THIS BOOK, PUBLISHED BY THE TOKYO-BASED UNITED NATIONS University Press as the main publisher and distributed by the Washington-based Brookings Institution Press as a retail outlet, is actually the result of a five-year long research project completed at the Global Institute for Asian Regional Integration (GIARI) under Waseda University’s Graduate School of Asia-Pacific Studies, (from where this reviewer earned his highest degree), and largely financed by the so-called Center of Excellence Program of the Japanese government’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT).
The co-editors presume that their volume is an apex of onerous and rigorous study that extends the boundary of state-of-the-art research as a significant component in the field of Asian regional integration, which is at a deadlock now despite the past rash of regional integration groupings for various circumstances (historical, political, strategic, economic, social and cultural) at the beginning of the twenty-first century. But I do not think so highly of their purposes, contexts and approaches.
First, though this book, as its main title—Regional Integration in East Asia—suggests, should have looked only at East Asia, it goes beyond this region. In fact, the headings of all three major parts of the volume adopt the term ‘Asia’ as a whole. At the same time, while the definition of ‘Asia’ used in this publication seems vague, the editors’ concept of ‘Asia-Pacific,’ for which they consider Russia as one of the countries, is simply wrong. The sub-title of the book—Theoretical and Historical Perspectives—is designed to break down into just two parts comprising the theoretical background on, and the historical components of, the East Asian integration process. Against this design, the second part consisting of four chapters is distractedly concentrated on ongoing issues, such as the globalisation regimen and economic integration, sustainable energy and environmental change, regional multilateralism and security governance, aside from the unusual concern of regional integration and cooperation in the higher education framework of Asia.
Besides, while ‘regional integration’ is applied in most chapters of the volume, this phrase, according to the editors, is a concept combining both aspects: there are cases where the former is called ‘regionalization’ and the later ‘regionalism.’ But their clarification does not sound completely convincing – they merely maintain that the level of integration varies considerably by field, issue, problem and sub-region. In this connection, although ‘regional cooperation’ is loosely utilised all through the book, no explanation of this term is given. Seemingly, the research covers only two sub-regions (Northeast Asia and Southeast Asia) out of this region’s six sub-continents. However, the editors believe that South Asia (where India as a key player is located) can be included on some occasions.
Further, since all the authors (except one who is South Korean) of the book’s thirteen chapters are Japanese, in addition to its three editors who are all nationals of Japan, this publication can be criticised for its one-sided stance. Very succinctly, the volume’s misguided and thoughtless title shows a serious lack of the editors’ interpretive knowledge about Asia as one entity.
I am certain that the editors do not pose any core claim based on any analytical hypothesis or alternative conceptualisation as a support-base for their project. In other words, they provide readers with a general picture, i.e. a description of the overall implication of regional institutions on building the East Asian Community as a complicated architecture with its shared norms, identities, values and hopes, which has been by this time thoroughly investigated by many more Asian and non-Asian scholars. Also, I am doubtful whether simply revisiting the traditional international relations (IR) theories (realism, liberalism and constructivism) encompassing regional integration, especially the political economy of multilateral free trade agreements, will be reasonably enough for a better understanding of the actual conditions of alliance of groups based on interdependent and interconnected relationships with similar goals in this sub-region. Indeed, there is a frequently asked question in the IR literature: Whether any of the above-mentioned predominant theories can really explain the cases of a fast-changing and ever-challenging (East) Asia today?
This work suggests that the current Japanese diplomacy should possess an imaginative power with a long-term outlook rather than a short-term benefit in order to recognise the importance of ‘Pan Asianism’ as the notion of creating a fraternity of Asians. Nonetheless, contrary to the book’s focal idea that Japan led the way for Asianism and Asian solidarity before the Second World War, some sceptics typically dismiss it as a self-serving strategy of Japan aimed at legitimising this country’s pre-1945 imperialism. In any event, the evolutionary success of the economic diplomacy of postwar Japan is uniquely remarkable. However, some scholars might conclude that the book incorporates an excessive coverage in a separate chapter on Asianism as the ideology and activism by Asianists of early Asian civilisation, even though it aimed to help free the human race from the tyranny of poverty.
Moreover, the last chapter does not materially defend itself against a bone of contention—why is Tokyo gradually being ranked behind Beijing in terms of regional diplomacy for multilateral cooperation with a specific target on Asia, amid the balance-of-power in knotty global politics?
The editors generally view China’s military rise as a ‘security threat’ to the surrounding region and the international community, but they do not explore how China’s economic ascendancy can be a ‘business opportunity’ for Japan in particular and East Asia in general. In fact, they contrarily conjecture that China is becoming the most important factor in the regional order with many-sided structural shifts in Asia today. Additionally, the last sentences of the concerned chapter written by the first editor himself read: “However, the readers can understand the GIARI method as a basic framework. While properly corroborating new trends in Asia, these are organized in the direction of regional integration. This is the most important task for opening up the way for the next generation” (p. 125). He seems to be unjustifiably optimistic because the temporary GIARI office had already closed its doors in 2012 forever.
More critically, the editors in their book’s ‘Preface’ render the following two synchronous statements that go against each other: “The promotion of regional integration is certainly no panacea for international problems” (p. xix), and “Asian regional integration research can provide significant insights when considering the movement and structure of such chaotic world” (p. xxx).
In conclusion, the editors should have explored how ‘open regionalism’ can be taken up as a fundamental principle of the Asian region, as a concept of regional economic integration and cooperation without discrimination against the countries of other sub-regions outside a particular sub-region. The reality is that open regionalism could never be secured in Asia.
Anyway, this publication has not convincingly come up with new approaches and innovative mechanisms that, in the opinion of the editors, are needed at a regional or international level for solving dilemmas. The book is neither lively debated nor intellectually exciting, as its contents are conventionally descriptive. The creators of this large-sized book were absent-minded or confused in organising its major sections. As this volume suffers from several loopholes and limitations, it might not gain the approval of those who are eager to learn something more advanced and futuristic about the region the book promises to deal with.
Yet, this publication will be useful for the unfinished discussion of directionality in East Asian regional integration while strenuously strengthening a cooperative network to help achieve a ‘harmonious Asia’ in the ‘Asian century.’ Obviously, there exists an astonishingly and increasingly large amount of literatures in global academia on the regionalism paradigm of Asia that is just coming into existence and beginning to display many signs of future potential. But this timely volume, which teems with many references in the Japanese language in each chapter, is undoubtedly incomparable and relevant, and thus will contribute to the disciplinary areas of not only international relations discourse and global political economy but also contemporary Asian history and East Asian studies. Therefore, I extend my best wishes to the book’s editors as well as this title’s moderate but extensive readership locally, regionally and globally.
Monir Hossain Moni is a Research Professor and Director for the Division of Asia & Globalized World under the Bangladesh Asia Institute for Global Studies (BAIGS) located in Dhaka, Bangladesh. A double masters from the University of Dhaka and Hitotsubashi University, and a PhD from Waseda University, Professor Moni’s academic expertise areas rotate around global multi-disciplinary and cross-comparative studies with concentration on Northeast Asia. A winner of outstanding academic (scholarly and research) awards named after Japan’s two prime ministers, Yasuhiro Nakasone and Masayoshi Ohira, Professor Moni’s publications aim to construct a much-needed value system to help create a humane world that is more cooperative and stable.