This year’s EWC International Media Conference in New Delhi opened with a robust plenary panel on current security and political relations between South and East Asia, with veteran NPR correspondent Julie McCarthy moderating a distinguished panel of journalists and scholars from the U.S., India, China, Japan and Thailand.
Anja Manuel, author of This Brave New World: India, China, and the United States, began the session by stating that “the rise of Asia is a hopeful trend,” but “much of the world appears to be in a defensive crouch.” Manuel cited the Brexit movement and the rise of right-wing groups throughout Europe as evidence of this global trend, along with the possible retrenchment of American trade abroad, a phenomenon that is a prime issue in the current U.S. presidential election. (Watch video of the panel.)
Increased security and cooperation between the U.S. and South/East Asia would require long-term and nuanced policies, a situation that is challenging to arrive at within the current electoral system, Manuel said. However, in her view, the result would be worth the effort. “If you practice cooperation, then you make the inevitable crisis that will come up easier to deal with,” she said.
Carnegie India Director C. Raja Mohan brought a longer view to the conversation by shifting the focus to terms such as “South Asia” and “East Asia” themselves. Mohan asserted that these rhetorical devices have only existed since WWII, before which time India was deeply involved in East Asian economies. Can India, China, Japan and the U.S. overcome these superficial divisions and “take the lead in limiting some of the conflicts in this continent?” he questioned.
Xie Songxin, assistant editor-in-chief of the China Daily newspaper also referenced historical relations between China and India as something worth reviving, emphasizing the importance of Chinese-India engagement in order to minimize the chance of a security miscalculation. In his view, China and India are “both still very poor countries” comparatively speaking, although they are also the upcoming engines of the world economy. Songxin argued that China and India have been proactive in re-establishing their relationship through high-level meetings and de-escalating potentials conflicts between them. According to Songxin, “a healthy relationship between India and China is a blessing to the world.”
Yoshihide Soeya, a professor at Japan’s Keio University, agreed with Songxin that “China is a central driver of regional changes,” but cautioned that “countries in proximity to China have to figure out how to deal with China’s inclination towards unilateralism.”
Kavi Chongkittavorn, senior fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies and an editor with Thailand’s Nation Group of publications, commented on the importance of Indian involvement in the broader region, but said that “India has never taken up that opportunity.” He admonished India for moving too slowly on both security and economic issues and allowing China to take the lead in Southeast Asia. Whether Southeast Asia serves as “a bridge or a barrier between India and China depends on how they engage us,” he said.
The panel concluded with a lively question and answer period, with many in the audience querying about the state of the U.S. presidential election and how the outcome might impact regional security in Asia. Mohan replied that whatever came of the election, “India has to be prepared to take a larger responsibility in its own affairs.” Songxin commented that the continuation of a multipolar world is important to global security, and that the U.S. and China should do what they can to avoid a “strategic rivalry.”