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Video: Is 'Pax Americana' Coming to a Close in Asia?

by Matt Schiavenza
8 September 2017

The most powerful country in East Asia is one whose mainland isn't in East Asia at all: the United States. Since World War Two, Washington has played a predominant role in the Asia-Pacific through its close relationship with Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines and its protection of shipping lanes vital to global trade. It is the U.S. that checks China's desire to expand its power and influence in the region. But for how long will the status quo hold? 

In his provocative new book Asia's Reckoning, author Richard McGregor, a former Beijing bureau chief for the Financial Times, argues that the relationship between China, Japan, and the United States will determine whether Asia's "long peace" since Japan's surrender in 1945 will endure. Appearing at Asia Society on Thursday, McGregor said that the old "Pax Americana" was unraveling "maybe quickly with North Korea, maybe slowly with Japan. One way or another, the next 20 years aren't going to look like the last 20 years."

Ian Buruma, editor of the New York Review of Books, agreed that a U.S. retreat from East Asia was inevitable — but ensuring a smooth transition to "Asia for Asians" would not be easy.

"Pax Americana in East Asia is something that [will] eventually give way to an Asian solution where Asians take care of [the region] themselves," he said. "But as long as the U.S. is there, this process is hindered because [Washington] is like a teacher who has to keep the children in order. As long as the teacher is there, the children won’t be able to grow up."

But, he warned that "if the U.S. leaves too soon, there will be all kinds of other problems."

Watch Buruma's full remarks in the video clip above. The complete video of Thursday's program is below.