Evan Feigenbaum’s work has spanned government service, think tanks, the private sector, and three regions of Asia—East, Central, and South.
This site is devoted to the dynamics of a changing Asia—and to the role of the United States in this crucial part of the world.
Much of my writing examines these dynamics: the reemergence of China and India as global players; the changing roles of an already global Japan, as well as Korea and Southeast Asian countries on the international stage; the strategic and economic reintegration of maritime and continental Asia; and Asian geopolitics and geoeconomics, among other subjects.
A particular focus has been the tensions, opportunities, and constraints that will determine how the United States—a Pacific power with enduring and significant strategic interests in Asia—successfully adapts itself to the changes now reshaping this dynamic (and increasingly integrated) region.
This is not just a question of whether, or to what extent, there is or isn’t an American “rebalance” or “pivot” toward the region (although a strategically assertive, high priority, and well-resourced American rebalance to Asia is critically important).
It is, more broadly, a question of whether the United States appreciates the underlying ways in which Asia is changing and thus the growing competitive challenge to U.S. leadership (and, ultimately, relevance) in the Pacific. Bluntly put, Asia is becoming vastly different from the region that Americans have grown accustomed to since 1945.
Washington should not shy away from this competition. The United States can and should adapt and compete. But doing so will require, first, a clear understanding of the depths and origins of change in Asia. Put simply, the United States cannot succeed, in either geopolitics or business, unless it properly understands the sources of its competition in the first place.
Above all, that means understanding what the regrowth of strategic and economic connections within Asia will mean for American interests.
Gradually, but inexorably, the region is becoming more Asian than “Asia-Pacific,” especially in its economic arrangements; more continental than subcontinental as East and South Asia become more closely intertwined; and more Central Asian than Eurasian, as China develops its western regions and five former Soviet countries loosen their longstanding economic ties with Moscow and rediscover their Asian roots
The reconnection of Asia into a region that more closely resembles its historical norm reflects trends that date back decades yet has accelerated in recent years. It is a function of the choices, actions, and capabilities of many Asian states—not just China with its new “Belt and Road” initiative, Silk Road Fund, and so on, but also Japan, India, and South Korea, among others.
For a thousand years, this was pretty much the natural order of things: Asia was an economic engine, a locus of science and innovation, a center of ideas and intellectual ferment, and the nexus of global power. Goods, capital, technologies, ideas, and religions, including Buddhism and Islam, moved across Silk Road caravan routes and over well-trafficked Asian sea lanes.
But between the 17th and 19th centuries, Asia fragmented. Maritime trade swamped continental trade. ‘‘The caravel killed the caravan’’ as it became less expensive to ship goods by sea. China weakened. Tsarist armies arrived in Central Asia. And many of India’s traditional roles in Asia were subsumed within the British empire.
Today, after a 300-year hiatus, Asia is being reconnected at last. Chinese traders are again hawking their wares in Kyrgyz bazaars. Straits bankers are financing deals in India, with Singapore having become the second-largest source of India’s incoming foreign direct investment over the last decade (behind only Mauritius, which retains first place because of tax avoidance incentives). China lies at the core of industrial supply and production chains that stretch across Southeast Asia. And Chinese workers are building ports and infrastructure from Bangladesh to Pakistan to Sri Lanka. The governments of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan have sold electricity southward, reconnecting their power grids to Afghanistan, while Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan have signed an intergovernmental memorandum to sell electricity to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean money is flowing across Asia.
In short, Asia is being reborn, and remade. Yet the United States is badly prepared—intellectually, strategically, and bureaucratically—for this momentous rebirth, which is at once stitching Asia back together and making the United States less relevant in each of Asia’s constituent parts.
Asians are, in various ways, passing America by, restoring ancient ties and repairing long-broken strategic and economic links.
The United States will not cease to be a power in Asia, of course, particularly in East Asia where Washington remains an essential strategic balancer, vital to stability. Indeed, that security-related role has been reinforced in recent years, as China’s security behavior has scared its neighbors silly, from Japan to Vietnam to India to the Philippines.
But unless U.S. policymakers adapt to the contours of a more integrated Asia, and soon, they will miss opportunities in every part of the region over time—and find the United States less relevant to Asia’s future.
With enduring interests across the Indo-Pacific region, it is essential that the United States adapt, compete, and succeed.