Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

The Chinese Axis: Zoning Technologies and Variegated Sovereignty

Academic journal article Journal of East Asian Studies

The Chinese Axis: Zoning Technologies and Variegated Sovereignty

Article excerpt

Concepts of regionalization and regionalism have dominated discussions of emerging global orders. With the rise of the European Union (EU), scholars have begun to look for similar multilaterally negotiated regional organizations in the Asia-Pacific region.

However, the search for regional forms in East Asia that may approximate the EU seems to set up a situation for the disappointing admission that regionalism or intergovernmental collaboration in East Asia is weak and fraught with political obstacles. A leading scholar has identified ASEAN+3 (the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN] plus China, Japan, and South Korea) as the major regional configuration in East Asia today, with the goal of "enmeshing" China in a "soft regime" of economic integration. (1) Such claims of a rising East Asian regional order seem dubious, more a vision shaped by politicians' rhetoric than an actually existing institutional structure. Indeed, the search for broad comparative ideal-types of regionalization in Europe, North America, and East Asia often uses Western modes of regionalization as the normative model, so that regional forms in East Asia are found to be lacking and defective. Alternately, one imagines that analysts in search of typologies may contrast the EU or the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Asian regional configurations, drawing up a set of oppositions such as multilateralism versus universalism, or the protection of civil rights versus compromises on them.

My analytical approach challenges such assumptions based on binary typologies. The EU is after all a unique experiment in transstatal rule that emerged out of unique historical experiences and institutions to meet global challenges of the late twentieth century. One would expect that significant regional alignments in East Asia would be rather different and distinctive, emerging out of the interactions of market calculations and diverse political entities. Regionalization in East Asia seems to take multiple forms, organized at multiple scales and based on limited groupings of sites or nations. Kenichi Ohmae has noted the rise of cross-border regional economies that establish linkages among different sites and populations in the Asia-Pacific. (2) Thus even though East Asian regionalization seems nebulous, Greater China--an alignment of China, Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, and Chinese communities in Southeast Asia--is a regional configuration that is firmly based on institutional forms and practices. Unlike the EU, Greater China as a distinctive kind of regional space has not been forged through multilateral negotiations but is the outcome of the administrative strategies of a single state, China, in pursuit of economic development and political integration. Flexible Chinese state practices, I argue, deploy zoning technologies for integrating distinct political entities such as Hong Kong and Macao, and even Taiwan and Singapore, into an emerging Chinese axis. Furthermore, although zoning technologies are ostensibly about increasing foreign investments and economic activities, they create the spaces and conditions of variegated sovereignty aligned on an axis of trade, industrialization, and gradual political integration. Thus this Chinese-dominated archipelago challenges widespread assumptions that economic and political forms of integration develop in different spheres. (3) Greater China, I argue, is a state-driven strategy to economically integrate disarticulated political entities as a detour toward eventual political integration.

This article begins with a rethinking of sovereignty not as a container concept but rather as the outcome of various administrative strategies that seek to improve the economic and political well-being of the nation. China's administrative responses to globalization do not result from an "unbundling" of powers or territories but rather from the creation of spaces of political and economic exception. …

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