East Asian Multilateralism: Prospects for Stability

  • Published

East Asian Multilateralism: Prospects for Stability edited by Kent E. Calder and Francis Fukuyama. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008, 296 pp.

Kent E. Calder and Francis Fukuyama, both prominent East Asian scholars and Johns Hopkins University professors, have contributed to and edited East Asian Multilateralism, a compilation of scholarly works by other renowned regional experts that addresses the emergence of East Asia and its implications for regional, political, economic, and security arrangements. The contributors present their works as individual chapters that provide a post–World War II regional, historical perspective on events that have shaped the contemporary East Asian environment. The authors systematically dissect various national objectives and interests among key regional players (e.g., China, Japan, and South Korea) and examine their interaction as well as possible implications for intraregional relations (i.e., multilateralism and regional stability). They also give consideration to their impact on external hegemonic powers that influence the region, such as Russia and the United States, paying particular attention to the repercussions of the aforementioned interests on future US political choices in the region.

An extensive array of significant findings, trends, and shaping activities emerges from this insightful book. I share but a fraction of them. First, China’s rise, driven by export-oriented economics, has solidified its place both politically and economically within East Asia. China’s economic success has created an economic boom for neighboring countries, which now produce over 50 percent of the components that comprise Chinese exports. Steadfast trade and political allies such as Taiwan and South Korea now do more business with China than with the United States. Including Taiwan and South Korea, most nations throughout East Asia run a trade surplus with China. Even more interesting, foreign firms operating in China produce 57 percent of that country’s exports. This emergent economic intra/interdependence has increased China’s regional stature, stabilized much of East Asia, and subsequently eroded US prominence and influence in the region. However, investment and trade linkages from outside East Asia make a pure regional focus problematic and counterproductive in facilitating economic growth. Regional economic integration provides China an informal balance of power within East Asia that offsets US unilateralism.

Second, East Asia remains more politically divided than united. Organizations designed to promote multilateral trade and political dialogue—such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ASEAN Regional Forum, and ASEAN Plus Three (Japan, South Korea, and China)—have produced less-than-meaningful results. In spite of the fact that East Asia has the highest degree of trade integration in the developing world, it has no multilateral free-trade agreements in place—an anomaly unlikely to change anytime soon.

Third, the political/military transformation of Japan and its integration into East Asia are moving forward. However, East Asia remains suspicious of Japanese political intent. Over the years, Japan has emphasized economic growth over geopolitical prominence and has relied heavily on US trade for such growth and for military support of homeland defense. Japan’s growing economic ties with East Asia make that country’s regional integration inevitable but precarious because of its alliance with the United States and its concerns over the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. Japan likely will find it necessary to expand its defense capabilities to counterbalance the North Korean threat, leaving China and North/South Korea to ponder whether or not to expand their military capabilities as a counterbalancing measure.

Fourth, the balance of power brokering within the region will grow in importance. Primary actors such as China, India, and Japan will continue to court powers such as Russia, South Korea, and the United States politically and economically in order to secure/preserve a position of regional clout, credibility, and influence.

Fifth, East Asia is an informal marriage of convenience. As such, substantive multilateralism likely will be born out of crisis and will wane over time. As in the recent past, geopolitical crises and challenges such as the Korean War, the Taiwan/China issue, North Korea’s nuclear weapons, and economic calamities, such as the Asian financial crisis of 1997, will drive multilateralism more than anything else going forward but may not live beyond the initial crisis response.

East Asian Multilateralism is very rich in substance as well as thoroughly interwoven and exhaustive in its depth of research and analysis. The contributors rigorously support their conclusions, citing some of the most identifiable names in international relations, politics, and economics—a “who’s who” of professional scholars and practitioners. This book is a must-read for academics concentrating on East Asia, military as well as government agents/experts, and anyone else interested in understanding this complex and dynamic region.

David A. Anderson, PhD

Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

"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."