Engaging East Asian Integration: States, Markets and the Movement of People

Engaging East Asian Integration States, Markets and the Movement of People

Authors:    Takashi Shiraishi,  Jiro Okamoto

ISBN:           9789814380287

Publisher: ISEAS Publishing

Year:          2012

Price:         £47.50


Reviewed by Juanjuan Peng, Associate Professor, Georgia Southern University, USA.

Engaging East Asian Integration: States, Markets and the Movement of People is a book based on a Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) symposium held in Tokyo on December 8, 2008, in the middle of the darkest days of the US-originated global financial crisis. The book, attempting to chronologize this international meeting, is composed of one introduction, five essays that were presented in the symposium, including one keynote speech by world-renowned political scientist Dr. Peter J. Katzenstein from Cornell University, and a brief epilogue that records the panel discussion by a few major participants at the end of the symposium. Both the symposium and the resulting book examine East Asian region-making process comparatively with a global perspective. Issues such as the changing distribution of power and wealth in the region, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and ASEAN plus integration, demographic changes and transnational movement of people, and the role markets have played in shaping the transformation of the East Asian regional system are well discussed.

To a great extent, the very nature of this symposium has shaped the book. Because JETRO, the main organizer and the sponsor of the meeting, is a Japanese government-related organization that works to promote mutual trade and INVESTMENT between Japan and the rest of the world, many essays in this book share an agenda that aims to guide the Japanese policy makers. At the same time, because the meeting was joined by political scientists and area specialists in addition to economists, the resulting book, unlike many other discussions on East Asian integration, is not limited to the economic topics such as the formation of industrial clusters, transnational business networks, and institution building. Social and political aspects of the story are also addressed.

The book opens with a very short introduction which first looks into the history and identify three turning points in the transformation of the East Asian regional system—namely the Plaza Accord in 1985 that announced the beginning of the region’s economic integration, the Asian economic crisis in 1997-98 that further drove the development of regionalization, and the US-originated global financial crisis in 2007-08 that would potentially have a major impact on the changing regional system. A brief summary of each chapter of the book is then offered.

Part I of the book, “Evolution of East Asian Integration,” includes two chapters. The first one, the keynote speech in the symposium, tries to situate Japan and East Asia in a regional world that is dominated by the United States as a key player. This concept American imperium, which sees the US as hub of a world made of different regions, is coined by the author as an analytical tool. Centering on American imperium, the chapter first explains two sources of American power: territorial and non-territorial, which have helped the country to have a profound effect on different regions in the world. It then traces two US policy initiatives, the “Nixon doctrine” and regional economic integration efforts in North American, that have made regions an important aspect of world politics. Although emphasizing the leading role of the United States, the chapter also points out the process of region making extends well beyond the relevance of any one national model. Therefore, in terms of East Asian integration, Japanization, Sinicization, and Americanization have all played a role.

The second chapter in Part I adopts a different, economist’s approach, and addresses both the benefits and limitations of East Asian integration. While the benefits seem to be self-explanatory, a couple of main problems are assessed, such as inefficient trade logistics, intransparency in trade policy and trade facilitation, limited financial integration, and food insecurity for food importing countries. Like many other economic research, approaches to promote further regional integration and methods to control risks are proposed.

Part II includes four chapters. The first three each deals with one socioeconomic aspect of the region-making process in East Asia: states, markets, and the movement of people. The last chapter records the brief panel discussion at the end of the symposium. Dr. Wakamatsu’s “Economic Integration in East Asia and Japan’s Strategy” is the chapter on markets. Also written by an economist, this chapter shares similarities with the second chapter in Part I. It starts with an overview of the growing Asian market and ongoing economic integration. Then further discusses the impact of a foreign trade associations (FTA) network with ASEAN as its hub and its limitations. At last, recommendations were made regarding to strategies Japan should adopt. The main difference between the two is probably this article emphasizes the role of FTAs, whereas the earlier chapter includes a valuable discussion on risks related to economic integration.

The chapter on states, “The Nature of East Asian Integration and Australia’s Engagement,” is probably the most interesting article in the book. Like the keynote speech chapter, this article tries to situate East Asia in a global community. It traces the development of Australia’s engagement with East Asia since the 1980s, and further suggests that the early failure and the later success of Australia’s Asian engagement policies can reflect the very nature of East Asian integration processes: flexible, inclusive, and multi-layered. As the author has demonstrated, it is the practical attitude adopted by each participating state in the East Asian regional system that decides these characteristics.

The next chapter, “The Migration of Professionals in an Integrating East Asia,” redirects our attention to social aspect of the story. Through statistic analysis, the article argues that the highly skilled in East Asia still largely go outside the region, in particular, to North American destinations, despite the recent economic growth within the East Asian community. The small share of foreigners in the skilled workforce of many well-developed Asian economies such as Japan is due to reasons other than economic and demographic. Rather, historical and cultural factors often play a surprisingly important role.

Although the five essays in the book each looks at East Asian integration from different perspective, there are a few shared agendas. The role of ASEAN in the region-making process has been frequently discussed; the dominance of the United States in the regions of the world has been explicitly and implicitly mentioned; the rise of China and its implication has often been brought up; and the strategies of Japanese government and Japanese companies in response to the changing circumstances have been repeatedly proposed. If there is anything missing in this book, it is probably the impact of East Asian integration on international relations. As Dr. Katzenstein points out in the panel discussion at the end of the book, one major focus of thinking about regional integration should be how to assure the peace, which is badly needed in East Asia due to conflict between two sides of the Taiwan Straits and the threat of war on the Korean Peninsula. However, even with two nice political analyses on American imperium and Australia’s Asian policies, the book is still overly economic when talks about changes within the East Asian regional system.

Overall, engaging East Asian Integration is a probing book on a well-discussed topic. Although it appears to be a simple conference proceeding rather than a carefully edited book, the book gains its unique scope and depth due to the very nature of the symposium it based on. A global perspective and a new emphasis on political and social aspects of the story made the book a nice addition to one’s collection of studies on the East Asian regional system.

Suggested citation:

Juanjuan Peng (2014). Review of “Engaging East Asia Integration: States, Markets and Movement of People”, by Takashi Shiraishi and Jiro Okamoto, East Asian Integration Studies, Vol. 7, no. 29.

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