Regional Integration in East Asia and Europe – Convergence or divergence?

Regional Integration in East Asia and Europe

Author(s): Richard Higgot (Author), Bertrand Fort and Douglas Webber (eds).

ISBN:          9780415367476

Publisher: Routledge, London

Year:          2006

Price:      $150.00

Reviewed by Ritchelle J. Alburo, Researcher, Foreign Service Institute, Philippines.

Suffice to say that while the level of political integration that transpired in Europe has been unprecedented, the pathway towards full integration is bound to be long and thorny at best. This bears some interesting perspectives on East Asia which has recently embarked on various initiatives to institutionalize its market-driven integration akin to that of the European Union (EU). Aptly so, this volume presents a comparative account of the dynamics of integration in East Asia and Europe. It looks at the evolutionary process of integration in the two regions, delving into a wide range of pertinent integration issues confronting both of them. These issue areas include: the dynamics of power and leadership in regional integration, the challenges of asymmetry posed by the post-cold war enlargement, the conflicts over institutional reform, and the obstacles to economic and monetary cooperation. The volume will be of massive interest to students and scholars of international political economy, international relations, European studies, and Asian studies.

The volume is structured in a manner that lucidly reflects the areas of convergence and divergence relating to the integration process occurring in the two regions. The identification of the key issue areas affords a quick glimpse of the parallelisms of the two integrating regions in terms of the challenges they have to wrestle with. Of course, in-depth discussions on these issue areas point to myriad differences in the evolutionary process of integration in these two regions. Before tackling the salient integration issues, the volume rightly details the theory and practice of regional integration where Richard Higgott posits that the East Asian experience exemplifies a regionalism that is not an alternative to globalization and does not perfectly fit in the EU model. Higgott makes an interesting point in saying that the evolution of political integration in the two regions is rather dynamic to be pinned down using existing theories. Arguably, this serves as a fitting groundwork for understanding the complexity of the political dynamics of integration in East Asia and Europe.

The very strength of this book lies on its historical, multidimensional, and forward-looking approach to tackling regional integration. The discussion on the importance of having an EU defence policy is an exemplification of how such an approach can afford a highly analytical view of the issue in question. In “The elusive quest for a European security and defence policy: from crisis management to security strategy”, Jean-Yves Haine takes a historical account of Europe’s security and defence concerns to explain why the EU is hard put in pinning the down the security debate, marked by a divide between Atlanticists and Europeanists and undermined by concerns regarding sovereignty rights of nation states over the security of their citizens. Haine then underscores the expediency to hammer out a European security and defence policy as the absence of which is bound to undermine the credibility of the EU as an economic bloc that aspires to rival the US.

The volume comes to a conclusion that given the specificity of the conditions that advanced the integration of Western Europe, other regions will not integrate as close as politically as Western Europe. For one, it is not even certain that Europe will manage to maintain, much less takes its present level of integration substantially further. It is a well-founded conclusion made by Douglas Webber as the other contributors make concrete statements relating to the conditions necessary for the sustainability of Europe. In “France and Germany: the evolution of a European Partnership”, Ulrike Guerot points out the fragile relations between France and Germany and some credibility concerns on European foreign policy and security policy if France, UK, and Germany are not united. Moreover, if there is one major obstacle to full integration, it is the very factor which fosters it – politics. Aptly so, the volume ends with an interesting note on the political dynamics of integration. As a conclusion, Douglas Webber underscores the importance of understanding the process and the reason behind the cooperation of the French and German governments in the construction of Europe and the saliency of incorporating the interests of smaller neighbouring states into the integration process in order to have a good grasp of why EU is much more politically integrated than any other regions. Webber further notes that the integration in East Asia has not shown significant progress because it has no France to counter Japanese power, and Japan failed to do what Germany rightly did, which is to come to terms with its wartime histories.