Monday, 29 August 2011

Asian Regionalism and East Asian Community (EAC) Building




The 45th AMM/PMC/ARF Meeting, 6-13 July 2012 in Phnom Penh




18th ASEAN Regional Forum in Bali on 23 July 2011



Regional integration has strategic importance for ASEAN and East Asia region as a whole, but ASEAN role and leadership to accelerate regional integration in EAC has been under question and criticism. Jones and Smith (2006) are skeptical of ASEAN’s ability to expand “its institutional framework into the broader East Asian Region, to the view that ASEAN’s economic and political failure after the 1997 [this failed model] equally validated the projection of its managerial way into the wider region?” (p.146). From this skepticism, ASEAN centrality has been viewed as an issue that need to be reviewed to adapt to new environment in East Asia. However, ASEAN has been able to manage to form and expand its regional cooperation without changing its norms and values. After the 1997 Asian financial crisis, ASEAN’s principle has been under pressure with regional crisis and membership expansion (Kao, 2000, p.18-19). According to Capie and Evans (2003), ASEAN’s norms and values have been considered as “ASEAN Way” which includes preference for informality, the principle of inclusivity, consensus, and non-interference (p.46-49). In addition, it is ASEAN way that maintains cohesiveness and has made ASEAN successful in uniting all the 10 countries in Southeast Asia since the norm of non-interference promotes trust and reduce suspicion among member states (Collins, 2000, p. 128-129). For example, since the creation of ASEAN+3 Summit in 1997 and East Asian Summit in 2005, ASEAN has been considered as the driving force in evolving regional architecture, EAC, and ASEAN+3 framework as the main vehicle, and East Asia Summit (EAS) as the complementary element to ASEAN+3 for building EAC (ASEAN Secretariat, 2009).

However, the issue of ASEAN’s leadership has not been taken for granted. Hernandez (2008) argued that the fact that ASEAN is needed to be the driver of any regional community-building efforts [EAC] has been resulted from the rivalry between China and Japan who cannot accede to each other. In addition to its de facto leadership, Hernandez pointed to the need for ASEAN to address its own dynamics. Since ASEAN’s economy contribute to only 10% of the total East Asian economy, Wanandi (2009) shared the same concern and stressed the need for ASEAN to strengthen its capacity in order to push forward the community-building process. From these viewpoints, ASEAN centrality rest on its own dynamics and its capacity to lead regional integration in East Asia. This will surely depend on how attractive ASEAN is to other countries in the region to follow ASEAN’s leadership. So, fully-integrated ASEAN Economic Community significantly contributes to ASEAN’s attractiveness. However, ASEAN is facing its own challenge in trying to make a full economic integration in itself due to a big development gap between CLMV countries and the ASEAN-6 countries. Nevertheless, to explain why ASEAN is still considered a successful regionalism in Southeast Asia despite its loose integration, there is a need to understand the internal dynamics of this “new regionalism”.

The concept of regionalism started soon after the end of World War II in Western Europe where some states formed a regional association, the European Coal and Steel Community and European Atomic Community. The supranational organization, the European Union, is the product of a long evolution of this strongly integrated association.  However, regionalism in Asia is a new and loose approach, “new regionalism.” Also, Beeson (2009, p.17-36) is of the views that ASEAN is “Asian way” of institutionalization, which is different from that of the European Union (EU) in Europe. Although the EU is a successful supranational organization which member states have to relinquish some parts of their own sovereignty, it does not necessarily mean that this model would be successful for Asian countries, all of whom consider sovereignty is the precious element since most of them just got their independence from colonialism in the early and the middle of 20th century whereas the European states are more matured and had been the global powers until the same period. However, Beeson argues that ASEAN needs to be improved politically by not just only for its own survival through ASEAN way.


According to Camilleri (2003, p. 1), it is different from the notions of supranational organization and more inclined to the importance of loose regional linkages and exchanges. Through regional interaction, material and ideational processes and exchanges can contribute to establishment of regional identity, regional patterns of economic and social activity, and regional forms of organization (p.6). Furthermore, in regionalism, he points out the roles of power and conflicts, which also exert influence in the process of regionalization (p.15-23). For the role of power, regionalism is formed in response to hegemonic power through which the balance of power has been used by smaller states in regionalization. For example, he gives the case of ASEAN, ASEAN Regional Forum, and ASEAN+3, are seen as responses to diminished US hegemony after the end of the Cold War. Regarding the role of conflict, internal conflicts and international conflict or even crises can have deep impacts for regional identity and institutional building. From this view, the 1997 Asian financial crisis has formed an Asian identity as explained by Nabers below.


The institutional building also has important role in shaping new identity and interest and to some extent it also affect foreign policy of member states of that grouping. Common identity, interest, and expectation are emerging and have influence toward states during process of interaction in the institution building, called “institutional discourse”. In this sense, ASEAN centrality may be undergoing transformation process in ASEAN+3 “institutional discourse”. Nabers (2003) conducted a study on “The social construction of international institutions: the case of ASEAN+3.” His main argument is that “not only states influence the development of international institutions, but, in return, that institutions can also exert influence on states’ foreign policy behavior.” The social interaction approach which is used for the explanation of the initiation and subsequent development of an institution recognizes the existence of both material and normative grounds of foreign policy action. He supposes that the institutional discourse, ASEAN+3, in the end produces new identity and interest since existing values and norms are influenced by continuous cooperation. Furthermore, he argues that it is the 1997 Asian financial crisis that led to the institutionalization of the Asian idea, the Chiang Mai Initiative. In case of ASEAN+3, his main finding is that:

Eventually a fundamental reconstruction of existing values and identities became visible. New identities generated new kinds of political action along the lines of the established institution – ASEAN + 3.
            (Nabers, 2003, p. 133)
In fact, regional building in East Asia is a discouraging tasks, which require strong political commitment in institution-building and in overcoming barriers to regional integration. Institutional works range from sectoral cooperation, and monetary & financial cooperation, which may involve into economic cooperation (East Asia Free Trade Area), and finally into political and security cooperation in the future. Impediments to regional integration in East Asia include growing nationalism which bears distrust in some countries, and regional diversity, in which most countries in East Asia have different political systems, level of economic development, and cultures (Otsuji & Shinoda, 2008, p. 217-218). However, it is very difficult when regional cooperation starts to involve state’s sovereignty and non-interference issue. In addition, Leifer (2000) and Mayall (2000, p. 187-196) draw our attention to “Asian nationalism” in East Asia where historical legacy, border disputes, colonialism, ethnic conflicts, and political chaos are still lingering in most countries and continues to have consequence on international relations in the region. Therefore, Asian nationalism is a major obstacle for East Asian regionalism since no country is willing to give up some of its sovereignty as like the EU member states. Both ASEAN and other countries in East Asia such as Japan, South Korea, and China are very sensitive to sovereignty issue. According to Yaqing (2008, p. 53-71), if we wish to have a successful regional community building in East Asia, we have to overcome the issue of Westphalian culture in this region or at least try to reduce its intensity. This culture is referred to the issues of sovereignty and territoriality, which are so sensitive to Asian countries and also hampering regional community building efforts.

            However, there are many optimistic views that, functional cooperation, especially economic and financial integration, and enhancement of habit of cooperation are the best way for East Asia regionalism at the time being, given persisting Asian nationalism in the region.





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