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Q&A with Kent Calder: ‘Asia in Washington’


President Barack Obama, left, walks with Philippines President Benigno Aquino III at Malacanang Palace in Manila, the Philippines, Monday, April 28, 2014.

President Barack Obama, left, walks with Philippines President Benigno Aquino III at Malacanang Palace in Manila, the Philippines, Monday, April 28, 2014.

President Obama has returned from a four-nation Asia trip aimed at reassuring allies in the region of U.S. support in a variety of areas including economics, trade and security. In Washington itself, Asian nations have a variety of ways to connect with the United States. Those avenues of communication and cooperation have been building through the years, making Washington a unique vortex of global interaction.

Kent Calder is Director of the Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University. He has long been fascinated with Washington's role as a power center and tells VOA’s Jim Stevenson about his research in a new book titled Asia in Washington - A Dynamic Global City.

CALDER: I think Washington itself is changing very, very fast. It is becoming a global capital far beyond simply the U.S. government.

Another thing that was interesting to me [is that], there are some Asian countries that are Washington-centric and some that are New York-centric. For example [South] Korea and China are quite Washington-centric. Japan, even though there is the Cherry Blossom Festival which of course reminds a lot of people of the Japan-U.S. relationship, Japan is more New York-centric. It is interesting to see all the ways people promote their cultures in Washington.

The cultural side I think is an important part in trans-Pacific understanding. Sort of the classical model we had is that lobbyists are the key people in Washington and in U.S. relations with the Pacific in particular. I found that has really changed quite a lot recently. We have moved to think tanks, the internet, the mass media. Those sorts of things are becoming more and more important.

STEVENSON: You have a lot of neat graphics in your book. One of them is a map of the Washington information complex which shows the areas where the embassies are, the think tanks are, mass media, public relations firms, multilateral organizations. Describe a little about all these different ways that Washington interacts with the world, and Asia in particular.

CALDER: There is so much outside the government. There is the International Monetary Fund, there is the World Bank, there is the Inter-American Bank that funds Latin America. Even the Asian Development Bank has a big office. Three of the four of the top think tanks in the world are within 300 yards (meters) of each other on Massachusetts Avenue. Then there are the big lobbying firms. Of course several universities – Johns Hopkins [University], Georgetown [University], George Washington [University]. And then the bureaus [for] a lot of the mass media, as well as the embassies [representing] well over 150 different countries. It is a tremendous variety, but it goes far, far beyond the U.S. government.

STEVENSON: With the current policy of a rebalance or a pivot toward Asia, it is interesting that you write [historically] Washington was the hub of the hub-and-spoke security system that dominated international affairs in the Pacific and also Cold War policy. And here we come back to his pivot toward Asia and this military focus in the region.

CALDER: I think what we sometimes do not realize is how important the United States and particularly Washington looms for Asia. In particular, the countries of Asia have been outsiders in the international system generally. But in Washington, which is so multi-faceted and has so many approach routes, it has been relatively easy for countries in Asia to become a part of the global agenda. So I think the difficulties of access they have in some places like in Europe, or in Russia, or Latin America or even parts of other Asian countries, contrast to Washington which is pretty open. If you are pretty savvy and sophisticated, then you can get access on a global agenda through Washington.

STEVENSON: That would seem to be what we would want though, is a lot of open interaction back and forth and that [open] access.

CALDER: I do think that is right. Sometimes we do not appreciate the value to us of the way Washington becomes such an important center. Every year we have all of the finance ministers, a lot of the top politicians gathering together for the IMF and the World Bank meetings. We had a global nuclear summit here. We had the first of the G20 meetings here. A lot of people go to school here. Or they just come through to visit and to network. Washington is a great place to meet people, to renew contacts, to gain inside information, as well as just talking to the U.S. government.
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    Jim Stevenson

    For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.

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