East Asian Regionalism: Much Ado About Nothing?

Author/s (editor/s):

John Ravenhill

Publication year:


Publication type:

Working paper

Find this publication at:
IR Working Paper 2008/3 (PDF, 174KB)

John Ravenhill, ‘East Asian Regionalism: Much Ado About Nothing?’ IR Working Paper 2008/3, Canberra: Department of International Relations, Research School of Pacific and Asian Affairs, The Australian National University, December 2008.

In the decade since the financial crises, East Asia has become the most active site in the world for the negotiation of preferential trade agreements. Region-wide functional collaboration now goes substantially beyond trade, however, ranging across such areas as financial cooperation, disaster management, transborder crime, tourism, energy and environmental issues.

With more than a decade having now passed since the financial crises, we can reach some (at least tentative) judgements about the progress of regionalism in East Asia. Questions relating to institutional design should be central to this evaluation. East Asian regional institutions have not been well-served by following the ASEAN model. Although ASEAN is the great survivor among East Asian regional institutions, a significant factor in its longevity is the lack of constraints that its member states have been willing to accept. No integration agreement will be effective if members can choose to ignore their commitments and suffer no consequences from their failure to comply with agreements they have voluntarily joined.

Two other factors compound the problems arising from ineffective institutional design: rivalry between China and Japan for influence in the region; and debate over what the relevant geographical scope of the region should be. The ASEAN+3 group has received a great deal of attention but, because of rivalry between the Northeast Asian members, most of its cooperation occurs on an ‘ASEAN+1’ basis.

Trade and financial data suggest that East Asia has not become more regionalised since the mid-1990s. Neither is there any evidence of increasing popular identity with ‘East Asia’ as an entity.

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