Asia in Washington

Asia in Washington

Exploring the Penumbra of Transnational Power

Abridged Excerpt

Washington is a particularly interesting focal point of research on global political cities for several reasons. Most important, of course, it is the geographical seat of the world’s most powerful national government. Almost as important, however, it is one of the world’s most important centers of multilateral policy activity. Building on but transcending the capabilities of the U.S. government, Washington also houses a formidable information analysis complex, including the world’s most influential think tanks.

As a consequence, enhanced by the soft-power legitimacy of American society and values in a global world,

Greater Washington has emerged in the Internet age as a preeminent agenda-setting center.


It has done so even on issues―ranging from the massacre of Armenians by Turkey during World War I, to the ill treatment of “comfort women” in East Asia during World War II, to ethnic cleansing in Darfur today―that are virtually unrelated to America’s conventional bilateral relations with the world or, indeed, even to the United States as a geopolitical entity at all.

Within Washington, the role of Asia, as opposed to other global regions, is an especially important subject for research, particularly as a topic in contemporary international political economy. Substantively, Asia represents the core of the non-Western industrialized world; its political-economic prospects determine the capacity of non-Western nations to challenge the long-standing preeminence of the West. More abstractly, Asia’s rapid socioeconomic rise raises the important conceptual question of how economic power and geopolitical influence are related in today’s world, if indeed they are related at all. In addition, since Asian people are mainly non-Caucasian, the role of Asia in Washington implicitly raises the delicate and troublesome issue of how race matters in international global governance.

U.S.-Asian relations are uniquely configured, being both highly asymmetric along many dimensions and also characterized by large gaps in mutual understanding.


They thus present important cases in the study of both misperception and the impact of cognitive distortions on international relations. Finally, since Asia has been late developing compared to the West, its changing role in Washington raises major issues regarding how rising powers assimilate themselves into global governance structures. These are no doubt more starkly posed in the drama of what I call Asia in Washington than in any other world region’s relationships with the U.S. national capital.

About the Book

This volume explores how Washington, as a sociopolitical community, with important global functions transcending the U.S. government, is influenced by its interaction with Asia and what that interaction means for world affairs more generally. The chapters address four aspects. The first discussion develops the concept of the global political city and identifies the unique features of Washington within that context. These passages note that Washington has changed greatly as a sociopolitical community over the past thirty years. In particular, the American capital has developed a pronounced penumbra of power outside the U.S. government, which engages in intense interaction with the broader world---and that is gaining an ever more influential role in setting global agendas.

The second group of chapters contrasts the functional importance of Washington for Asians, and conversely of Asia for Washington, as those general transpacific relationships have evolved since the early days of the American republic around the dawn of the nineteenth century. These chapters point out that the transpacific equation has shifted substantially since World War II, with Washington growing increasingly important for Asia---but with the converse not nearly as true. This discussion shows the broad incentives that drive Asian nations to work so hard at cultivating relations with Washington and the skewed patterns of interest and indifference with which they must contend in their dealings with official Washington. It thus clarifies the nature of the structural problem that Asian actors confront as they operate within Washington itself.

The third group of chapters examines comparatively the sociopolitical approaches of major Asian nations to Washington—how they articulate their interests and publicize their national agendas. This discussion points out that large nations, powerful in economic and political-military terms, are surprisingly in-effective in achieving their desired ends in Washington. To the contrary, smaller states, such as Singapore, appear to more efficiently achieve their objectives in the U.S. national capital.

The final discussion examines the global implications of Asia’s distinctive patterns of interaction with the Washington sociopolitical community, both within and beyond the U.S. government. It suggests that Washington’s relatively open penumbra of power—universities, think tanks, mass media, lobbyists, and other opinion makers—operates to constrain the dominance of what is often postulated to be a globally dominant American hegemon. It does so particularly by moderating and recalibrating the role of the formal American policy process in global agenda setting. Asian nations are especially active in monitoring and moderating Washington in the economic area, where their role in the U.S. capital is a major force in creating a more balanced and multilateral pattern of global governance than has generally been recognized to exist.

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