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John F. Kennedy School of Government - Harvard University

John F. Kennedy School of Government Harvard University

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The American Tributary System


The American Tributary System

Series: International Security Program Special Event
Open to the Public - Belfer Center Library, Littauer-369
April 14, 2014
4:15-6:00 p.m.

Speaker: Yuen Foong Khong, Professor of International Relations, Nuffield College, Oxford University

Related Project: International Security


This seminar will discuss the idea of the tributary system—most often associated with China's international relations from antiquity—to interpret how the United States relates to the rest of the world. The speaker will argue that the United States has instituted the most successful tributary system that the world has ever seen. As the hub or epicenter of the most extensive network of formal and informal alliances ever built, the United States offers its allies and partners—or tributaries—military protection as well as economic access to its markets. In return for all its exertions, the tribute that the United States seeks is straightforward: first, that it be recognized as the power or hegemon, and second, that others emulate its political forms and ideas. With both tributes in hand, the United States finds equanimity; it and the world are safe, at least from the U.S. point of view.

Please join us! Coffee and tea provided. Everyone is welcome, but admittance will be on a first come–first served basis.


Optional reading for the seminar: Khong, Yeun Foong, "The American Tributary System." Chinese Journal of International Politics, 6, (2013): 1–47. Click on "DOWNLOAD" below.



ISP Program Coordinator
International Security Program 79 John F. Kennedy St., Mailbox 53 Cambridge, MA 02138 USA
Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Harvard Kennedy School
Phone: 617-496-1981
Fax: 617-495-8963