Publisher: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited
Reviewed by Zhiqun Zhu, MacArthur Chair of East Asian Politics and Associate Professor
Bucknell University, Pennsylvania, USA
Peace and prosperity are the twin objectives of all nations in East Asia. While there are many books about how East Asian economies have developed or how they are grappling with challenges today, very few studies have been done on the prospect of peace in the region. With two of the world’s potentially most explosive hotspots located in East Asia—the Korean Peninsula and the Taiwan Strait, peace is vital for the continued growth and prosperity of countries in the region and beyond. It is therefore imperative to pay more attention to the security situation and peace studies in East Asia.
Resulting from a number of conferences and symposia held at the International Christian University in Japan between 2003 and 2007, with grant support from the Japanese Ministry of Education and Science, this edited volume is a welcome and timely addition to the small but important field of peace research on East Asia.
Contributed by scholars of international law and politics, history, philosophy, and theology from Japan, the United States and Spain, this book addresses the on-going discussions and efforts in East Asia to achieve reconciliation of old enmities left over from past wars. Based on their historical and philosophical analysis, the editors and contributors have attempted to develop a “grand design” of peace in East Asia. Using the Japanese term “kyosei” – roughly translated as “conviviality” in English—as the foundation, the book suggests that a positive peace can be achieved. According to this theory that is still being developed, East Asian nations can move beyond past injustices, exploitation and oppression and reach reconciliation with an eye on the future.
While the project itself is significant, there are a few problems with the book. First of all, a glaring omission are contributors and views from China, Korea and other nations in Asia. Certainly everyone will agree that peace is desirable, but it will be interesting to see whether scholars from nations that suffered from Japan’s past war atrocities think this “grand design” will work, given continued political tensions between Japan and its neighbors. The second weakness of the book is its emphasis on the importance of developing a “grand theory” of peace, without much discussion of specific policy recommendations to East Asian nations as to how they can apply this theory to practice. An explanation of how such a theory can concretely contribute to achieving peace and reconciliation will be helpful. After all, a theory that is divorced from reality and practice may become meaningless. Finally, the book fails to note the role of the United States in Asia’s past, present and future. The book mentions United States as Japan’s “most important ally” (p. 153), without any discussion about what the United States can do to promote peace and security in East Asia. The fact is almost all issues, challenges and problems in East Asia have something to do with the United States. For any peace theory to work or any security framework to be established, one cannot ignore the crucial role of the United States, without which peace and prosperity in East Asia may only remain a dream.
The contributors did try to examine how a grand peace theory will play out in East Asia, especially in Japan, in the final four chapters. However, different, and often opposing, views of history, as reflected in the various interpretations of the Yasukuni Shrine (p. 125), highlight the hurdles on the road for narrowing the perceptional gaps among East Asian nations.
Indeed, there are still tremendous obstacles on the road ahead. While economic interdependence in the region tends to bring the nations closer together, historical issues and new disputes, such as overlapping territorial claims, different approaches towards North Korea’s nuclear program, and the controversial role of the United States in the region, have the potential to divide nations in East Asia. Above all, these nations have not established sufficient mutual trust and confidence so as to sit down and develop a blueprint for the future together. There is a long way to go before these nations can move from “negative peace” to “positive peace” (p. 91) or establish “the common house of Northeast Asia” (p. 195).
This is certainly a stimulating and important project in peace studies. Though the editors and contributors may have downplayed the difficulties in achieving peace in East Asia, their ambitious efforts to promote peace studies and education and seek a grand design for security, reconciliation and cooperation are highly commendable. One only hopes that policy makers in Japan and other East Asian countries will listen to these scholars and join hands in building truly lasting peace, security, prosperity, and kyosei in East Asia.
This is a serious, theory-laden research book that is suitable for scholars of peace studies, East Asian history, international politics, and political philosophy as well as graduate students of political science, international relations, and political theory.