China’s Rise and Regional Integration in East Asia: Hegemony or community?

Authors: Yong Wook Lee and Key-young Son (eds.)chinas-rise-and-regional-integration-in-east-asia

ISBN: 978-0-415-73513-1

Publisher: Routledge

Year: 2014

Price: £90.00

Reviewed by Kristin Mulready-Stone, Associate Professor, Kansas State University (USA)

Since the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-98, many multilateral organizations have developed in East Asia to confront economic and security challenges in the region. Some of these groups incorporate countries well outside the traditional, geographic definition of East Asia, such as Russia and the United States, whereas others explicitly exclude extra-regional powers. In the introduction to their edited volume, Lee and Son assume that “world politics cannot be properly understood without paying due attention to the emergence and development of regionalism,” defining regionalism as “a policy and project whereby states and non-state actors cooperate and coordinate strategy within a given region” (1). Thus, they maintain, the development of organizations such as ASEAN Plus Three, the Six-Party Talks and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, among others, is right in line with a global shift toward regionalism. Lee and Son also pinpoint two key dynamics that are “twin processes generating the transformation of East Asia.” They are “the rise of China as a contender for regional and global hegemony and a set of collective initiatives to integrate the region into a harmonious community” (1).
Lee and Son further expand upon their hypothesis, asserting that a new East Asia will develop that will either be:
similar to the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as an example of hegemonic regionalism, or to the European Union (EU), an example of cooperative regionalism. However, we cannot rule out the possibility that East Asia could invent a still unknown form of regionalism or regionalization requiring harsh reality checks against international, regional and domestic pressures (1).
Thus the introduction presents as “fairly close to a fait accompli” (5) that East Asia will coalesce into some form of regional structure, either under the dominance of a regional hegemon (China or the United States), as a community of equal nations, or in a form that has yet to be determined.
The remaining chapters of the volume are divided into two parts: Hegemony and Community. Chapters 2 through 5 appear under “Hegemony,” and the Introduction states they focus on “the transformation of strategic relations in East Asia associated with China’s ascendancy” (8), but the “hegemony” heading implies the chapters will argue that East Asia will integrate under a hegemon. Chapters 6 through 9 come under “Community,” and are described as sizing up “the emerging, but still fragile East Asian initiatives for community building by using a variety of yardsticks” (10), with the “community” heading leading the reader to believe that these chapters will claim that East Asia is destined to build a voluntary community of nations cooperating in a peaceful bloc, along the lines of the European Union. Given the significant divisions and conflicts that exist in East Asia due to doubts about whether China’s peaceful rise, concerns over North Korea’s nuclear program, and ongoing resentments over Japan’s wartime aggression, the assertion that “regionalism” will occur is a bold claim, indeed.
In reality, what every chapter in the volume does – regardless of its particular orientation – is to discuss the ways that countries in East Asia have already integrated to a limited degree in a wide array of regional organizations, while repeatedly emphasizing that greater integration along the lines of the European Union is unlikely anytime soon. Each chapter makes a significant contribution to our understanding of how and why the community-building that has developed so far has done so and pinpoints obstacles to further integration. The individual strengths of the various chapters might, however, come through more clearly if they appeared in a different order.
Xiaoming Zhang’s chapter on the historical patterns of China’s relations with its neighboring countries for the two millennia up through the end of the Cold War serves as a solid historical background to East Asia’s regional and international relations, especially for readers who are not experts on Chinese history. But specialists and non-specialists alike will benefit from reading the final section of Zhang’s chapter, “An emerging new pattern: a regional community?” which serves as a good introduction to the topic in the context of today. As such, Zhang’s chapter should come immediately after the editors’ introductory chapter.
Yong Wook Lee’s chapter on Japan and East Asian financial regionalism would logically follow Zhang’s chapter early in the book, since it convincingly explains that the reason so many multilateral financial organizations appeared after the Asian financial crisis is intimately connected to the sense of helplessness and frustration Japan and other East Asian countries felt at the time over differences with the United States and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) regarding what caused the crisis and what might have helped to end that specific crisis and avert future financial crises (163-4). Lee demonstrates that Japan’s Ministry of Finance felt particularly strongly that “the United States and the IMF were mainly interested in advancing their own prerogatives, not in helping those economies afflicted by the crisis” (164). Japan thus led the way in engaging in “‘exclusionary’ institution-building efforts in the region’s monetary and financial affairs,” specifically excluding the United States from efforts such as the Chiang Mai Initiative (CMI), the Asian Monetary Fund, and the Asian Bond Markets Initiative so that East Asian countries could deal with future, regional financial challenges without U.S. and IMF interference (159). Understanding the origins of these economic forms of cooperation as Lee presents them would be useful before reading the remaining chapters, many of which refer to the economic organizations without explaining their origins.
T.J. Pempel’s contribution on “Commercial space versus security space” builds effectively on Zhang’s and Lee’s foundational chapters as Pempel makes clear that the “formal linkages” among East Asian governments that have enjoyed the greatest success are those that focus on economic cooperation, whereas those focusing on security issues (the Six-Party Talks, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and others) are “hardly full-fledged ‘regional institutions’” (115). Most East Asian countries suffered enough during the Asian financial crisis that it makes sense to them to work together to prevent such problems in the future, but distrust of each other’s intentions on security matters means that most “have been reluctant to surrender significant components of their national autonomy” to any regional security bodies (116).
Jung-Nam Lee’s focus on the faltering of South Korea-China relations would logically follow Pempel’s chapter. Lee skillfully demonstrates that while economic ties between South Korea and China have expanded dramatically since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1992, their political, diplomatic, and strategic relationship has seen only superficial progress. Lee explains cooperation between the two countries has been weak,
mainly because of the presence of a perceptual gap between China’s recognition that South Korea still stresses the importance of its relationship with the United States concerning its security issues, and South Korea’s recognition that China is overly sensitive about the public debates pertaining to the North Korea problem. The gap is too large for a diplomatic quick fix and has impeded the development of better relations between the two countries (68).
Like many other scholars, Lee embraces the concept of G2, “the term used to refer to the group of the two strongest countries in the world, the United States and China,” and this “emerging ‘G2 era,’ marked by the renewed and heightened interest of the United States in East Asia; she also defines the China-US relationship as a key variable and determinant of South Korea-China relations” (68). The rise of G2, together with the longstanding South Korea-U.S. and North Korea-China partnerships have resulted in a worsening of relations between China and South Korea (68). These three chapters by Yong Wook Lee, T.J. Pempel, and Jung-Nam Lee would logically make up a section on the successes of financial regionalization in East Asia.
The final section of a reorganized volume could consist of the chapters that focus on the competition between China and the United States for influence in East Asia. Quansheng Zhao’s chapter identifies the United States as “the leading status quo power” and China as “the rising power” (19). But he does not see this potential conflict as a zero-sum game; instead, he presents China as having “gradually gained the upper hand and begun to play a leader role in certain areas” financially and economically. But “in terms of military, security and political dimensions, the United States continues to be in a hegemonic position—far ahead of the rest of the major powers” (17). Zhao presents this as a “dual leadership structure” that
clearly reflects new configurations related to the rise of China for the last three decades. At the same time, it is also a reflection of the continued US leadership position in regional as well as global affairs since the end of World War II (17).
In Zhao’s view, this dual leadership will last “well into the rest of this century” and “not only will each [country] play a leading role in a certain field, but the dual leadership structure may also ensure regional stability and prosperity for the years to come” (37). Zhao acknowledges that conflict between China and the United States is possible, but says “cooperation and co-management of difficult problems are more likely trends within this framework of dual leadership structure,” due in no small part to the fact that the U.S. and Chinese economies are thoroughly intertwined. In that context, a zero-sum competition would not work well for either country (32).
In a somewhat similar vein, Qingguo Jia takes the position that China’s rise is peaceful and likely (although not guaranteed) to remain that way, but Jia focuses on China’s military rise, rather than its economic dominance. Referencing the model of the zero-sum game, Jia points to historical examples of a “rising power and the hegemon” that did not result in military confrontation or a zero-sum game, specifically the United States’ rise before World War I and Germany’s and Japan’s rise after World War II. Jia asserts that like the United States, Germany and Japan before it, China “has gradually accepted the [current] world order and become a status quo power,” rather than attempting to unseat the hegemon (61). Jia believes certain factors will help to preserve the peaceful nature of China’s rise, including the international community giving “China its due credit for pursuing a policy of peaceful development. It can reassure China that it will respect China’s legitimate interests and claims, as long as China observes international laws and norms” (63). For its part, China “also has a responsibility to make sure that it will deal with nationalist pressures at home and ill-conceived provocations abroad in a way that is conducive to both its own interests and those of the outside world” (63).
Yinhong Shi’s view of how the Sino-U.S. relationship is likely to develop is somewhat different; Shi states that it “has a level a volatility,” due in no small part, to Chinese “‘triumphalism’ in its relations with its East Asian neighbors in recent years” (51). To make his point, Shi contrasts China’s response to its dispute with Japan in 2005 over Junichiro Koizumi’s trips to the Yasukuni Shrine and the September-October 2010 Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands Crisis. In the former example, despite “anti-Japanese mass demonstrations” in China’s major cities, “the Chinese government dealt with the issue with extraordinary prudence and a sense of discretion,” managing to “keep open diplomatic dialogue with the Japanese government,” “to differentiate people-to-people contacts from those between governments,” and “to distinguish China-Japan economic relations from their political relations” (42). But in 2010, the Chinese government reversed “almost every major aspect of the above-mentioned approach taken by Beijing during the Koizumi years” (43). Shi clearly believes the rash reaction of the government in 2010 was due to poor leadership and emphasizes “the vital importance of the political leadership and their vision, aspiration, willpower and political/strategic skill” in preventing triumphalism from producing volatility in China’s regional and international relations moving forward (52).
Last but certainly not least, Gilbert Rozman’s chapter on transnational identity and order in Northeast Asia delves deep into the complexity and complications of any East Asian attempt to integrate along the lines of the EU. He believes the only way to establish a viable, regional order in East Asia is to create a “layered framework combining regionalism and globalization,” consisting of three levels: China, Japan, and South Korea working together to build an East Asian Community; the Six-Party Talks, consisting of five countries jointly confronting North Korea and eventually bringing North Korea in as an equal member; and a U.S.-led Asia-Pacific Community (95). Although Rozman’s layered framework approach would bring all of the key players in East Asia to the table on one or more levels, Rozman himself states that “the odds are not favorable for a multilayered approach, requiring an attitude of compromise on all sides” (111), which is highly unlikely given that “national identities remain strong in Northeast Asia, while suspicions of a global identity are unlikely to be overcome quickly” (110). Rozman’s detailed analysis of the complexity of regionalization in East Asia brings the argument full circle. The volumes editors, Lee and Son, clearly state that regionalism is unavoidable, and many East Asian regional organizations have developed in the last 20 years, or so, but Rozman and other contributors to this volume have demonstrated very clear obstacles to further and more comprehensive community-building in East Asia.
Although many chapters in the volume were completed too late for there to be much reflection on the impact of Xi Jinping’s and Kim Jong-un’s rise to power and they can therefore seem somewhat outdated at times, there is nevertheless a real benefit in reading the chapters in this volume. Because their analytical perspective is rooted more in the long term view of East Asian integration, it is not difficult to apply their principles and assertions to the somewhat altered circumstances that are in place today and those that will be in place in the near-term future. The chapters are appropriate for specialists, graduate students and, in some cases, advanced undergraduates.

Suggested Citation:

Kristin Mulready-Stone (2016), Review of “China’s Rise and Regional Integration in East Asia: Hegemony or community?”, by Yong Wook Lee and Key-young Son (eds.), East Asian Integration Studies, Vol. 9, no. 8.