Regional Integration in East Asia: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives

Regional Integration in East Asia

Authors:   Satoshi Amako, Shunji Matsuoka,  Kenji Horiuchi

ISBN:          9789280812220

Publisher:  United Nations University Press

Year:            2013

Price:           £27.50


Reviewed by Stig Lindberg, ABD in Intellectual and Cultural History of Japan at Kyoto University

With ASEAN making final preparations to tie the knot in full union next year (2015)—creating a unified market of over 600 million consumers—it is no surprise that much of the world’s attention is focused on this rising star. It is even less of a surprise that neighboring states keep a studious eye on the region’s pioneering union. Such is the case with the 2013 Japan study entitled Regional Integration in East Asia: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives (Amako, Satoshi, Shunji Matsuoka, and Kenji Horiuchi, eds. 2013. Tokyo: United Nations University Press.).

As the title suggests, Regional Integration proposes to both summarize the important theoretical and historical underpinnings of, as well as to proffer new methods and paradigms for understanding regional integration in East Asia (defined in the book as ASEAN, China, North and South Korea, and Japan). Topics covered include Norms and Institutional Dynamics, Domestic Politics, Regionalization amidst Globalization, Multilateral Regional Security Cooperation, Energy and Environmental Issues, and Higher Education’s Role in Integration. The 330-page anthology is comprised of thirteen essays by as many specialists and is divided into three thematic sections: 1) Theoretical Perspectives on Asian Regional Integration, 2) Issues in Asian Regional Integration, and 3) Historicizing Asian Regional Integration. In general, the first section

Regional Integration is the culmination of ten years of collaborative, interdisciplinary research conducted primarily at Waseda University, a top-tier private university in Tokyo. Supported by grants from Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), various faculties at Waseda collaborated to form the Global Institute for Asian Regional Integration (GIARI), the institutional incubator for the book. All authors are full-time academics in Japan (some with degrees from outside Japan and a few with co-affiliations with government and private sector think tanks). All but one are Japanese, and all the contributors reside in Japan.

The preface articulates the purpose and goals of the book, and identifies three particular challenges facing East Asian regional integration: 1) the question of an optimal framework (i.e. ASEAN+3, East Asian Community, or Asian-Pacific Community), 2) a new “’Cold War-style’ relationship between China and the United States,” which further aggravates an already 3) “twisted phenomenon of ‘cooperating while opposing.’” This dissonance, of course, refers to the great variation in sector-specific (political, security, cultural, educational, and economic) relations between East Asia’s constituent states and China, the region’s newly emerged hub and a de facto alternate pole in geopolitics.

Add to the above the problems of rapid flux in complex, overlapping multilateral and bilateral regimes and of myriad negative externalities that attend neoliberal economic development, and one readily consents with the editors’ claim of a need for “new approaches and new mechanisms.” (xxi) Such new approaches and mechanisms hope to rectify faulty critical analysis in the field of Asian integration theory and to better understand the “long-term historical points of view that have not been conventionally used.” (xxiii)

This assessment brings us to the aim of the book which is “to form a foundation for ‘Asian regional integration studies’ as a framework for regionally resolving problems in light of the conditions in Asia…[and] to open a new research frontier in these diverse modes…” (these modes being theory, specific issues, and historical contextualization, xxii-xxiii) Elsewhere the aim is restated as an effort “to describe the state of endeavors at building regional cooperation and regional institutions that have begun in order to respond to the various problems arising in Asia.” (xxii)

Here is where the editors lose their audience. The unnatural wording and convoluted structure of the book’s aim leaves the reader left scratching his head. With some luck, he might successfully decipher the encrypted intentions and implications. They would be something like this: 1) the book is billed as primarily a descriptive summary, and 2) current literature (which is voluminous) has miserably overlooked and/or mismanaged the descriptive component of research. This, of course, necessarily leads to a faulty conclusion (prescriptive analyses). Hence the need for this supplement.

The methodology of this study is one in which reexamination is utilized to deconstruct prevailing western narratives. The authors, most of them, then put forth a collective push to reintroduce the problem from a more nuanced, if seemingly less scientific, point of view. Theirs is a moderating refutation rather than a complete rejection of western pedagogical imperialism. In this regard, the book is a laudable success and merits extended work. Such a task, however, is a daunting one, as simultaneously straddling linguistic, methodological and theoretical barriers requires the rarest kind of skill.

Given its sketchy scientific nature (certain essays seem to rely more on anecdote than on data analysis) this project might have benefited from the inclusion of an “Asian Max Weber”—some historical figure who both theorized about the meaningful relationships addressed in Regional Integration and who supported those theories with data. In Weber’s case, the key variables tested were religious ideology and economy; but that is not to suggest that economic development is the only or the best variable for which to test—that would depend upon a country’s collective values (Cf. Bhutan’s “Happiness Quotient”). Whatever the case, a more statistical approach to the important considerations raised in this book would certainly garner greater credibility among western readers. Something to think about for future editions.

As a researcher of modern Japanese intellectual and cultural history—specifically of the thought of 20th c. luminary Toyohiko Kagawa—this reviewer would like to have seen discussion of the very significant, if short-lived, World Federation Movement of the immediate postwar period (1945-1950). The movement, though launched in the United States, gained remarkable traction in Asia and was positioned as a truly inclusive, broadly accepted framework for federation in East Asia. Kagawa was a principal figure in the movement’s Asia bloc. Another recommendation for the editors is to broaden the scope of authoritative references. As it stands, citations with references to fellow Japanese scholars comprise a preponderate percentage of the total, giving the sense that either the authors are somewhat jingoistic or that they are uncomfortable with foreign languages. Excessive reliance on fellow Japanese scholarship creates a sense of imbalance.

With all that, I would strongly recommend this book to both the casual and serious scholar of Asian regional integration, and even to the student of Asian Studies in general. This study represents an important gambit in proffering an alternative approach to understanding regional integration in Asia specifically and to understanding Asia as a region in general. If the editors were to publish a second edition with some of the alterations mentioned in this review, I would imagine that a compelling case could be made for it to be required reading in educational institutions across the globe.

Suggested citation:

Stig Lindberg (2013). Review of “Regional Integration in East Asia: Theoretical and Historical Perspectives”, by Satoshi Amako, Shunji Matsuoka and Kenji Horiuchi, East Asian Integration Studies, Vol. 7, no. 34.