Asia Smiles for the Cameras

It wasn’t long ago that certain pundits were predicting war in Asia. Back in the spring, the conflict over the South China Sea was heating up as China sparred with Vietnam over an oil exploration rig and with the Philippines over disputed reefs. Japan and China, meanwhile, were butting heads over a string of uninhabited rocks in the ocean between them. South Korea and Japan, both U.S. allies,...
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The Dance of Superpowers

By now, the phrase “Pacific Pivot” gives off a whiff of nostalgia. The Obama administration’s announcement of its intention three years ago to reorient U.S. foreign policy toward Asia seems to belong to an entirely different era. It was a time when the United States had the luxury to think geopolitically: to craft long-term policies rather than simply respond to immediate crises. The United...
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Is China’s Rise Still Peaceful?

Last month I visited Ningxia province, in China’s northwest. It is a relatively poor region, with a large Muslim population, a considerable stretch of desert, and a growing petrochemical industry. It is far from the unrest of Xinjiang province to the west and the maritime disputes of the South China Sea to the east. Ningxia is leveraging its Muslim heritage to attract investment from the Arab...
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Deserts vs. Development in China

We were surrounded by sand. It stretched in undulating waves to the horizon in all directions. Wei Men, who works for the Baijitan Nature Reserve in Ningxia province, beckoned for us to step down from our desert overlook and take a close-up look at the desert floor. He wanted to show us what officials hope is the future of this arid stretch of China. Ningxia is facing a big problem. A small and...
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The Empire’s New Asian Clothes

In a future update of The Devil’s Dictionary, the famed Ambrose Bierce dissection of the linguistic hypocrisies of modern life, a single word will accompany the entry for “Pacific pivot”: retreat. It might seem a strange way to characterize the Obama administration’s energetic attempt to reorient its foreign and military policy toward Asia. After all, the president’s team has...
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When Soft Power Fails

The oldest Chinatown in the world is not in New York or San Francisco or even Yokohama. It is in Manila, a fact that comes up often when Beijing talks about its longstanding connection to the islands that lie about 600 miles to the southeast.  Similarly, China boasts of its three Confucius Institutes in the Philippines where Filipinos can learn Mandarin and appreciate the many facets of Chinese...
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