74573 - Politics of Contemporary Asia

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2018/2019

Learning outcomes

This course is an overview of international relations of the East Asian region, which aims at broadly exploring the economic and political issues surrounding the Asia-Pacific rim. At the end of the course students will be able to examine topics related to historical and contemporary patterns of state relations in East Asia, US security alliances in East Asia and the new Asian Pivot, the rise of China, nuclear crise in the Korean Peninsula, territorial disputes, regional multilateral institutions, East Asian development models and economic integration, environmental challenges, energy security, and other related issues.

Course contents

This course will survey some of the most important international issues of the East Asian region, aiming at broadly exploring the economic and political issues surrounding the Asia-Pacific rim. The first part of the course will examine respective theoretical and historical backgrounds of the countries in the region (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, China, Southeast Asia) with a focus on political and economic development during the pre- and post-Cold War period. The second part of the course will cover various issues surrounding the region, including industrialization, globalization, economic interdependence, nuclear proliferation, security, regionalism, nationalism, and territorial disputes. 

Some of the main questions we will dwell on in the course are focused on but not limited to: the challenges that the East Asian region faces with the rise of China in the dynamics of both security and economy, ongoing territorial disputes that strongly affect trade and cooperation among the countries in the region, regional production networks and economic rivalry reflected in the dynamics of trade, U.S. economic and security interests in the region, the two Koreas and the question of unification, the ramifications of leadership changes that have occurred in Northeast Asian nations (China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, and North Korea), and the nature of Asia-Europe relations.


Required Readings:


M. Yahuda, The International Politics of Asia-Pacific, Routledge, 2011 (or following editions, as a general introduction to the history of international relations of Asia; Section I only);

T. Lim, Politics in East Asia: Explaining Change and Continuity, Lynne Rienner, 2014 (chapters 1-6).

The Korean Peninsula:

D. Kang and V. Cha, “The Debate over North Korea,” in Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 119, No. 2, 2004

Y. Kim, "North Korea’s Threat Perception and Provocation Under Kim Jong-un: The Security Dilemma and the Obsession with Political Survival," in North Korean Review, Vol. 9, No. 1, 2013.

J.K. Choi, "Sunshine over a Barren Soil: The Domestic politics of engagement Identity Formation in South Korea" in Asian Perspective, Vol. 34, No. 4, 2010.

B. Howe & KM. Lee, "Trustpolitik: The Failure to build Trust in Inter-Korean Relations," in Journal of Peace and Unification, Vol. 6. No. 2, 2016.

N. Kim, "Candlelight and the Yellow Ribbon: Catalyzing Re-Democratization in South Korea," in The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 15, No. 5, 2017.

U. Heo and S. D. Hahm, "The First Female President in South Korea: Park Geun-hye's Leadership and South Korean Democracy," in Journal of Asian and African Studies, 2017.

The People's Republic of China:

A. Nathan and A. Scobell, "Who Runs Chinese Foreign Policy" in China's Search for Security by the same authors, New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.

S.V. Lawrence and M.F. Martin, "Understanding China’s Political System," CRS Reports for Congress, 2013.

Y.N. Cho, "Continuity and Change in China’s Elite Politics at the 19th Party Congress: Is Xi Jinping’s “One-man Rule” Established?", in The Korean Journal of Defense Analysis, Vol. 30, No. 1, 2018.

S. Zhao, "Chinese Foreign Policy as a Rising Power to Find Its Rightful Place", in Perceptions, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, 2013.

S. Zhao, "Foreign Policy Implications of Chinese Nationalism Revisited: the Strident Turn," in Journal of Contemporary China, Vol. 22, No. 82, 2013. 

J. Zhang, “China’s New Foreign Policy under Xi Jinping: Towards ‘Peaceful Rise 2.0’?,” in Global Change, Peace & Security, Vol. 27, No. 1, 2015.

Y. Huang, “Understanding China's Belt & Road Initiative: Motivation, Framework and Assessment”, in China Economic Review, N. 40, 2016.

R. Rich & S. Recker, "Understanding Sino-African Relations: Neocolonialism or a New Era?", in Journal of International and Area Studies, Vol. 20, No. 1, 2013.

B. Sverdrup-Thygeson, "The Chinese Story: Historical Narratives as a Tool in China's Africa Policy", in International Politics, Vol. 54, No. 1, 2017.

H. Rønning, "How much 'Soft Power' does China have in Africa?" Paper presented at the international conference "China and Africa Media, Communications and Public Diplomacy", September 10-11, 2014.

J. Howell, "Civil Society in China", in M. Edwards, The Oxford Handbook of Civil Society, Oxford: Oxford Un. Press, 2011.

C. Zhimin and J. Armstrong, "China's Relations with Europe: Towards a "Normal" Relationship?", in S. Breslin (ed.), Handbook of China's International Relations, London: Routledge, 2010.

N. Casarini, "Is Europe to Benefit from China's Belt and Road Initiative?," IAI Working Papers, 15/40, 2015.

J. Yu, "The belt and road initiative: domestic interests, bureaucratic politics and the EUChina relations," in Asia-Europe Journal, 2018.


Japan's Domestic and Foreign Policy:

C.W. Hughes, "Japan's foreign security relations and policies," in S. Pekkanen, J. Ravenhill, R. Foot (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the International Relations of Asia, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014

J. Nilsson-Wright and K. Fujiwara, "Japan’s Abe Administration Steering a Course between Pragmatism and Extremism," Research Paper, Chatham House, 2015.

S. Smith, "Contending with China" and "Diplomacy and Domestic Interests", in Intimate Rivals. Japanese Domestic Policy and a Rising China, New York: Columbia Un. Press, 2015 (Chapters 1 and 2).

K. Nakano, "Contemporary Political Dynamics of Japanese Nationalism", The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 14, no. 20, 2016.

J.D.Brown, "Japan's Security Cooperation with Russia: Neutralizing the threat of a China-Russia United Front", in International Affairs, Vol. 94, No. 4, 2018.


Students who cannot attend the course must add to the above mentioned list of readings one of the following books:

D. Roy, Return of the Dragon, New York, Columbia Un. Press, 2013;

S. Tsang & H. Men, China in the Xi Jinping Era, Palgrave MacMillan, 2016;

V. Cha & D. Kang, Nuclear North Korea, New York, Columbia Un. Press, 2005;

S. Smith, Intimate Rivals: Japanese Domestic Politics and a Rising China, Columbia University Press, 2015.

Teaching methods

Lectures and plenary discussions.

Assessment methods

Final oral exam. Active participation, careful and continuous reading of documents, and an active involvment in class activities are very welcome. 

Teaching tools

Power Point and short clips.

Office hours

See the website of Antonio Fiori