Asian Regionalism and Japan – The politics of membership in regional diplomatic, financial and trade groups

Asian Regionalism and Japan

Author(s): Shintaro Hamanaka

ISBN:          978-0-415-55304-9

Publisher: Routledge

Year:          2009

Price:         $44,95

Reviewed by Jing Zhao, Sr. Fellow, US-Japan-China Comparative Policy Research Institute, USA. June 2012.

Since the words “regionalism” and “Asian regionalism” are not well defined or recognized terminology, the book title confused me. As indicated in the subtitle, the book actually is about chronology of (confusing, again) “Asian diplomatic regionalism” (chapter 2), “Asian financial regionalism” (chapter 3), and “Asian trade regionalism” (chapter 4) from a Japanese perspective.   It would be a little helpful to know that this is one of 42 books in Sheffield Center for Japanese Studies / Routledge series, edited by Glenn Hook.  Hook himself wrote or edited 10 books in the series. While I cannot say anything about other books of the series, this book under review is a disappointment.  I regret to receive this book to review.

Since the book is about the confusing “Asian regionalism,” Hamanaka has to explain his hypothetical theory (Introduction and chapter 1).  Hamanaka starts this book with an old Chinese citation in the fourth century BC: “It is better to be the head of a small group than to hold a less powerful position in a large group.” He then develops his hypothetical theory based on more confusing concepts such as “mainstream theories in explaining Asian regionalism,” (p.11) “neoliberal institutionalism,” (p.14) “constructivism,” (p.15) “hegemonic stability theory” (p.17).  Furthermore, I am totally lost in reading Hamanaka’s boundaries figures (p.23 and p.26). It is waste of time to try hard to figure out what Hamanaka wants to show readers of his knowledge of the region.

It is easy to point out that Japan’s post-war success in the region (under this book’s coverage) is mainly because of this fact: the Japanese ruling class was completely defeated, so they became humble not to take any powerful position. Any leadership Japan tried to seek, either toward South Korea, Taiwan, Southeast Asian countries, or with China, was under the frame of the U.S.-Japanese security treaty in which Japan enjoyed and benefited greatly a junior partnership position.  A wise investor will buy a cheaper house in a wealthy community rather than a relatively expensive house in a poor community.  In this regard, the post-war Japanese ruling class made a wise and fortunate choice (the so-called “Yoshida doctrine,” seeking no leadership).  If I am the supervisor or editor, I would not encourage Hamanaka study along the wrong assumption.  Professor Hook might include Hamanaka’s unique theory as one chapter in one of his numerous Japanese study publications.

That said, for English-speaking students of post-war Asian financial history, who do not know Japanese language, this book may provide some useful translation material.