Regionalization and Regionalism in East Asia

By Kim, Samuel S. | Journal of East Asian Studies, January-April 2004 | Go to article overview
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Regionalization and Regionalism in East Asia


Kim, Samuel S., Journal of East Asian Studies


What will the future of East Asia be like in the years ahead? More than a decade after the end of the Cold War, we are still confronted with the fundamental question of whether a new world order will be shaped primarily by state, regional, or global forces and actors. This great puzzle of both theoretical and real-world significance has been widely debated among scholars and policy pundits of diverse normative and theoretical orientations, only to generate many competing explanations and prognostications.

This article presents an overview analysis of how East Asia as one of three major international regions is coping with the forces and demands of both regionalization and regionalism amid the twin pressures of globalization from above and localization from below (so-called globalization). States are recognizing that responses to the pressures of globalization are sometimes best when they are coordinated with those of other states. The presence of the dynamics of globalization compels the analyst to look beyond single-state policy to see what states are doing at a multilateral--in this case explicitly regional--level. The working premise is that the emergence and dynamics of East Asia's regionalism will reflect and effect the shape and character of an emerging order in the region and beyond.

In pursuit of this line of inquiry, the article takes up major issues concerning (1) why the second wave of regionalism has been taking place throughout the world; (2) why East Asia's search for a regional identity is so elusive yet enduring; (3) what conditions underlie the formation and development of East Asian regionalization and regionalism in recent years, especially in the wake of the Asian financial crisis (AFC) of 1997-1998; (4) what challenges and obstacles stand in the way of establishing a viable East Asian community; and (5) future prospects for establishing a peaceful, prosperous, and stable order in the region and beyond.

Whereas most existing studies of regionalism focus on a single issue, this article explores several interrelated issues as a way of bringing into sharper relief the outer possibilities and limitations of the regionalist approach to world order. In East Asia, the framework of regionalization and regionalism is most salient in the economic realm. In the security domain, the remnants of the Cold War framework still exist, albeit in attenuated form, influencing state security thinking and behavior, so that the concept of regionalism provides less explanatory power.

First, we must address the old question of what constitutes a region. More than fifty years ago, prominent political economist Jacob Viner commented with despair that "it cannot be said that they [economists] have succeeded in finding a definition of it [region] which would be of much aid ... in deciding whether two or more territories were in the same economic region." (1) Nonetheless, presenting a working definition of "region" or "regionalism" is a necessary first step to any meaningful discussion of East Asia's regional identity. The literature on new regionalism stresses several key linkage factors as necessary conditions under which regionalism or regional integration can take place among a group of states, including linkage by geographical proximity and by various forms of shared political, economic, social, cultural, or institutional affinities. Regions are also defined by combinations of geographical, psychological, and behavioral characteristics. (2)

Because "regionalism" and "regionalization" have been applied in various ways to Northeast Asia, East Asia, and even Asia, often interchangeably and without any conceptual consistency or clarity, it is necessary to make a conceptual distinction between the two related terms. Just as globalization is not the same as "globalism" or "universalism," regionalization is not the same as regionalism. (3) Like globalism, regionalism is a normative concept referring to shared values, norms, identity, and aspirations.

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