Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Towards an Asia-Pacific Regional Architecture: Jian Yang Comments on the Great Power Approach to the Development of Cooperative Institutions in the Asia-Pacific Region

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

Towards an Asia-Pacific Regional Architecture: Jian Yang Comments on the Great Power Approach to the Development of Cooperative Institutions in the Asia-Pacific Region

Article excerpt

The Asia-Pacific regional architecture has been evolving constantly and rather dramatically since the late 1980s. The past two decades have witnessed the emergence of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC), ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), ASEAN+3 (APT) and the East Asia Summit (EAS). In addition, we have had the proposed East Asia Community (EAC), the Asia Pacific Community (APC) and suggestions about turning the adhoc Six-Party Talks on North Korea into a permanent North-east Asian security institution. Meanwhile, Japan, China and South Korea have had their trilateral leaders' summit since 2008.

Most of the regional institutions were not initiated by the three most important states in the region, the United States, China and Japan. These states, nevertheless, have played a key role in the emergence and development of the regional architecture represented by these institutions. Hedley Bull distinguishes three kinds of order in world politics. They are 'order in social life' (essential elements of human relations), 'international order' (order between states in a system or society of states) and 'world order' (order among humankind as a whole). World order is more fundamental and primordial than international order. However, the regional architecture that we have been talking about is still largely based on international order. According to Bull, the responsibility for sustaining international order belongs to the great powers and is achieved by managing their relations with one another.

Historically, the Asia-Pacific region was particularly weak in terms of regional co-operation and integration, or regionalism. The 'institutional deficit'--the absence of institutionalised regional inter-governmental collaboration--was obvious and not surprising. After all, the two hot wars during the Cold War years were fought in East Asia and the great powers came into direct conflict in both of them. The Chinese, with support of the Soviets, shed blood against the Americans in the Korean War, while both the Chinese and Soviets supported the North Vietnamese against the Americans in the Vietnam War. The only area in the Asia-Pacific region where we did see regional inter-governmental collaboration was South-east Asia. And their effort was to exclude external influence, mainly the influence of great powers.

Asia-Pacific regionalism gained momentum after the mid-1980s when Japan was forced to appreciate the yen against US dollars. Sectors of Japanese industry feared that Japan would no longer be competitive internationally. It thus became necessary for Japanese companies to expand their investment in other Asian countries to obtain cost advantages. This contributed to the increase of the share of intra-East Asian trade in the total trade of East Asian economies--from 35 per cent in 1980 to close to 50 per cent in 1995. In the Asia-Pacific region, the ratio of intra-regional trade climbed from 57 per cent to 75 per cent in the same period. The increased economic interactions stimulated the interest of regional inter-governmental collaboration in coping with the problems arising from growing trade and investment flows.

Closer regional inter-governmental collaboration was necessary also due to the changes of US foreign policy in the wake of the end of the Cold War. With its clear military superiority and the absence of an overshadowing security threat on one hand and economic problems at home on the other, Washington became less interested in maintaining open markets for its East Asian trading partners after the end of the Cold War. The concerns of East Asian, and Oceanic, countries over their access to the US market deepened after the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the establishment of the single internal market in Europe, both in 1992. The governments of East Asia and Oceania perceived the new regionalism in other parts of the world as a threat to their economic interests. …

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