Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Asia's Institutional Creation and Evolution*

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

Asia's Institutional Creation and Evolution*

Article excerpt

This article explores the formation and evolution of regional institutions in the Asia-Pacific and East Asia. Employing a historical institutionalist framework, this article argues that both Asia-Pacific and East Asian regional institutions were created at critical junctures, precipitated by extra-regional developments that called the legitimacy of existing institutional mechanisms into serious question. Preexisting institutions greatly shaped the institutional design of the subsequent regional institutions, revealing a path-dependent nature of institutional evolution. The timing and sequence of regional institution building is an important factor for explaining institutional change. Specifically, the analysis demonstrates that although new regional institutions with different memberships have emerged at critical junctures, the centrality of ASEAN as a source of institutional modus operandi has persisted within these institutions, notwithstanding changes in material circumstances and the recognition of inefficiencies and ineffectiveness.

Key words: APEC, ASEAN+3, East Asia Summit, historical institutionalism, regionalism


Until the late 1980s, the Asia-Pacific had long been known as a region without any intergovernmental regional institutions. Although some regional organizations were created in the early cold war period, the only regional organization that had continued to exist was the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), formed in 1967. However, after the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum was established in 1989, many regionalist projects emerged at various levels in the Asia-Pacific region. The ASEAN launched the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) as an instrument for attracting foreign direct investment to the region. In the security domain, spurred by the uncertainty after the end of the cold war, the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was created as the first regional forum to promote security dialogue and confidence- building measures among member states. In 1996, the inaugural Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) brought together leaders from both Asia and Europe to discuss political, economic, and social issues in order to strengthen the relationship between the two regions.

In the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998, a number of regional economic arrangements and proposals emerged in order to develop a new regional financial governance mechanism. The most significant institutional development during this period was the emergence of the first East Asia-only regional forum, which started when ASEAN leaders invited their counterparts from three Northeast Asian countries, namely, China, Japan, and South Korea, to the second ASEAN informal summit in 1997. This East Asian gathering, which came to be known as the ASEAN+3 (APT), gained momentum as a site for promoting regional financial and monetary cooperation among the East Asian economies. More recently, the East Asia Summit (EAS) was inaugurated at the end of 2005, bringing together not only the APT members, but also Australia, New Zealand, and India. As result of these developments, many states in East Asia and the Asia-Pacific now belong to regional arrangements with overlapping membership.

How and why did APEC emerge when it did? Why did the locus of regionalism shift from the Asia-Pacific to East Asia in the late 1990s when a new East Asian regional institution was created in the form of APT? What has informed the institutional forms that these regional institutions have taken? In short, what explains institutional creation and evolution in the Asia-Pacific and East Asia? This article employs a historical institutionalist approach to institutions by way of explanation. The following pages begin with a discussion of the framework, and proceed with an empirical analysis.

Critical Juncture and Path Dependence

Historical institutionalism provides a useful framework for exploring how and why various regional frameworks have emerged in the Asia-Pacific and East Asia. …

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