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America, China, and the Retreat of Democracy in Southeast Asia


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CAS Event
Wednesday, April 18, 2018; 5 p.m.
Hale 230

Lecture by Dr. Sophal Ear, Associate Professor, Diplomacy & World Affairs, Occidental College

In January of 2017, in one of the first acts of his new administration, President Donald Trump made the decision to pull the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), signaling an end to US participation in multilateral trade agreements. Since then, Beijing has continued to exert greater influence in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Through initiatives like One Belt One Road (OBOR), China is increasingly capitalizing on American isolation as a means to advance its political interests. Using Cambodia as a case study, I examine how China has been able to simultaneously advance its political agenda in the Asia-Pacific region by politically needling an America on the wane. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs bureaucrats allegedly see the world very much as zero-sum; America’s loss is China’s gain, and countries like Cambodia serve as proxies for China. China has already used its growing economic influence to encroach on existing hegemonic relationships, exerting increasing control over the South China Sea and Mekong River and through special economic zones and massive investment focused locally. With Cambodia as an example, I show that China has stepped beyond a purely economic partnership and has become a beacon for autocracy, resulting in democratic retreat.