Introducing ‘The Asianist’
When I first considered starting The Asianist — a blog devoted to Asian affairs — the idea was met with much apprehension by family and friends alike.
Why box oneself into a single region in an increasingly interconnected world? What value would this add to the already countless blogs out there, including some very good ones on Asia? Would I be able to keep up with the feverish pace of the blogosphere? Am I voicing my opinions before I have the qualification or expertise to have them?
While I have chosen to go forward with the idea nonetheless, I feel compelled to at least address some of these legitimate concerns.
The focus on Asia, as opposed to a particular topic or the world in general, is mostly due to my own selfish interest. I spent the first seventeen years of my life in Malaysia, Singapore and Philippines. I have traveled through parts of Northeast, Southeast and South Asia, and have studied and read about those regions, in addition to Central Asia and the Middle East. It also can’t hurt, of course, that Asia houses more than half of the world’s population, dominates today’s headlines (from North Korea to Iran to China), and has been dubbed the center of global geopolitics in the so-called ‘Asian Century’.
Any project that claims to be ‘Asia-focused’, in my mind, has to first grapple with the question of what constitutes Asia. Again for selfish reasons of interest, ‘Asia’ in this blog will consist of Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, Central Asia, the Pacific Islands, and Western Asia (or the Middle East). But perhaps in recognition of increasing global connectivity, it will also cover events in other parts of the world that are related to Asia either directly (eg. China’s influence in Africa) or indirectly (eg. a piece on the G-20). No blog, however region-focused, should be blind to what goes on in the rest of the world.
As to the value this might add to the blogosphere, the chief aim of this blog is for me to record and share my observations and experiences about Asia with those who find them interesting enough, not to clinch first place in an obscure blogging contest or boast about how many followers I have on Twitter. But if I do manage to stimulate some debate, pique some interest or broaden people’s minds along the way, that’s a plus.
I do have some experience in Asia. I have lived in some parts, visited others, and have worked on Asian issues at several places, including Amnesty International, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Singapore-based Rajaratnam School of International Studies, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and, now, the Project 2049 Institute where I am a research assistant. I’ve written pieces in several online and print publications, including Asian newspapers like the China Post (Taiwan), the Straits Times (Singapore) and The Nation (Thailand). My two bachelors honors theses at the University of Virginia, from which I graduated last year, were the products of my field research on the insurgency in Southern Thailand and Chinese influence in Southeast Asia.
Yet as a 23 year old who is just about to begin my masters at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, I realize there are definitely innumerable individuals who know far more about the region and probably deserve this soapbox much more than I do. I harbor no illusions of grandeur; only the hope of participating in a conversation about issues I care deeply about.
Perhaps I ought to — as some have cautioned — wait to earn a PhD., and, with it, the right to opine. But having been an opinion columnist since my high school days, I’ve never shied from expressing my views, even if they may be held against me further down the line. Besides, The Asianist is dedicated, as I have tried to be most of my life, to a balanced, fact-based perspective on Asian issues. In that sense, this is more of a collection of experiences and views I have come across rather than the vitriolic diatribes of a partisan hack.
Finally, the pace of the blogosphere is feverish, and it will be (and has been) a challenge to keep up with it. All I can say is that I certainly hope that I will be able to, and will try my best.
So, with that, I’m Prashanth Parameswaran, and welcome to The Asianist, and I hope you will continue to stay in touch in the future.