Seminar: U.S. Policy and Chinese Influence along ASEAN’s Northern Tier



About the Seminar

Analysts of Southeast Asia have long discussed the possibility of a strategic divide whereby China develops primacy on land and the United States remains ascendant at sea. In recent years, China’s expanding economic and political footprint on the peninsula has given credence to the notion of an incipient Chinese sphere of influence across ASEAN’s “northern tier” of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. The launch of the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation forum in 2015 gives an institutional embodiment to China’s leadership and contributes to a widespread sense that China’s power and proximity are subjecting its peninsular neighbors to an ever-greater gravitational pull. However, as this presentation will emphasize, neighbors’ acceptance of Chinese influence cannot be deduced deterministically from their relative capabilities or positions on a map. Proximity renders them potentially exposed to domination, but it simultaneously gives them added impetus to seek countervailing forms of protection. The extent to which they accommodate China thus arises as much from their spatial and political distance from other nodes of power as their nearness to Beijing. This presentation will emphasize how U.S. policies in particular have sometimes undermined America’s appeal as a hedging partner, stunted the mainland states’ ability to diversify and integrate into the ASEAN-centered institutional matrix, and left them more inclined to lean on China and to bear the resultant risks. This presentation will survey the mainland states before presenting a more detailed illustrative case from Cambodia, a country now considered by many to be China’s “closest friend” in the ASEAN region. The talk will conclude with brief policy implications, including the potential impact of enhanced U.S. activity in the South China Sea and the importance of consistency and credibility as an incoming U.S. administration reviews the “rebalance.”

About the Speaker

John D. Ciorciari is an Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. His research focuses on international politics and law, particularly in Southeast Asia. He is the author of The Limits of Alignment: Southeast Asia and the Great Powers since 1975 (Georgetown University Press, 2010) and co-author with Anne Heindel of Hybrid Justice: The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (University of Michigan Press, 2014). He is currently part of the inaugural class of Andrew Carnegie fellows and is pursuing a research project on UN sovereignty-sharing arrangements with the support of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Before joining the Michigan faculty, he was a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University (2007-09), policy official in the U.S. Treasury Department (2004-07), and visiting fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore (2003-04). Since 1999, he has been a legal advisor to the Documentation Center of Cambodia. He has a J.D. from Harvard and D.Phil. from Oxford.

For registration, please fill in this form and email to by 18 May 2016.


May 19 2016


10:00 am - 11:30 am


ISEAS Seminar Room 2