From Maxwell Perspective...

Eye on East Asia

Creation of the East Asia Program adds a crucial piece to the portfolio of the Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs. 

East Asia Center image
Hongying Wang, an associate professor of political science, directs Maxwell’s new East Asia Program. She’s shown in the city of Chongqing, China, during a research trip last July.

It’s no secret that many U.S. companies have moved their manufacturing overseas, much of it to China, thanks in part to lower labor costs and looser environmental restrictions. The most obvious implication to American policy makers is the loss of jobs at home.

Scholars who focus on China and Asia, though, are considering whether this influx of investment, jobs, and Western ways is making a positive difference for the Chinese people. It was one of the key questions pondered by labor leaders, economists, and academics who took part in a conference this spring at Maxwell, titled “U.S.-China Economic Relations: Its Impact at Home and in China.”

“Labor and environmental standards in China have improved to some extent because of the presence of foreign companies,” says Hongying Wang, an associate professor of political science who studies East Asian politics and political economy. “These are global companies with reputations to uphold. It doesn’t pay for them not to enforce labor and environmental standards just to make a profit in China.”

Wang is the founding director of the Maxwell School’s brand-new East Asia Program, which sponsored the conference in April. (It also sponsored a conference last November on North Korea.)

“Hopefully someday this will be a place people come specifically to study East Asia.”
-Hongying Wang

When it launched in September, the East Asia Program became the fifth geographic concentration area at the Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs, joining others focused on Europe, South Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East.

“East Asia is an increasingly important region in the international arena and to American foreign policy,” says Peg Hermann, director of the Moynihan Institute. “It seems critical that we have some focus here at the Maxwell School for our graduate students, and for undergraduates at the University.”

Formation of the program is due largely to the efforts of Wang, who returned to campus last fall after a fellowship at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, where she spent a year conducting research on international norms and domestic reforms in China. In her advocacy for the program, Wang was responding in part to the interests of students—both at the graduate level (principally from those in the international relations program) and undergraduates returning from the University’s study-abroad program in Hong Kong. Creation of the program also serves a growing cluster of faculty members with expertise in East Asia. Currently, the focus of the program is on Northeast Asia, due to the specific research interests of the principals involved.

Wang’s own work focuses on China and its role in the international community since China became a more open and active participant 30 years ago. (She was born in China and graduated from Peking University.) She studies the impact the world has made on China and, to a lesser extent, China has made on the world. Last spring, for example, she appeared on PBS’s News­Hour, in a discussion of cultural freedom and control of the press in China. Then in July she appeared on Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria, discussing steps China takes to improve its image in the West. Both conversations harken back to the same central question: As China integrates into the international economic community, how will international political norms affect China’s political system?

Other faculty members involved in the East Asia Program reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the Moynihan Institute. Historian Norman Kutcher specializes in late Imperial Chinese history, while colleague George Kallander is focused on late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Korean history. And political scientist Stuart Thorson, whose work focuses on politics and governance in the information age, is researching e-governance efforts on the Korean peninsula and in China.

According to Wang, the program’s immediate mission is to provide a forum for people interested in East Asia, and to bring a more sophisticated understanding of East Asia to the communities of Maxwell, SU, and Central New York.

The program has already made new connections across the School. “I had no idea that Mary Lovely, my colleague from the economics department, was studying the impact of international trade on China’s environment,” Wang says. “It never occurred to me that someone doing her kind of work would be interested in China.”

A group of graduate students has used the program to launch a Chinese language group for studying Mandarin. “Our focus is improving our language abilities for future employment,” says founder Adam Tewell, an M.A. student in international relations focusing his studies on security and development, with a concentration in East Asia.

The long-term goal is to expand the scope of the program to include all of East Asia and, like other regional centers within the institute, to secure outside funding.

With growth, says Wang, “hopefully someday this will be a place people come specifically to study East Asia.”

—Renée Gearhart Levy
This article appeared in the Spring 2007 print edition of Maxwell Perspective; © 2007 Maxwell School of Syracuse University. To request a copy, e-mail dlcooke@maxwell.syr.edu.