Entangling the Pacific and Atlantic Worlds: Past and Present. A Symposium Commemorating Helmut Schmidt

25.03.-27.03.2019, Symposium, Berkeley

Conveners: Sarah Beringer (GHI Washington), Wencke Meteling (Johns Hopkins SAIS), and Sören Urbansky (GHI Washington)

Organized by the German Historical Institute Washington and ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius in cooperation with Institute of European Studies & Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley

This symposium addresses one of today’s central geopolitical developments: the shift from an international order centered on the Atlantic to one in which the Pacific claims its weight. Helmut Schmidt was a pioneer among Western political leaders in recognizing this transformation and, in particular, the implications of China’s growing economic and political influence. The German chancellor strove for a respectful dialogue and a partnership of equals at a time when the world was still divided into communist and capitalist camps. Building on Schmidt’s reflections about the remaking of the global order, this symposium will analyze the unfolding situation and its historical background. Scholars, policy experts, and journalists will discuss the changing relationship between the Atlantic and Pacific regions, and the growing complexity of a world with multiple and competing poles.

The Atlantic and Pacific worlds have always been separate yet simultaneously interconnected spheres. Linked by ancient trade networks – most prominently the Silk Road – Eastern and Western civilizations exchanged goods, technologies, knowledge, and people. With the rise of European imperialism, transfers became increasingly imbalanced and dominated by the West. At the turn from the nineteenth to the twentieth century, the Pacific became an arena of global conflicts, not least during the Second World War. The postwar decades were marked by decolonization and the Cold War, whose major proxy wars were fought on shores of the Pacific, as well as by the economic rise first of Japan, then of the “Four Asian Tigers.”

With China’s ascent and the end of the Cold War, the gradual shift of power from the Atlantic to the Pacific gained momentum. Under Donald Trump, America’s “Pacific Century” has taken quite an unexpected turn. The line between friend and foe has been blurred, and international trade tensions are brewing. Beijing’s increasingly bold military activity, Pyongyang’s nuclear aspirations, and territorial disputes in the South China Sea and beyond further aggravate the tense atmosphere in the Pacific. Economic and military confrontations in the region increasingly threaten the global order.

This symposium in commemoration of Helmut Schmidt aims to enrich the ongoing discussion of the ascendancy of the Pacific by revisiting the multifaceted history of Atlantic-Pacific interconnections. Interdisciplinary in approach, the symposium is envisioned as an opportunity for dialogue and exchange across professional boundaries.

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