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Pacific Rim Report No. 13, March 2000
Asia: No Longer a Monolith
An discussion with Robert Scalapino



This Pacific Rim Report records the first in a series of Pacific Rim 2000 Briefings entitled "Asia: No Longer a Monolith" held on February 15th this year. The briefing featured renowned scholar of Asia, Robert Scalapino in conversation with journalist Marsha Vande Berg.

From 1949 to 1990 Robert Scalapino taught in the Political Science Department at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1978 he founded the Institute of East Asian Studies at UC Berkeley and remained its director until his retirement in 1990. He is currently Robson Professor of Government Emeritus.

Scalapino has published over 500 articles and nearly 40 books or monographs on Asian politics and U.S. Asian policy, including
The Foreign Policy of Modern Japan (editor and contributor, 1977), The United States and Korea—Looking Ahead (1979), The Early Japanese Labor Movement (1984), Modern China and Its Revolutionary Process (with George T. Yu, 1985), Major Power Relations in Northeast Asia (1987), The Politics of Development: Perspectives on Twentieth-Century Asia (1989), and The Last Leninists: The Uncertain Future of Asia’s Communist States (1992). He was editor of Asian Survey, a scholarly publication, from 1962 to January, 1996.

Scalapino received his B.A. degree from Santa Barbara College and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Harvard University

In discussion with Dr. Scalapino, Marsha Vande Berg has worked for major U.S. dailies, in television, and as an editorial consultant. She has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, and she is a member of the German Quandt Foundation’s Transatlantic Forum. She was also a 1997 Salzburg Media Seminar fellow. Vande Berg’s education includes a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University and an M.A. from Duke University.

We gratefully acknowledge the Kiriyama Chair for Pacific Rim Studies at the USF Center for the Pacific Rim for funding this issue of Pacific Rim Report.


Marsha Vande Berg (Vande Berg): When Barbara Bundy, the executive director of the Center for the Pacific Rim at the University of San Francisco, and I began talking about a series of briefings, we had two things in mind. One, we wanted the briefings to give Americans a deeper look into Asia so they could understand better America’s political, economic, security and cultural interests in the region. Two, we wanted to highlight personalities in the Bay Area with Asia-related expertise.

That said, who other than Robert Scalapino could be our choice to sort out the layers that define Asia today? It is clear that Bob is retired in title only. He continues to travel frequently to Asia, to write, lecture, and advise policy makers, and there is every good reason that he should be referred to as the world’s dean of Asian studies. We are so very fortunate to have him as our lead interview in this series of briefings on the topic, “Asia, No Longer a Monolith.” Bob, welcome.

Not too long ago, you were asked in a public forum to sum up your concerns about Asia. At the time, Asia’s lead economies had just begun to turn the corner on the financial crisis that has had such far reaching, global effects. Your comment was that any talk about economic change really involves changing culture, and that cautious optimism about Asia’s future is not unwarranted. You also described Asia as capable of doing some things in concert as a region but, in reality, Asia involves many Asias. How do you describe the map of Asia today?

Robert Scalapino (Scalapino): If you take Asia in its broadest dimensions, it is half the world. I always start with northeast Asia because that is the region where the four major powers come into the closest interaction with each other; China, Japan, the United States, and the Russian Far East. Now, Russia and the United States are only partially in the region, or perhaps, in our case, not at all, at least not geographically. But our economic and political concerns in this region are so intensive that we must be counted a part of northeast Asia. In many respects I think the future, the 21st century, will be deeply influenced by the interaction of those major powers with each other, and it remains to be seen whether a broader, sub-regional structure can be built to solve some of the outstanding issues among the interested parties.

Vande Berg: Are you talking about an institutional structure there?

Scalapino: Possibly. But even at the moment, what we have in northeast Asia on one issue, the Korean issue, is a kind of concert of powers. Japan, South Korea and the United States are working closely together, are in continuous dialogue, and China is assisting.

I think the future, for American policy, if I may jump ahead, is to combine a balance of power aimed at keeping the peace with a concert of powers on specific issues where we have common interests. Northeast Asia, is going to be a critical region because our alliances with the Republic of Korea and with Japan have been quite crucial to the balance there since World War II.

Now, in Southeast Asia you have a number of states that are multi-ethnic and at various stages of development. There are also, as we are painfully aware, religious crises in some of these states—conflicts between believers in Islam, Christianity, and even Buddhism. The southeast Asian region, I think, exemplifies one very important fact about all of Asia: these are old civilizations, but they are new nations. In almost every case, the nation state that now exists was built after World War II, and the building of the nation is still going on. The gap between political institutions and political culture is one that has not been closed in many cases.

As you have indicated, I have said that fundamental economic change also involves cultural change. Japan was an influence on much of Asia in the economic sphere in previous years, especially on the Japanese government’s selective support of certain sectors in their economy, and a kind of collusive relationship between government and industry. Its attention to lifetime employment and a kind of permanent familial structure in the industrial scene are also elements which spread in the region, as was its emphasis upon import protection and export use, with the U.S. as primary market. This was an enormously effective economic system for a great many years. Unfortunately, the Japanese did not realize that changes had to be made as this economic structure matured to allow for more competition, and that is a part of the economic crisis that has swept over much of Asia in the recent past.

I think that Southeast Asia is facing several problems. One is the problem of leadership, because if you are going to make changes, if you are going to build a nation state, you do have to have a leadership strong enough and acceptable enough to head up these processes. We are witnessing now, in Indonesia, for example, this recent crisis of leadership and some of the problems of unity that have stemmed from it. I think we have had leadership problems also in several other states, in Myanmar (Burma), even the Philippines. Another issue is that while there is an effort to build a regional grouping through the ten members of ASEAN, this is very fragile when some of the key states, like Indonesia, are in a weakened condition.

Then we have South Asia, the third big area, with India and Pakistan as its primary members, but also Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Himalayan states of Nepal and Bhutan. This area is enormously important and quite frankly I think we have not given it sufficient attention, especially with the problem of Kashmir unresolved. Indeed, if I were going to point to the three key problems in the Asian region, I would say they are the Korean Peninsula, the Taiwan issue, and Kashmir. These are the problems that have not been resolved.

Just one final point about our conceptual ‘map’ of Asia: If one incorporates the Pacific region into Asia, with a defining line being the Western Pacific, let’s say from Guam westward, then one is incorporating a huge oceanic region that has strategic implications, but also resource implications. Asia, in its broadest dimensions, is half the world, and it is a very diverse region.

Vande Berg: Half the world, and half the world’s population?

Scalapino: Absolutely; more than half.

Vande Berg: Is Japan still the cornerstone economy of Asia?

Scalapino: Well, that is an interesting question. In my recent trips to Japan, I have found the Japanese more uncertain about their future and the future of their country, more apprehensive, I might say, than I have seen them since World War II.

Vande Berg: Does that come out in conversations with the Japanese?

Scalapino
: In conversations and in some behavioral patterns. For example, fewer than 50% of the Japanese are now voting, and there is a palpable apprehension about leadership, understandable perhaps because Japan is coming out of economic recession very slowly. The prediction for this year is a 1% increase in GNP, and that would be better than in recent years. The process of change in Japan, the process of reform, is slow and uncertain. The effort for the moment is to use fiscal spending to try and boost consumer spending. The government is putting hundreds of millions of dollars, billions of yen into public works programs and similar kinds of activities, but consumer spending has not yet gone up despite this effort.

Vande Berg
: Japan is still in recession, then?

Scalapino: While it should be said that Japan is the number two economy in the world, in terms of overall productivity, etc., they are still in what I would call a moderate recession. Japan is also a country whose economic program influences the rest of Asia. This is a kind of crisis period, in my view. Furthermore, in about two decades, about 25% of Japan’s population will be over 65 years of age. Now I don’t regard 65 as so old, thank you, but I think that the problems of employment, of the shrinking size of the labor force, and whether the Japanese bring in immigrants, or whether they export their industries, or solve the problem with some combination of these, are all issues deserving our attention.

Vande Berg: Japan’s 1% growth in GNP makes for a very sharp contrast with the economy of its neighbor, South Korea, where the anticipation is for 6% growth.

Scalapino: At least.

Vande Berg: Are the problems in Japan severe enough to trigger a change in the locus of economic power in Asia?

Scalapino: I don’t think that the picture is so dour, assuming that Japan can push ahead more rapidly on its economic reform program, and that it can acquire stronger, firmer leadership. [Prime Minister Keizo] Obuchi has put together a coalition and we will have to see how it works.

Incidentally, there are four countries that are having elections this year. Japan must have an election before October; Taiwan is having its election in March. Korea, too, is having an election. And then there is a country called the United States, and we are, after a year of campaigning, going to have an election in November. The results of these elections are going to be quite important in terms of policies.

Nonetheless, the supreme challenge for Japan, in my view, is whether it can overcome a certain tendency for introversion and introspection and become truly internationalist. This is not an easy task for a homogeneous island community, but that is the challenge facing Japan.
You mentioned Korea. I think one of the advantages of Korea, at least in recent times, has been a quite strong leadership, and courage in undertaking economic reforms. Now, there have been pressures to slow down these reforms, and there certainly are incomplete aspects to the reform process, but generally speaking the Republic of Korea has made a remarkable recovery in the last year and a half.

Vande Berg: You emphasize leadership. I’m wondering if you see leaders in Japan or Korea, for example, taking advantage of economic factors to achieve greater influence in the Asian region. A possible outcome of such an effort could be the development of a new, or at a least different geographical balance.

Scalapino: Let me say firstly, that I think the Asian economies will become increasingly interdependent. We are seeing emerge what I have called ‘NETs’ or ‘natural economic territories’. That is, areas that are contiguous to each other geographically and that have complementary resources. For instance, one side can furnish labor and resources, and another capital, management, and technology. The emergence of such NETs across political boundaries is going to be an increasing phenomenon.

Vande Berg: Is the semi-conductor industry in Taiwan a case in point, with Taiwan and Japan, for example, working things out cooperatively despite a history that includes periods of conflict?

Scalapino: Absolutely. Likewise, the movement of capital across boundaries and the movement of technology are going to be powerful forces. The U.S. has furnished a great market for Asia, and some Americans have been concerned about the resulting trade deficits. Our annual trade imbalance with Japan, for example, has been 60 billion dollars on occasion. We have also had a trade imbalance with China that has mounted. There is an argument in this country (and I will leave it to the economists as to whether the argument has merit or not) that what is most important is the interaction not the relative balance of trade. According to this view, as trade activity increases, our consumers are able to get products from abroad, and this is generally conducive to our prosperity.

In any case, my own feeling is that the future of the Pacific Asian economy is going to rest very much with those nations on the leading edge of science and technology. Look at the explosion of the internet all over Asia at the moment, and many other aspects. Science, technology, and creativity are the key factors. I think one of the great advantages of the United States has been that its higher education system has promoted creativity—thinking for oneself. In Asia, too often the premium was on rote memorization, on repeating what the professor said, and repeating what the authorities want to have people believe. I think this is an area where Asia can make a transition, because I think creativity has been absolutely critical in the American success story.

Vande Berg: With that formula in mind, which economies are likely to lead the way?

Scalapino
: The countries that are enjoying high growth rates today are firstly South Korea, as we have mentioned, and secondly China.

Now the China picture is very complicated. China has been growing, according to their own statistics, at 7-8% per year, in overall productivity. Some outsiders believe these numbers are inflated and would revise the figure downward to 3-4%. But, no matter what, the growth rate in China has been extraordinarily high, and it has benefited 100s of millions of Chinese, particularly in eastern and in coastal China.

At the same time, China’s is now a society facing a number of economic as well as political problems. Forty percent of state-owned enterprises are still losing money, and downsizing them will increase the already high rate of unemployment. Some 20 million or more rural Chinese have poured into the cities looking for work because they are under or unemployed, creating social as well as economic problems. The very fragile financial and banking system has huge unredeemable loans, and, in addition, there is massive corruption from top to bottom. China is a major country and it is going to be a major power in the 21st century, but it will have major problems, which will not be solved quickly or easily. Indeed, our gamble is that China will opt for a peaceful approach to solving its problems despite having continuing domestic difficulties; we are gambling that it will become more and more interdependent within the region.

Vande Berg: To paraphrase the former prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew once said he thought China would not be a puny power like Japan was after World II—in terms of realizing its place on the world stage. He said the Chinese see themselves as having once been a great power and that they intend to be great again.

Scalapino: There is no question but that nationalism is rising in China, and that its desire to be ‘a major force in the region’ is strong. But a nation with 1.3 billion people now and soon to have many more is not easily governable and will not easily be able to resolve its economic problems.
I think we are witnessing transitions in China today, political as well as economic; from one man control to collective leadership; from leadership by ideologues to leadership by technocrats; and from high centralization to decentralization. Now, all of those things are in some degrees destabilizing, or at least they could be, and one of the issues is whether or not China can keep stability and development together.

Incidentally, you mentioned Lee Kuan Yew. I have a favorite story which I would like to relate, if I may.

Vande Berg: By all means.

Scalapino: As many of you know, Lee Kuan Yew is constantly going around Asia telling other leaders how to run their countries. The story is that he was in China in the Deng Xiaoping era, and he gave Deng a lecture for 45 minutes on how to run China. At the end, Deng said, “Well, that was very prescient, very impressive; we should make you mayor of Shanghai.”

Vande Berg: What about these NETs that you described? Is there a part of the Asian map that is being redrawn as a result of these natural economic territories?

Scalapino: Well, certainly I think the interaction between South Korea and Shandong and Jilin provinces in China is an excellent example of a NET that is very important. Even as we speak there are recurrent meetings to discuss an East Sea or Sea of Japan ‘rim’ NET that would encompass western Japan, the Korean peninsula, portions of northeast China, and the Russian Far East. There is compelling logic in this because it does bring together resources, population, technology, etc. Thus far, political differences, and in the case of Russia, economic crisis, have precluded this from moving forward very rapidly, but I think it will come.

Vande Berg: What is driving the effort to create such a NET?

Scalapino
: The people that have been most interested are in western Japan. In fact, I attended a conference in Niigata on this subject. Some people in the Russian Far East also see an opportunity to interact more effectively with East Asia, and there are Koreans who see the advantages, too.
Vande Berg: The subject of NETS is not unfamiliar to us. We have a NET forming on our southern border, between San Diego and Tijuana. So, when we think about NETs in Asia, could there be other drivers, for example, environmental concerns, cultural issues or even institutional and political issues that propel the development of NETs?

On the geopolitical front, for example, there was an interesting conversation between the Chinese and the Russians recently about teaming up to counter what they perceive as a U.S. scheme to dominate the world.

Scalapino: There is no question that in the recent past Beijing and Moscow have formed what they call a strategic partnership, and though they deny that it is aimed at any third party, it clearly is a response to a perceived squeezing of the Eurasian continent by American power. It can be seen as a response to the expansion of NATO in the west and the strengthening of American alliances in Asia. The Chinese and Russians say they are driving toward ‘multipolarism’ as against ‘unipolarism’.

Quite frankly I don’t think one should worry too much about this because China and Russia are two very different entities. They have no ideological commonness today, they are huge countries bordering on each other with great cultural differences, and there is a certain fear in the Russian Far East that if the massive population to the south begins to move economically, it might move northward first. So, yes, the Chinese and Russians share a perception of common threat. But I think it is also clear, paradoxically, that both China and Russia believe it is very important to work with the United States for economic reasons and even for strategic reasons.

Although our relationship with China at the moment has many fragilities, we are also trying to rebuild a certain commonness of interest. We have had recently a very high level military delegation come here, and we are interacting on some of environmental issues. As I said earlier, the U.S. and China are interacting on Korea where we have common interest. Nonetheless, I continue to believe that in strategic terms our primary bilateral relation must be and will be with Japan. At the same time I see the U.S.-Japan relationship moving from patron-client to partnership. Japan is emerging in nationalist terms and demanding greater global recognition. I would not be surprised if in the next few years the Japanese Diet considered revision of the constitution to provide more latitude in its strategic defense policies.

Vande Berg: Do you envision Japan with a military?

Scalapino: I do not think the danger of Japanese militarism is high. Some Chinese do. Some Koreans do. But, in my view only a combination of two things could rebuild Japanese militarism. One is a much greater perception of threat, and the other is a collapse in the credibility of the United States as an ally. Now, if those two went together, then we could see the Japanese re-arm, but I do not think they will. I do see Japan as playing an important political and economic role, but not a military role.

Vande Berg: What is your prescription for an effective U.S. policy vis-à-vis Asia. In particular, how should U.S. policy address the three problem areas you identified earlier, Korea, Taiwan and Kashmir?

Scalapino: I think this is an enormously complex period for American foreign policy because of the rapid change in bilateral and multilateral relations among nations. It is also a period, as I said earlier, of rising problems within nations, not all economic, but stemming from an increased sense of ethnicity, a renewed commitment to religion (particularly fundamentalist religion), the emergence of cults, and a rise in localism. You know, in a period of great trauma, people look for moorings. If their values are shaken, or if their identity is unclear, then they begin to look for some kind of meaningful community, and I think this search is the product of our uncertain times. I think this search has shaken the stability of a number of nations in Asia.

There is also another problem. We have seen a paradox in Asia; on the one hand we have seen the decline of hard authoritarianism and the rise of political openness, of democracy. On the other hand, in a number of democratic societies we have seen the fragility that democracy brings. And the U.S. itself is not immune to this, as can be seen in money politics and the role of the media in a free society, for example. In Asia the questions have been focused on whether any leader can remain popular over time, and where can strong leaders be found. Thus, we see Asians facing some of the issues that democratic societies must face and we are seeing some degree of fragility, in Japan, and certainly in Indonesia and in the Philippines, to take three examples.

Now, to turn to the latter part of your question. On the Korean scene, I am cautiously optimistic. Or, as I am fond of saying, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I am optimistic, and on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday I am not so sure. On Sunday I rest!

I think there is evidence of positive development on the Korean scene. The South is coming out of the recession, and despite its problems it is on fairly solid ground. President Kim Daejung’s ‘sunshine policy’ has had real meaning, first of all, in uniting the major powers with South Korea. There is a degree of unity on policy toward the North that we have not had since World War II.

At the same time, I think we see some evidence that the Northern leadership is now convinced that a degree of economic change is absolutely necessary. Over 100 North Koreans were sent abroad last year on short trips on missions involving agriculture, energy, and so forth. We are seeing an increased interest in North Korea’s interaction with the world. Italy just recognized them and they had a French delegation visit and they have improved their relations with China and Russia. So, while they have stood back from the South Korean government on the economic front—they are afraid of being seduced, there are projects going forward with the South, which is the most logical economic partner.

Vande Berg: And so you see coexistence, not reunification?

Scalapino: I see a reduction in the risk of large-scale conflict and some increasing interaction, quite short of reunification, unless the North were to collapse.

Now the Taiwan issue worries me more, because here we do not have a major power consensus, we do not have a meaningful ongoing dialogue, and I do not see a formula at the moment that can put China and Taiwan on a peaceful, evolutionary program of interaction. The ‘one country-two systems’ formula is simply not acceptable to the majority of Taiwanese. Nor do they want a formal declaration of independence which would be a red flag waived in front of China; they want the status quo. They do not want any significant change, but can Beijing live with the status quo? That is a question that cannot be answered today. So, this is a complicated matter.

Vande Berg: Is this one of the questions you think about on Sundays?

Scalapino
: Yes, and I also invite ideas from my Chinese friends, trying to get a fresh approach.

As far as south Asia is concerned, the big problem, the unresolvable problem, is Kashmir. As I look it, you also have the difference between Pakistan, which at the moment is coming close to being a failing state, and India, which shows signs of progress and change, in the economic sphere particularly. In this imbalance, then, you have to worry about the outcome in any conflict over Kashmir, particularly since we are now talking about two nuclear powers. The territorial issues between these divided states are among the legacies of World War II, and they are not going to be easy to resolve.

Vande Berg: You mention the legacies of World War II, and a question I have related to that is about the ‘old China hands’. Have they been vindicated by the course of history?

Scalapino: Very interesting question. Let me preface this by saying, I am from the second generation of ‘China hands’, not the first. The first generation were essentially people who were either children of missionaries or those who served in the U.S. government in China in the pre-World War II period or during the war.

I think it is too simple to say they have been vindicated. I knew some of these people personally, and I am not going to use names, but let me say that they were partly right, in my view, in diagnosing the problems of Nationalist China, and in diagnosing some of the weaknesses in the pre-war and wartime regime in Chungking. But some of them were naïve, in my view, in assessing the Chinese Communists. They were not communists; they were not ideologically committed to communism, not at all. But they saw the Communists at a time when they were much more likeable than they later became. When you were in Yenan and you could visit Mao in his cave, and everybody lived very simply, and there was no such thing as corruption, they looked pretty good in comparison with what you saw in Chungking. However, the ‘China hands’ did not realize that the Communists would evolve and face some of the same problems as the Nationalists, but would approach them from a much more authoritarian footing. So, I would say that you have to decide on their percentage of being right; it was not 100, it was not zero.

Vande Berg
: A last question, Bob. If Governor Bush were to be elected president, do you think he could cope with the challenges of foreign policy matters, especially regarding Asia?

Scalapino: In the last three weeks I have been called by representatives of two of the three candidates in Taiwan, asking me if I would give them some kind of endorsement, and I said no, I am absolutely neutral, I am not going to take a position. Now tonight I am going to be neutral on the presidential race in this country. Let me put it in broader terms. I think one of the problems that we have periodically faced in this country is that we have elected individuals who have been overwhelmingly interested in domestic matters and not particularly interested in or informed about foreign policy.

I would go back to the classic case of Lyndon Johnson. Lyndon Johnson was a very intelligent man with deep experience in Washington and in government, but his commitment was to duplicate Franklin Roosevelt and have a ‘New Deal’ in fields like social security, in Medicare, and so forth. And he regarded foreign policy as a kind of unwanted intrusion into his agenda. I think that whoever is elected president has one monumental task, and that is to educate the American people on foreign affairs topics that are crucial to America’s interests beyond our borders.

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