2023 JFIPP Research Fellow - Mireya Solís

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Mireya Solís

Director, Center for East Asia Policy Studies, Brookings Institution

[Project Title]
Asian Tech Democracies: Charting a path in a world of securitized interdependence

Project Summary

The Indo-Pacific is at the epicenter of geopolitical competition through economic means. The engines of regional growth and stability are in flux with the emergence of a peer competitor to the United States. China has capitalized on its rapid growth and successful integration into the world economy to elevate is military and technological capabilities. In contrast to the previous Cold War era, the intensification of the U.S.-China security dilemma has taken place after decades of bilateral economic integration and the development of complex supply chains. Hence, economic statecraft is central to the current period of strategic rivalry. The United States and China are competing to dominate cutting-edge technologies, guard against leakages of essential know-how, and minimize vulnerabilities from a rival’s exploitation of dependencies.

The evolution of these geopolitical and geoeconomic contests will be shaped by the interests, capabilities, and emerging policy toolkits of other actors in the region and beyond. Chief among them are the Asian tech democracies: Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. These Asian players confront increasingly tight odds. They have hitched their economies to a China that experienced rapid growth during the reform area, but must now adjust to Beijing’s recommitment to a party state capitalism model; while buttressing their resilience against Chinese economic coercion. The security relationship with the United States remains essential to each one of these Asian tech powers. And yet, the vagaries of U.S. domestic politics produce inconsistent U.S. foreign policies and a marked turn towards inward looking economic policies.

Moreover, a broad paradigm shift is underway. Economic integration has been the bedrock of the Indo-Pacific’s ascent, with the adoption decades ago of outward-oriented export models, the knitting together of regional production networks later on, and more recently, diplomatic zeal in brokering mega trade agreements. The securitization of international economic relations, however, means increased state power to interdict economic exchange on national security grounds and heightened risk and uncertainty for international businesses. While no one is pursuing autarky (the surest recipe for economic decline and sapped regional influence), the core problem set in foreign economy policy is shifting: demonstrating acumen in designing cutting-edge industrial policies while building economic security coalitions and not surrendering gains from multilateral trade and open innovation systems.

This research project stands to make an important contribution in a number of areas. With a comparative study of the economic security policies of the most advanced tech powers in the Indo-Pacific, it will (a) underscore the role of economic statecraft in the U.S.-China strategic competition; (b) illuminate the similarities and differences in the policy toolkits currently developed by Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan to remain at the forefront of technological development and hedge against economic overdependence; and (c) assess the likely changes to the region’s political economy with the onset of securitized interdependence.

What We Do