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GUC24S122C | International Security of the Asia-Pacific

About the lecturer

Yee Kuang HENG is Professor of International Security at the Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Tokyo.  He holds a BSc (First Class Hons) and PhD in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), UK. Dr. Heng previously taught at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland; the University of St Andrews in Scotland, and the National University of Singapore. He spent his most recent sabbatical as senior academic visitor at the University of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk in 2022. With a background in strategic studies and the transformation of warfare, current research interests include UK-Japan defence cooperation, Japan’s military exercises, and preparing for existential risks.
Prof. Yee Kuang HENG


1 Subject International Security of the Asia-Pacific
2 Field International Relations; Political Science 
3 Key words War; Great Power competition; Maritime security; Climate change; Infectious diseases; terrorism
4 Global Unit 1
5 Lecturer Yee Kuang HENG
6 Period June 17 - 21, 2024
7 Time 10:30-12:00, 13:00-14:30 (Japan Standard Time)
8 Lecture style In-person (on Hongo Campus)
9 Evaluation Criteria Excellent (S) 90–100%; Very good (A) 80–89%; Good (B) 70–79%; Pass (C) 60–69%; Fail (D) 0–59%
10 Evaluation methods Class participation/attendance: 40%
One presentation: 30%
One Essay (1000 words): 30%
11 Prerequisites Basic background in International Relations preferable but not essential.
12 Contents Purpose
This course aims to introduce students to basic concepts and issues that constitute the agenda of International Security, with a focus on Asia and Japan today. It stresses different approaches to understanding security; and the key ongoing transitions and drivers within the global system. Various historical and theoretical debates on what might be termed ‘classical’ or ‘old’ security concepts in the 21st century are examined, such as Great Power competition and War, territorial disputes and geo-political rivalry. At the same time, it also enables students to understand issues such as climate change; trans-national terrorism; and infectious diseases. It is anticipated that students will develop a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the complexities of international security in the 21st century.
The following outcomes are emphasized:
1.        An ability to approach both theoretical debates and international security challenges with diverse analytical tools
2.        The ability to collate and evaluate arguments from different sources and perspectives
3.        The ability to formulate and articulate views coherently in written and oral forms
4.        Critical thinking, analytical and reading skills

The instructor will first provide an overview followed by student group work at each session (-40mins, followed by a short 10mins break. This is followed by an interactive seminar format where student presenters will take responsibility for designing classroom activities (-30mins). The instructor will give more guidance on designing classroom activities in the first session.

Session 1: What is Security?
Students are invited to reflect critically on their own personal understandings of what “security” means. As an “essentially contested concept” this session demonstrates how international security agendas have changed over the past three decades. 
Session 2: Approaches to Security: theories, frameworks and concepts
The various academic theories necessary to systematically study security as an academic endeavour are introduced in this session. The strengths and weaknesses of different theories are evaluated.
Session 3: Drivers of change: Power transitions, globalization, economic security and decoupling/derisking?
Key global trends that shape security are discussed, through theories of Power Transition and US-China strategic competition, economic security, the impact of globalization and subsequent decoupling/de-risking.
Session 4: War and the Use of Force
The centrality of war, and the threat of war, in international security is examined through debates from the post-1989 obsolescence of war to the Thucydides Trap. The impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine on Japan, and the so-called indivisibility of security between Euro-Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific is highlighted.
Session 5: Japan’s military exercises in Asia
For a constitutionally “pacifist” state, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces have been engaged in an expanding range of military exercises with a growing number of partners beyond its sole US ally. The significance and value of these exercises to enhancing Japan’s security is evaluated.
Session 6: Maritime Security and Geopolitical competition (guest lecturer TBC)
Geography remains hugely relevant despite claims of globalisation and cross-boundary flows. The critical significance of geopolitics and why countries in the region are concerned about maritime security is explained in this session.
Session 7: Japan’s security policy and Abe Shinzo’s legacy (guest lecture TBC)
Abe Shinzo was Japan’s longest-serving Prime Minister who was fatally shot in 2022 at an election rally. The legacy of Mr. Abe in transforming Japan’s security policies is assessed from multiple angles, including his signature Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) vision and relations with world leaders such as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Session 8: Health Security and Infectious Diseases
Using examples of SARS, Ebola, MERS and COVID19, this topic highlights how health has become a security issue for Asia in recent years. It also demonstrates the need for global cooperation through international organisations such as the WHO and the response of major actors like Japan.
Session 9: Climate Change and Security
The severity and impact of climate change as a security challenge in Asia is discussed, together with key concepts such as the Tragedy of the Commons, the rise of activist groups such as Extinction Rebellion, and Japan’s climate diplomacy.
Session 10: Terrorism
As a trans-national security issue, terrorism poses significant challenges for the region. The difficulties with defining terrorism, cases of terror attacks and scenarios, and how to respond are presented.

Students are expected to come to class prepared, having done the readings in advance. Active participation and contribution to class activities is highly encouraged (40%).
Depending on class size, students are also expected to deliver one 30 mins presentation (usually in pairs) on a topic of their choice from the weekly topics (30%)
One Essay (1000 words) based on the question “What do you consider to be the most urgent and serious security challenge today and why?” (30%)
13 Required readings Collins, A, Contemporary Security Studies, (Oxford University Press, 2018), Fifth edition and Third edition (2013)
Hughes, C & YM Lai, Security Studies; A reader, (Routledge, 2011)
Burgess, JP (ed) The Routledge Handbook of New Security Studies (London, Routledge, 2010)
Others to be provided through UTelF
14 Reference readings -
15 Notes on Taking the Course -
UTokyo Global Unit Courses (GUC)
International Education Promotion Group, Education and Student Support Department
The University of Tokyo, 7-3-1, Hongo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8652 JAPAN

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