Emeritus Professor of Political Science
Political Integration; Bilateralism; Minilateralism; Multilateralism; East Asia; ASEAN; China
A decade ago, in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis, numerous observers expected regional integration to take off in East Asia. What, meanwhile, has actually happened?This paper argues that while overall inter-state cooperation has certainly intensified in East Asia during this period, there has been no significant expansion of multilateral, as opposed to bi- or minilateral cooperation and less still any political integration.It explores the reasons for the emergence of this pattern of cooperation in the region, in particular the extent that it has been shaped by ASEAN, which, unwilling and unable as it is to sponsor any far-reaching projects for much closer, region-wide multilateral cooperation, provides no more than a ‘soft core’ of East Asian regionalism.The failure of political integration to take off is attributed to the antagonistic character of Sino-Japanese relations, the relative weakness of the mobilization of transnational business interests in favour of closer regional cooperation and continuing wide disparities in terms of levels of economic development and political systems. The apparent success that ASEAN has had in maintaining peaceful relations between its members suggests that ‘hard’ integration is not indispensable for securing regional stability and peace.However, if realist scholars are correct that a changing balance of power is destabilizing the region, the sooner the norms and practices of cooperation that have stood ASEAN in good stead in this regard become entrenched among the region’s big powers - whose participation in forums such as the APT and EAS is very recent - the better.