Student Blog | The China-Japan-Southeast Asia Relationship

In her assessment of China’s contemporary foreign policy Dr. Rumi Aoyama, a leading scholar in Chinese Foreign Policy from Waseda University, noted that China is creating meaningful “economic, institutional, and political ties around the world.”

Aoyama began this semester’s Sun & Star Japan and East Asia colloquiums with a lecture discussing China-Japan-Southeast Asia relations from both a historical and modern analytic perspective. Her lecture was divided into three parts: (1) Chinese foreign policy toward Southeast Asia, (2) the China-Japan relationship, and (3) the possibility of big power conflict.

China’s Foreign Policy in Southeast Asia

Because China is an economic and diplomatic giant its relationship with Southeast Asian states is asymmetric. These relationships are also relatively new. After opening its economy China was forced to start on the ground floor by building and restoring diplomatic relations with its regional neighbors. Full-scale diplomatic efforts and regional engagement did not truly begin until after demarcation, most notably in 1996, which coincided with Western engagement.

1996 – 2006

This early era of Chinese diplomacy proved to be comparatively successful in terms of regional cooperation. Numerous changes, including sharing maritime claims, industry and economic engagement such as the ASEAN-Chine Free Trade Area and bilateral free trade agreements with various ASEAN states, helped to strengthen regional cooperation. As a result of these early collaborative economic efforts China is now one of the top three trading partners for every ASEAN state. Additionally, it was during this time that China began to delve into a more multilateral framework for its foreign relations, not only in terms of participation, but also in regard to leadership. In these years China became engaged with the Six-Party Talks, ASEAN+3, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), and several other multilateral diplomatic efforts. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, in 1997 China adopted a new security concept of regional cooperation in non-traditional security areas. Up to this point Asian security hinged almost completely on bilateral treaties and relations with the United States. This new security standpoint, an attempt to create a more China-dependent region, entailed development programs with nations such as Cambodia, Thailand, and Myanmar as well as efforts in addressing transnational human and drug trafficking.

2006 and On

In the last decade Chinese aggression and the Pivot to Asia have changed the situation.

First, Chinese aggression is the direct product of China’s changed foreign policy goals. China redefined its national interests in 2006, moving its central focus from economic development to the concepts of sovereignty, security, and development. With security at the forefront of policy decisions China has become undeniably more assertive in the region, most notably in maritime issues such as the ongoing dispute in the South China Sea.

Secondly, the Obama Administration’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ is largely regarded as Washington’s counterbalance to Beijing’s increasing regional and international presence. China’s response to the Pivot is known as One Belt One Road (OBOR), which is a combination of the historic Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. In totality OBOR would span three continents: Asia, Africa, and Europe. It would include 60 countries and offer “five connectivities”: (1) policy consultation, (2) infrastructure connectivity, (3) free trade agreements, (4) currency cooperation, and (5) people-to-people connectivity. Ultimately OBOR has the potential to truly integrate China into the international arena in an unprecedented way.

Even if China makes no concessions on maritime issues it is now in a position to better economically integrate the region, in particular with regard to Southeast Asian states.

The China-Japan Relationship

The relationship between China and Japan is at the worst it has been since the normalization of relations in 1972. Perceptions of the relationship are dismal; over 50 percent of Chinese citizens and nearly 40 percent of Japanese citizens do not believe relations will get better. In both nations, overwhelming majorities of people have a negative image of the other nation.

In light of these statistics Aoyama stopped to analyze the question: What hampers Sino-Japanese relations? In both China and Japan the three most cited issues were: the Senkaku/Diaoyu Island dispute, the larger maritime resource issue, and the grand-standing history of dispute between the two nations.

Those who regard the other nation with positive sentiment, Aoyama said, feel that way because of bilateral economic relations and basic people to people interaction and connection.

Nevertheless, the state of the Sino-Japanese relationship presents a major security dilemma. The East China Sea dispute is not a passing issue. The historic precedent for conflict is not a memory that will be absolved at least in the foreseeable future, and the introduction of Japan’s 2015 Security Legislation undoubtedly complicated matters, though it was necessary for Japanese international contribution and national defense.

Big Power Competition

To wrap up her lecture and explain the greater implications of contemporary Chinese foreign policy Aoyama cited three points of contention that could lead to conflict with China in the near future.

  1. The U.S. Pivot to Asia and the Japanese Security Dilemma
  2. China’s One Belt One Road
  3. Russian Relations

While the first two have been discussed previously, the addition of the relationship with Russia as a matter of concern is extremely notable. Aoyama stated plainly that U.S. presence in Asia is causing realignment between China and Russia. Additionally, Russia has been improving relations with Southeast Asian nations, namely through the exportation of weapons to countries such as Indonesia and Vietnam.

As both a reaction to their perception of Western containment and their own security agenda, China’s foreign policy, while presenting the opportunity for greater regional and international integration, creates an unmistakable possibility for big power conflict.

Claire Huitt is a senior at Southern Methodist University triple majoring in public policy, economics, and political science with a focus on international relations and the Asian Pacific. She is a Bauer Scholar in Political Science, Hamilton Scholar, Engaged Learning Fellow, a representative of IGNITE Women in Politics, Chair on Asian Pacific Relations with the Tower Center Student Forum, Dedman School of Law Pre-Law Scholar, New Century Scholar, and a member of the University Honors Program. After graduation Claire intends to attend law school and pursue a career in international law and foreign affairs.

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Edward Rincón: Immigration and crime levels are not correlated

Tower Center Associate Edward Rincón wrote a commentary for TribTalk looking at the politics of sanctuary cities, which have been under attack by President Trump. In an executive order to strengthen immigration enforcement, Trump said he would punish local governments that do not comply with federal authorities.

Rincón argues that Texas lawmakers fighting against sanctuary cities are “wolves in sheep’s” clothing, especially Governor Greg Abbott. While Trump claims immigration leads to more violent crime, Rincón said research contradicts this idea.

“Texas residents may feel safer as a result of this destructive legislation, but it will not be long before they will also feel the consequences of a vanishing immigrant community in terms of higher prices, labor shortages and a stagnating economy,” Rincón said.

Read his commentary here.

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TC Fellow Jeffrey Kahn, constitutional law professor, examines travel ban

Tower Center Fellow and SMU Jeffrey Kahn discussed the nature of presidential power, specifically the power of the president to issue impactful executive orders like President Trump’s recent travel ban in an interview on FOX4.

A judge in Washington has already ruled against Trump’s executive order, which prevents refugees from entering the country for 120 days, and bans citizens from seven different Muslim-majority countries for 90 days.

In response to Trump’s tweet admonishing the federal judge, Kahn said “It’s very important that each branch understand that they are co-equal branches in our federal government, and when one branch attacks the integrity or the individual decision makers in their spheres that is an attack that is very, very dangerous for the country.”

Watch the full interview here.

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Event recap | The Mass Politics of Immigration

Dr. Wayne Cornelius, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of California at San Diego, gave a talk at the Tower Center Feb. 1 called “The Mass Politics of Immigration.”

Cornelius argues there have been eight episodes of American nativism dating all the way back to waves of anti-German and anti-French sentiments in the 1790s. His presentation focused on more recent episodes including a wave of anti-Mexican sentiment appearing in 1990 and an anti-Middle East wave beginning after 9/11.

Cornelius tracked the anti-Mexican wave back to California in the 1990s, and more specifically to Proposition 187, a statute with the goal of denying undocumented workers access to public services. He said immigrants were a scapegoat for the economic state of California.

Contributing factors and perceptions to the anti-immigration sentiment

The anti-immigrant sentiment is driven by several factors according to Cornelius, including the number of immigrants coming (which surged in the early ’90s), the country of origin (“problem nationalities”), catalytic events (such as Prop 187 and 9/11), and media exposure (both volume and content). He said excessive media coverage of Latino immigration has shaped public perception by leading people to believe it is a problem, even though people are emigrating from India and China at a much faster rate.

Another contributing factor  is political entrepreneurs who exploit the fears and concerns of people in order to win votes. His first example of this was Pete Wilson, who won the election to become governor of California in 1994.

When the discussion then turned to President Donald Trump, Cornelius said he was simultaneously riding the wave of the anti-immigration sentiment and building it up. The perceptions of immigration that fuel these negative feelings are that immigrants take jobs away from Americans, they increase taxes, they benefit greedy employers and advance corporate welfare, and as Samuel Huntington said, they threaten American culture and identity.

According to Cornelius, the perception of immigration is divided politically as well. “The majority of Democrats say immigrants strengthen us, while the majority of Republicans say they burden us,” he said.

The sentiment against immigration is strongest with the white working class. “They saw that America was changing unfavorably for them, and they believed immigration was driving the change,” he said. Cornelius argues this led them to vote for Donald Trump and the Republican Party.  That being said, anti-immigration feelings are resulting in increased white Republicanism.

The incentive for politicians to engage in immigrant bashing won’t change until demography does. While the Latino population in the U.S. is growing, Latino voter turnout remains low. Even with Trump’s explosive rhetoric, Latino turnout only increased by 1 percent. Gerrymandering will also continue to dampen the Latino voice, according to Cornelius.

The negative bipartisan view of immigration

While roughly 70 percent of the population is in favor of finding a way for undocumented

Pia Orrenius, senior economist at the Dallas Federal Reserve, asks Dr. Cornelius a question.

immigrants to stay in the U.S., allowing for increased flows of people legally into the country remains unpopular in both parties.

Pia Orrenius, senior economist at the Dallas Federal Reserve and Tower Center Senior Fellow, argued that this is problematic since immigration is essential to the U.S. economy.

“The goals to attain 3-4 percent GPD growth are dreams without immigration,” Orrenius said.

Cornelius made the argument that people come here illegally for lack of a better option. Without reforming the system, they will continue to come.

“The legal immigration system is broken,” he said.

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Q&A | My time as a campaign manager

Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Kovan Barzani, class of 2017, managed Jim Burke’s 2016 campaign for the Texas House of Representatives District 114 in Dallas. Barzani started out as a Fellow at the Dallas County Democratic Party, and within a month he was running Burke’s campaign. Barzani is triple majoring in economics, public policy and management. Upon graduation in May he will be working for Capital One in Dallas as a business analyst. The Tower Center sat down with Barzani to hear his story.

How did you become Jim Burke’s campaign manager?

During my first couple of days as a volunteer at the Dallas County Democratic Party I made this huge spreadsheet that did a bunch of data work for all of the campaigns of the county. I showed it to some of the people who organize where we walk and they were pretty impressed by it so they had me take on a bigger role. By the end of the first week I was doing strategy work instead of making phone calls.

I led the first successful targeted Muslim outreach in Dallas County at that time. That got me a lot of attention. Burke watched me do all of this and I designed a strategy for his district and showed it to him. He really liked it. Then I asked if I could manage his campaign and he said sure. He was a throw-in candidate (someone you put in the race to gauge how the district is doing), but I wanted to make it a little more competitive. Voters shouldn’t just have to see that he’s a Democrat; they should see what that Democrat actually stands for.

What did you learn as a manager?

The importance of logistics. I realized that you can make really cool signs, posters or whatever, but if you don’t have a place to put them, then you’re going to struggle. Even if you have a place, you have to figure out how to get the signs there. I didn’t have a truck so I would have to go to Plano, pick up my mom’s SUV, drive to 635 around that district, put signs down, then drive back to Plano and pick up my car and drive home. I never thought about that when I was making the signs, I just thought we were going to have really cool signs.

What was it like earn a leadership position so quickly?

It was great because I got to go through and do things my way. I didn’t go through old campaign strategies or anything like that. I was taking it by the horns and saying “You know what? We’re going to try some new things out.”

One thing I did was a huge mail service for door hangers. My thinking was that if we could get a lot of people to turn out, we could reshape not just for Jim’s sake but for the Democratic Party in general. That House district that we were in was also in a U.S. Congressional District (Pete Sessions, R-TX, District 32) which voted more for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. These efforts that we did targeting low propensity voters actually helped Hillary’s performance in Dallas County more than would have traditionally been done. That was my strategy, to make sure that we could get turnout up all around the county, specifically in the northern part.

It reshaped my whole perspective of how politics should be. It should focus heavily on the local but it doesn’t.

How did being in the Tower Scholars Program affect your involvement?

A lot of Scholars were coming in and helping out from time to time and it was that network that helped support me.

In addition, while we didn’t really learn about campaigning in the Tower Scholar classes, we learned that in policy you always want to go back to the constituents and ask them what they want. So early in the campaign before we had a strong platform we went out and walked neighborhoods and asked people what they wanted from a candidate. There’s no guarantee you’ll win but at least you started a discussion. That idea comes from the Program. You can’t be out of touch and make policy.

But the network of the Program is the most powerful thing. Even Republicans within the program told me that they hoped I could pull it off. There’s some camaraderie there that’s nonpartisan, and supporting someone even if you don’t agree with them is a huge thing.

Do you see yourself managing more campaigns in the future?

Now that I’ve gotten into it, it’s a lot harder to get out of it. I’m taking a break for a little bit, but I expect to get back involved with the city council and mayoral races if I can find a candidate that I like and hopefully help them put in a message of change and progress. What I’ve learned now is that the local level, the city level, all of that is where everything really happens. And if you can control your cities and promote a good and strong ideology there, then you’ll probably win these elections. It all starts at that level.

I want to hopefully go on and get a joint MBA and policy degree and see where I go from there. I went from volunteer to campaign manager in less than a month. I didn’t even plan on being a volunteer until two weeks before I became one. So through a short stretch of time, everything exploded and that gives me hope. You need to have some plan and direction, but if you’re willing to put both feet forward, do what you can do, you’re always going to end up in a successful place. You just need to understand your skills and know what you can do.

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Amb. Robert Jordan & Darab Ganji | “Trump administration must differentiate between the regime and the Iranian people”

Tower Center Diplomat-in-Residence Ambassador Robert Jordan and Darab Ganji, political economist and Tower Center board member, coauthored a piece for the Dallas Morning News emphasizing the importance of distinguishing between the Iranian regime and the Iranian people.

“More than 70 percent of the Iranian population of 80 million is under 35 and more than 50 percent is under the age of 25,” Jordan and Ganji wrote.

“These young people desperately seek freedom, equality, human rights, economic opportunity, modernity and a better life — all of which they realize the mullah regime is incapable of delivering.”

After an Iranian missile launch and an attack on a Saudi Arabian naval vessel by Houthi rebels, U.S. National Security Adviser Michael Flynn made a statement saying the Trump administration was “officially putting Iran on notice.”

Tower Chair Joshua Rovner was interviewed on FOX4 to respond to Flynn’s comments. He said they could be construed as a threat to scare Iran out of violating the nuclear deal, or it could be bait. If Iran breaks the deal, the Trump administration can back out as well and revisit imposing sanctions.

Rovner also said Flynn’s comments will reaffirm Iranian hardliners that the U.S. was never committed to helping Iran, while also disheartening Iranian moderates who were clinging to the hope of improved relations.

Jordan and Ganji conclude their piece with this thought: “For Iran, the time has come to marginalize the mullah regime and to supply oxygen to those who yearn for freedom.”

Read their full commentary here.

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Josh Rovner | “Trump’s National Security Council Changes Aren’t Unusual — For The Most Part”

Tower Chair Joshua Rovner was interviewed by FiveThirtyEight about President Trump’s new National Security Council.

Trump issued a memo Saturday outlining the structure of his NSC, as every new president does, but his has caught more national attention than usual.

Read about the changes and what they mean, with Rovner’s input, here.

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Idean Salehyan | “A Look at President Trump’s Travel Ban”

Tower Center Associate Idean Salehyan sat down with KERA Think’s Alia Salem as part of a discussion looking at the legality of and the reasoning behind President Trump’s travel ban.

Trump signed an executive order Saturday banning all travel to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries and halting the flow of refugees from Syria.

“I think the evidence is clear that something like this harms U.S. national security in the long term,” Salehyan said. “The term ‘extreme vetting’ sounds good for political reasons but anyone who is familiar with the system knows it is a very secure process,” he said.

Listen to the discussion on KERA here.


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Jim Hollifield | “Mexico trade war would put Texas economy, jobs at stake”

Tower Center Academic Director Jim Hollifield was interviewed by the Dallas Morning News regarding the negative impact that reduced trade with Mexico could have on the Texas economy.

“Mexico is a huge part of the Texas success story,” he said. “ The Texas economy stands to be hit hard by Trump policies.”

Read the article here.

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Tower Scholar visits Poland | “Something I Will Never Forget”

Destiny Rose Murphy explores the Radegast Train Station Memorial in Lodz, Poland. Photo: Emily Jones

Highland Capital Management Tower Scholar Destiny Rose Murphy, class of 2019, spent her winter break in Poland traveling to World War II-era concentration camps and memorials as part of the Embrey Human Rights Program Poland Holocaust Education Trip.

Those who want to earn a Human Rights minor from SMU have the option of either traveling with the program on one of the various trips offered during the year, or participating in a service project. The trip to Poland to study Holocaust-affected areas is one that has been repeated every year for over a decade, and is generally regarded as the most impactful trip that a student can make. This year I was able to go thanks to a donor who provided scholarship funds that covered the costs of the flights, hotel stays and various museum and travel fees associated with the trip.

Our trip took us through almost the entire countryside of Poland, with stops along the way that ranged from small roadside memorials to massive Nazi created camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau. All of us have heard the statistics about the Holocaust: over six million killed, most of them Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and Polish political resistors. The purpose of this trip was to humanize that number. It is difficult to fathom six million, but it is much easier to understand when one looks at the picture of a child who did not survive the war. Each day we learned about new aspects of Polish history, and each day we were exposed to new facts about the atrocities committed during World War II. At most of the sites we left our own memorials; candles and quiet words of remembrance brought us closure in those places of despair. The tour guides who showed us around often peppered their retellings of the past with information about the current turbulent state of Polish politics and examples of how the country does not really see this “history” as history, but as a tragic episode that is still shaping the Polish national conscious today.

I do not regret my trip to Poland; in fact, I would recommend to every member of the student body, staff, and beyond that they make time to do something similar. However, I will never take a trip like that again. It was, bar none, the hardest thing that I have ever done. To be immersed in the ruins of death camps all day, every day, to be away from my family during a season that is synonymous with family time, to be in a country that does not speak my tongue nor serve my comfort food, and to fall asleep each night feeling guilty for being upset about such comparatively small troubles was more emotionally and physically taxing than I can possibly hope to describe.  I pride myself on my knowledge of language and my ability to communicate, and yet to attempt to convey the feelings that I experienced in Poland would be folly.

What I can tell you is that it made me grateful. Christmas Eve in Poland made me grateful for the screaming cousins and arguing family that I am frustrated by all too often back in the States. The freezing rain and constant fog made me grateful for the 70-degree days. I wished I could be back in Texas, cursing the absence of snow on Christmas. Perhaps most impactful were the stories of Nazi soldiers rounding up members of Polish academia, which made me grateful for the freedom I have to triple major and double minor here at SMU without fear of being arrested for the crime of a knowledge of philosophy.

With the political season raging and the unity of the holiday season forgotten already it is easy to fall victim to day-to-day stress. Certainly new classes are frightening for students, and the roll over of the year brings changes in jobs, not to mention the challenges of tax season. For me, however, Poland has provided perspective. Times are hard for many of us, but at least for me, and for most people I know, they are relatively safe. My bed is soft and covered with pillow pets. I get to choose if I want to spend extra money on organic, avocado oil mayonnaise. I get to march in the streets or write a blog post if I feel that my government is heading the wrong direction. These things are all liberties that were taken away from those who came before us, and we would do well to remember that on the days that seem darkest. It is only by remembering that we will know when to stand up to those who threaten us, but so, too, it is through remembering the past that we can cherish the present.

Destiny Rose Murphy is from Denton, Texas and plans on triple majoring in Political Science, English, and Philosophy, as well as minoring in Human Rights and Public Policy and International Affairs. In addition to being an HCM Tower Scholar, she is a Dedman Scholar and a Second Century Scholar. In her free time, she writes and manages social media for the Honors Magazine Hilltopics, organizes events as the Vice President of the Medieval Club, works as the Social Science Chair of the Honors Research Association, and competes with SMU’s award winning competitive ballroom dancing team. She also started a Rotaract club at SMU to give back to the community through service. Her interests in policy focus mostly on the judicial branch, and how policy can be affected through nontraditional, non-legislative means. 

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