Rana Mitter Photo

Rana Mitter

S.T. Lee Professor of U.S.-Asia Relations


What are the factors that hold Asia together, or run the risk of pulling it apart?  This course examines contemporary Asia, one of the most politically and economically dynamic regions of the world, exploring how far it can be seen as one region and how complex the forces within it are.  The course examines how economic, trade and commercial networks in Asia such as RCEP, CPTPP and IPEF show new patterns of economic interaction and creation of norms on trade and technology.  It examines the very different political systems and ideas that shape the region, from established democracies to personality-cult driven authoritarian politics, and how regional organizations such as ASEAN navigate these differences.  We will also explore how wider cross-national forces have shaped norms across the region: Northeast Asia has significantly older demographics than Southeast Asia, policies on climate change vary across the region, and trends relating to ethnicity and gender have also shaped new and transformative political movements, some creating new civil society dynamics across borders.  Although largely peaceful in recent years on a regional scale, there are numerous civil wars still active and unresolved, as well as significant refugee and population movement across borders. We also look at potential flashpoints, such as the India-China border and the Korean peninsula. The course will also draw on a wider historical perspective to illustrate how ideas of “Asia” have changed over time, and why that matters for interpreting the region.  The legacy of World War II still plays a significant part in the international dynamics of Northeast Asia, shaping the difficult relationship between Japan, China and South Korea.  The legacy of the period of revolutionary communism shapes societies across the region, including North Korea and Vietnam.  In South Asia, the legacy of a turbulent partition has led to continuing tensions.  The historical aspect provides vital context to explain the motivations and dynamics of the present day.  Overall, the course seeks to illustrate the most important factors that shape one of the world’s most dynamic regions.