hindu, “China-India relations have become one of the most dynamic and promising bilateral [relationships] in the 21st century,” in advance of his trip. This week will provide a preview of what China-India cooperation might look like if the two countries can keep their differences at bay.

Republished from Indo-Pacific Review