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Routledge Handbook of Asian Regionalism

Routledge Handbook of Asian Regionalism, edited by Mark Beeson and Richard Stubbs. Routledge, 2012, 483 pp.

The Routledge handbooks are usually excellent and comprehensive, and this is no exception; clearly, the bar is always high for editors and contributors in general. This extensive reference aims to present East and South Asian countries from various perspectives including political science, international relations, strategic studies, regional studies, and of course Asian studies. It contains 33 commissioned chapters organized into five thematic sections, one entirely dedicated to security. Although China, Japan, Thailand, Korea, Malaysia, and the Philippines are addressed by many of the contributors, most chapters do not focus on a single country or region but rather on an issue, subtheme, or comparison between nations, such as “Trade Integration in Asia” or “Democracy, Development and Authoritarianism.”

In international relations, regionalism is usually understood as a system of policies taken together and interacting in various ways, one with the others—in other words “a conscious, coherent and top-down policy of states, as well as sub-state and non-state actors, coordinating arrangements and activities in a particular part of the world” (p. 1). The co-editors argue in their very interesting introduction that today, regions remain relevant, even within our globalized context. In fact, “in many ways we live in a world of regions,” adding the unexpected idea that “what many consider globalization is in fact regionalisation” (ibid.). However, in this Asian context, regionalism must consider “the diversity of the region” and the fact that Asia has a plural past. Each former colonial power has transmitted something of its presence and legacy, sometimes with the belief that all Asian countries are and will remain alike while in fact they are far from the image of a monolith: “Each colonizer left behind specific social, political and economic legacies” (p. 2). Nevertheless, some specific characteristics can be observed within Asian countries. For example, Asian leaders and officials tend to stick together and act like allies whenever they meet in official conferences and international forums; for example, “the Bandung Conference deliberations were conducted in an informal and non-confrontational manner” (p. 3).

Contributors come from a variety of fields and countries; about one-third are affiliated with Asian universities. Perhaps the most stimulating section for doctoral students, Part 1 (“Conceptualizing the Asian Region”) includes five excellent chapters on topics such as theories of regionalism, regionalism in East Asia, and regional identity in East Asia after wars, reconstructions, and social constructions of the past. Among the best, chapter 4, “A Non-Eurocentric Global History of Asia,” revisits twentieth-century history and retells Asian history from the inside.

Part II focuses on economic dimensions, while Part III concentrates on political issues and human rights. The final section presents specific international organizations in Asia such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Section 4 on “Strategic Issues” seems to be the most valuable in terms of facts, analyses, and variety of theoretical perspectives. Among the strongest contributions, Lorraine Elliott’s chapter on “Regionalizing Environmental Security in Asia” is a fascinating exploration of environmental issues in a theoretical approach that could be easily transposed outside Asia. The author argues that environmental problems are not always perceived as hazardous by Asian governments, simply because they do not seem to be caused by other states, rather from the inside: “There is, however, a growing worry that environmental degradation will have—indeed perhaps already is having—consequences for national and regional security” (p. 300). These consequences are studied thoroughly: water supply, food security, and climate change.

This handbook’s strongest point is to characterize Asian values and mentalities that are so different from other continents and sometimes so difficult to conceptualize, especially for non-Asians. For instance, the chapter on “Asian Regionalism and Law” studies Asian modernity within three opposing forces: postcolonialism, reactionary modernization, and the search for modernity. Following this context, Asian values are not just “counterpoised to ‘Western’ values’ ” or contrary to American values, but rather another variant of modernity or in “itself an artefact of modernity” (Kanishaka Jayasuriya, quoted by Michael Dowdle, p. 233).

Chapter 25 on “nontraditional security” (NTS) introduces an emerging field that is typical of Asian studies. Namely NTS refers to a variety of threats from famine to AIDS and terrorism, but also narcotics and illicit drug trafficking (p. 314).

Two more salient points should be added. First, issues related to human rights reappear in various chapters. Second, other fundamental dimensions, such as corruption in East Asia, are discussed in detail (see chap. 15); according to Howard Dick, countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan all suffer from corruption and patronage. “In all three countries democracy is well entrenched, albeit in the form of ‘money politics’ with a high degree of collusion between ruling parties, the bureaucracy, and big business” (p. 196). Interestingly, the author argues that in an Asian context, corruption should be seen as “a symptom rather than a cause” of weak governance (p. 186). Although not a conclusion per se, the final chapter opens many comparative observations, noting for instance the lack of intraregional trade in Asia (p. 414). In sum, regional cooperation and democratization within states appears to be the solution to inner conflicts and human rights issues in Asia. The hope is that efficient governance in some Asian countries will appear like a model for others, along with the help of civil societies and the dynamism of some nongovernmental organizations (NGO). Many of these NGOs are presented in the last chapters and represent a sort of hope for Asian nations in a foreseeable future. But no one knows yet who (country or NGO) might take the leadership in that direction.

Yves Laberge, PhD

Sociologist and Historian, Québec

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

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