Past Events



On Friday, March 13, 2015, the Asan Institute for Policy Studies hosted an Asan Dosirak Series with Dr. Andrew Nathan, Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. In a presentation, titled “China’s Search for Security,” Dr. Nathan explored some of the most pressing challenges confronting China’s rise today, trends in Chinese strategic thinking, and possibility of change in the status quo.

Identifying four key “rings” that shape Chinese strategic thinking, including internal unrest, relations with bordering countries, managing “regional systems”, and global engagement, Dr. Nathan critiqued the prevailing perception in the West that China seeks to challenge the existing regional and international order. Internally, China faces the ongoing problems of ethnic separatism, sectarian cleavages, and rural and labor unrest. Second, with 19 neighbors, China has more direct neighbors than any country in the world, yet none of whom share an identical “Chinese” culture. Third, “regional systems” which draw in many countries, including those outside the region such as the U.S., complicates Chinese freedom of action on issues such as the North Korean nuclear problem or maritime disputes in Southeast Asia. Finally, in the international arena, China finds itself “a major power, but not a global power with the capacity to protect” its global interests “in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe.”

Dr. Nathan next touched upon key points of “friction” in Sino-American relations with the potential to flare up in the foreseeable future, including the status of Taiwan, the U.S.-led alliance system in Asia, U.S. freedom of navigation policy, and ideological differences. Together, these paint “a picture of strategic macro-caution combined with serious, important, security differences that could lead to friction and conflict, not in the sense of a war, but disagreement, trouble, and possibly low-level clashes if escalation control falters.”

Dr. Nathan next hypothesized three areas where change in the status quo was likely. The first was within China itself, where, despite great uncertainty, the regime appears to be pursuing a type of “responsive authoritarianism” in which it “seems to be aiming to maintain one party rule [that fosters] a better relationship with society [by resembling] a responsive Chinese-style democracy which is not Western-style democracy.” The second area was the prospect of significant changes in China’s neighbors such as North Korea or Pakistan, where instability remains a distinct possibility and “China’s ability to control it is pretty limited.” The third area of change was the unpredictability of U.S. policy towards China and Asia more broadly. In concluding, Dr. Nathan noted that it was important to keep an eye on these three areas to gain insight into their effect on China’s search for security.

** Please see the pdf attachment above for the full transcript.


Date / Time: Friday, March 13, 2015 / 10:30am – 1:00pm
Place: Conference Room (2F), The Asan Institute for Policy Studies



Andrew J. Nathan is Class of 1919 Professor of Political Science at Columbia University. He is concomitantly chair of the steering committee of the Center for the Study of Human Rights and chair of the Morningside Institutional Review Board (IRB) at Columbia. Previously, he served as chair of the Department of Political Science (2003-2006), chair of the Executive Committee of the Faculty of Arts and Science (2003-2006), and director of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute (1991-1995). His teaching and research interests include Chinese politics and foreign policy, the comparative study of political participation and political culture, and human rights. He is engaged in long-term research and writing on Chinese foreign policy and on sources of political legitimacy in Asia. He taught at the University of Michigan from 1970-1971 and has been at Columbia University since 1971. Professor Nathan has written and published extensively, including Chinese Democracy (Knopf Doubleday Publishing, 2012); China’s Search for Security, co-authored with Andrew Scobell (Columbia University Press, 2013); and Popular Culture in Late Imperial China, co-edited with David Johnson and Evelyn S. Rawski. His articles have appeared in World Politics, Daedalus, The China Quarterly, Journal of Democracy, Asian Survey, and elsewhere. Professor Nathan received his B.A. in History, M.A. in East Asian Regional Studies, and Ph.D. in Political Science from Harvard University.