The international political economy of regionalism
The Asia-Pacific and Europe compared *
At a scholarly level, the study of comparative regionalism has been back in fashion for some time now—especially in the USA, where studies of NAFTA and the EU, and NAFTA and Asia-Pacific co-operation have emerged. A closer examination of the Asia-Pacific over the last few years suggests a potentially rich two-way vein of empirical and theoretical insight to be gained from comparison with Europe. Europe’s present does not represent the Asia-Pacific’s future but, as well as their obvious differences, there are striking parallels that might not seem evident at first but that do emerge via comparative analysis. The geographical, historical, political and cultural contexts are sufficiently different as to ensure different paths towards regional co-operation, but the context of managing regional economic policy co-ordination in an era of globalization is the same for both European and Asian actors.
For the student of international political economy, the comparative analysis of regionalism in the EU and Asia offers a chance to refine our theoretical knowledge in several broad areas of international relations and comparative political economy scholarship. First, at a ‘mainstream level’, it allows us to refine dominant neo-liberal institutionalist approaches to the understanding of economic co-operation. At a less mainstream level it allows us to see the utility of alternative ‘constructivist’ applications to the study of regionalism. Particularly, it shows that we must take ‘ideas and ideational analysis’ seriously. Questions that have not been on the research agenda of economic regionalism for quite a while—questions of identity—are now deemed to be salient.
In comparative analysis, economistic explanations of regionalism— especially of a neo-classical variety—are much more advanced than identity studies. This chapter attempts to redress this imbalance somewhat. Divided into three parts, section one attempts to provide an ideational, as opposed to a material, framework for the analysis of regionalism in an era of globalization. The relationship between ideas and interest still lies at the heart of the contemporary realist-liberal-institutionalist debate about how best to achieve international co-operation and/or policy co-ordination. We need to get