The EU’s Experience in Integration – A Model for ASEAN+3?

The EU’s Experience in Integration

Author(s): Lisheng Dong, Gunter Heiduk (eds.)

ISBN:          978-3-03911-429-0

Publisher: Peter Lang, Bern

Year:          2007

Price:      $86.95

Reviewed by Benny Teh Cheng Guan, Lecturer, School of Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia.

The EU has often been used as a yardstick to gauge the strength and level of regional integration projects in other parts of the world. Depending on the pre-conditions set (Mattli, 1999), the EU is comparably the most advanced and successful post-war regional organization ever established. Hence, any moves toward institutionalization in other regions immediately get compared to the EU. And more often than not, the results are portrayed as dismaying and downbeat.

In this volume, the Asean+3 (APT) as a regional integration project is not compared to the EU as equals but with the aim of identifying whether the EU can be the right model for the APT to emulate. In doing so, the book acknowledges the APT as a leading framework for regional cooperation in East Asia and the significance of the East Asian region to interregional and global trade. The key question asked is to what extend can the EU experience be transferred to the APT process.

Originating from a 2006 conference organized under the EU-China European Studies Centres Programme and involving an international group of scholars, mainly Chinese, this book consists of fifteen chapters. The chapters are thoughtfully divided and carefully arranged into four corresponding sections. The first section provides a comparative analysis of the history and concepts of integration between the two regions. Briefly, Rhee & Chai’s chapter highlights the salient differences of financial integration processes in Europe and East Asia, arguing that a mismatch between economic and financial regionalization is one of the main causes of financial inefficiency in the latter. Ding, on the other hand, points out through his analysis of economic shocks that policy and monetary cooperation should be intensified to reduce the high degree of asymmetry and large shocks observable in East Asia. Two other chapters, Jora’s and Jiancheng Zhu’s short piece, emphasize the applicability of the European model on East Asia.

In section two, four more chapters discuss the probability of Asia replicating the EU experience. All three except one touches on East Asia. As an “outlier”, Jain’s interesting chapter compares South Asia to Europe, arguing adamantly that the former does not have the conditions for replication and even if there are lessons to learn, it is limited. Guichang Zhu and Cai agree with Jain but see more positively the possibility to learn from the EU. Zhu’s chapter calls for ASEAN to modify its traditional outlook and learn to embrace new attitudes of pooling and sharing sovereignty. Echoing Zhu, Cai believes that the APT should establish its own competition law that could in turn bring about a supranational legal structure. However, Wang reminds us that these suggestions will be hot air if Japan and China do not reconcile their differences and provide the leadership that the region badly requires.

The next section shifts attention to monetary integration concerns. All four chapters advocate the need for monetary cooperation in East Asia but differ in strategy. Yiping Zhu indicates that unlike the EU, the APT (consisting of Asean-5 and China) should push forward with monetary cooperation rather than wait for a free trade area to be developed because of the positive effect of currency arrangement on trade. Qi, Luo, Li & Liu disagree with Zhu on the order of cooperation but call for a similar idea of countries in developing a currency area; one that excludes Japan and South Korea. Using cluster analysis, Achsani & Siregar shows that China should also be excluded as Asean and Northeast Asia are in different clusters and so financial cooperation should not even involve the plus three countries. On the contrary, Xu does not see a need to redefine monetary cooperation as he perceives the Chiang Mai Initiative to be the right platform for financial integration.

In the final section, three chapters discuss East Asia in the context of the global economy. Zheng sees regionalism as becoming increasingly incongruent with multilateralism and argues for a new legal paradigm under the WTO framework to realign the two concepts. Cheng shares Zheng’s concerns but prefers to focus on how China can take advantage of the situation and establish itself as a regional hub country. Meanwhile, Sohn & Park decide to take a different route by describing East Asia as a natural trading bloc but warn against pursuing regionalism unparallel to open interregionalism.

In essence, this book takes the approach that undifferentiated duplication of the EU model is impossible but certain principles and methods of cooperation are useful for APT’s development. This, unfortunately, does little in contributing to the advancement of the existing literature. Furthermore, the book exhibits substantial weaknesses as addressed below.

Firstly, the discussions carried out are generally shallow and lacking in-depth analyses. Many of the arguments put forward acknowledge the EU’s high level of institutionalization and therefore suggest for a more binding structure of cooperation. However, the various suggestions provided are neither concrete nor specific, leaving the reader with an unsettling sense of direction. For example, instead of discussing about the possibility of a “third way”, Guichang Zhu should have focused on what its characteristics are and how it could be advantageous to the APT.

This leads to the second point of contention. There appears to be a lack of understanding of APT’s history and timeline of events. None of the authors have actually discussed in depth about the objectives and goals of the APT and the regionalization path it has taken till now. It is not enough to simply recognize the political and cultural differences between the two regions but to scrutinize the processes of cooperation in the APT in order not to confuse one’s own hopes and wishes with the specific aims of the APT project. Without a clear understanding of its evolution, there lies the risk of unwittingly trying to fit the APT into the EU mould.

Thirdly, it would be inadequate to discuss the suitability of the EU model without fully examining the role of ASEM as an interregional organization that not only bridge the two regions concerned but plays an imperative role as an avenue for the sharing and learning of the EU way vis-à-vis the ASEAN Way.

In addition to the above, the book would have entailed a more vibrant debate if the notion of East Asian regional integration had taken into contemplation the fluidity of the region as consisting of various overlapping models of regionalism that could complement but at the same time compete with the APT framework for the dominant position.

Fifthly, calling for Japan-China reconciliation in the same way that France andGermany did for the EU may not necessarily provide the same positive outcome. This is because the APT is not an independent regional entity but an extension of ASEAN. Unlike France and Germany, Japan and China are not founding members. In various occasions, ASEAN has steadfastly maintained its stand as the principal driver of East Asian regionalism and would certainly disapprove of handing over the wheel to their northern counterparts.
Lastly, a few remarks on the technicality of the book seem appropriate. Poorly edited, there exist a number of grammatical and spelling mistakes, making reading somewhat unpleasant. The uneven use of footnotes and endnotes between chapters and the absence of an index page makes quick referencing unfeasible.

Having taken all these into consideration, this book would be suitable for individuals who are interested in getting some broad knowledge on the subject matter or eager to do some light reading over a cup of tea.

Mattli, W, 1999, The Logic of Regional Integration: Europe and Beyond. UK: Cambridge University Press.