Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Convergence and Integration in East Asia: Geoff Miller Discusses the Political and Strategic Factors Driving Convergence and Integration in East Asia

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Convergence and Integration in East Asia: Geoff Miller Discusses the Political and Strategic Factors Driving Convergence and Integration in East Asia

Article excerpt

In my view not all political and strategic factors are driving in the direction of convergence in East Asia. For example, many commentators have recently noted the strengthening of nationalist feelings in China, Japan and South Korea. In this article I make the following points:

* economic factors are positive, and can have political effects;

* trans-national aspects of the regional environment, including the common threat of terrorism, are conducive to co-operation;

* the importance of ASEAN;

* the long-drawn-out six-party co-operation on North Korea is apparently working at last, and could lead to something more general for North Asia;

* Chinas inclusion in current institution-building is the major change from the past, and a big plus, despite the concerns its rise has caused among some regional countries and in the United States;

* Japan-China relations are improving, but still touchy, and they sponsor competing institutional models for the region;

* the United States will remain of enormous importance to the region both economically and in security terms, but will not join the emerging institutions;

* the US relationship with China is the subject of competing views and is still being worked out, including its conceptual basis. Chinas challenge to the United States goes beyond the East Asia region;

* efforts by the United States to sponsor a security relationship between itself, Japan, Australia and possibly India to 'manage Chinas emergence' are not constructive, although China has reacted to them in a measured way;

* if the new institutions become too big they will fail. There are risks already for the EAS in the inclusion of India, and these would be compounded if the rest of South Asia and Russia were added. ASEAN plus Three already exists as a more wieldy alternative.

Because of space constraints I will deal only with the latter six of these points. That is simply a case of force majeure and does not mean that I do not regard the earlier four as important.

Comparing earlier attempts at political and security institution-building in East and South-east Asia with today, one outstanding fact leaps to mind: some earlier attempts, like SEATO in the 1950s and ASPAC in the 1960s and early 1970s, did not include China, and were indeed aimed at containing and defending against it. In that sense they could at best be partial successes in terms of East Asia as a whole, and in fact acted to institutionalise divisions within it.

Enormous advance

The situation is not perfect in East Asia now, but it is an enormous advance to have China, with its huge population, resources, historical tradition and manufacturing power, actively engaged in creating new institutions in East Asia, rather than being the feared and reviled object of them.

When the ASEAN Regional Forum was founded in 1993 one of its key objectives was--to put it bluntly--to bring China into the habit of multilateral consultation and regional participation before it became too powerful to see the advantages in such processes. China indeed responded positively, and has used the ARF and other forums to become an involved, and accepted, participant in the diplomatic affairs of the region--and beyond, as shown by the extraordinary China-Africa Summit, attended by 48 African heads of government, last November.

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Of course, Chinas rise has led to concerns as well as created opportunities, with all kinds of prescriptions existing as to how to respond to it. Examples include then Deputy Secretary of State Zoellick's famous invitation to China to become a 'responsible stake-holder' in the international system, and the current debate in the United States about the correct 'mix' between 'engaging' or 'accepting' and 'hedging'.

In fact, despite concerns about its human rights behaviour, China can claim to be considered an exemplary member of international society. …

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