July 8, 2016
On Friday, the Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) held two seminars concerning maritime security in Asia-Pacific. Both talks featured the insights of Dr. David Lai, Research Professor of Asian Security Affairs, Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College. The Navy League was pleased to extend invitations for members to attend this event to learn from Dr. Lai’s expertise.
About Dr. David Lai
Having been born and raised in China, Lai witnessed China’s “Cultural Revolution,” its economic reform, and the changes in China’s foreign relations. He earned his bachelor’s degree in China and his Master’s degree and Ph.D. in political science from the University of Colorado. His teaching and research interests cover international relations theory, war and peace studies, comparative foreign and security policy, U.S.-China and U.S.-Asian relations, Chinese strategic thinking and operational art.
Dr. Lai joined the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) of the U.S. Army War College in July of 2008. Before assuming this position, Dr. Lai was on the faculty of the U.S. Air War College, Maxwell AFB, Montgomery, Alabama. He has been widely published. To read more about Dr. Lai, see his profile on the SSI website.
U.S.-China Contest in the Western Pacific: Strategies, Military Operations, and the Future
The morning address concerned U.S. – China relations. Dr. Lai delved deep into his experience of Chinese culture to address the complexity of the issues surrounding this relationship. Interestingly, Dr. Lai used the Chinese-invented board game of weiqi (also called go) to add perspective. His cultural competency with both China and the United States gives him the ability to analyze motives, strategies, and tactics employed by both sides.
“Go is the perfect reflection of Chinese strategic thinking and their operational art,” Dr. Lai said. Mr. Lai’s best-known work about the nexus between Go and Chinese geopolitical strategy is a 2004 paper called “Learning From the Stones,” a reference to the 361 black and white stone pieces that eventually fill the 19-by-19 Go board. In the game, a winning player must balance the need to expand control of the board with the need to protect territory gained. In simple terms, this is an apt analogy of China’s behavior in geopolitical expansion, while also attempting increasing international interconnectivity and participation with initiatives like the AIIB and RCEP. Still, China’s repeated bullying of smaller states in Southeast Asia, rising debt, and reaction to formal charges and arbitration under UNCLOS have begged the question of whether China truly has a balanced strategy.
The Future of the U.S. Strategic Rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific
In the second talk, held later Friday afternoon, Dr. Lai was joined by Mr. Frederick J. Gellert, Professor of Resource Management,U.S. Army War College.
It has been seven years since the Obama administration launched the “Pivot to Asia” campaign, now more commonly referred to as “Rebalance to Asia.” Acting as a counterweight to China within Asia-Pacific has become one of the largest U.S. foreign policy and military undertakings. There are more forward-deployed vessels in Asia than in any other region, and maintaining maritime security in this increasingly volatile area now demands the attention of both the 7th and 3rd U.S. naval fleets.
Dr. Lai and Pro. Gellert discussed the initial reasons behind developing this campaign and their opinions on how successful it has been. While one argument suggests that the absence of armed conflict and increased collaboration and communication between the U.S. and Chinese indicates success, another perspective insists that China’s appropriation of territory in the South China Sea in violation of UNCLOS is a failure. Those that view the United States as the world police feel that the U.S. has allowed China to go too far and should make China reform. Many liberalists, academics, and policy makers regard this hardline approach to be misguided, however speculation over the results of the upcoming U.S. presidential election in November demand an examination of a shift in U.S. foreign policy in Asia-Pacific. Both Dr. Lai and Pro. Gellert expressed their concerns.
The S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) was established in January 2007 as an autonomous school within the Nanyang Technological University. Known earlier as the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies when it was established in July 1996, RSIS’ mission is to be a leading research and graduate teaching institution in strategic and international affairs in the Asia Pacific. To learn more about upcoming events, click here.