The articles under review lucidly explicate the role of “regionalism” in understanding development of Southeast Asia as a regional identity. The arguments made in the articles reflect upon the impact of economic globalisation and political security interdependence on the process of regional definition. The differences between: regional identity derived from self-imagination as against externally-imposed identity and the importance attached to them, are highlighted by the authors. It is a simplification of the study of evolution of Southeast Asia as a regional unit from the pre-colonial era to present day.
By reviewing these articles, parallels and convergence can be drawn between “nationalism” and “regionalism”. The implications of central position of ASEAN in institution building in East-Asia and its relations with the two regional powers: Japan and China, can be analysed. The articles largely build a perception about “productive power” of ASEAN, in context of East Asian regionalism. The Asia-Pacific region, which is characterised by high levels of variation in power, interests and conceptions makes “regionalism” a chief agent in regional construction.
Although the “unity in diversity” approach is not comprehensive, an alternative approach which discerns a common economic and political heritage since the precolonial period is successful in establishing Southeast Asia as a regional identity. In the precolonial period, “mandalas” system and “age of commerce” were responsible for reduction of cultural and political differences in the region, while “colonialism” disrupted the prevalent homogeneity. Post-colonialism period witnessed the birth of “moderate” nationalism, which led to the inception of concept of “regionalism”.
Eventually the formation of ASEAN took place after several attempts at regionalism. The regional identity is promoted by ASEAN through the principles of sovereignty and non-intervention. ASEAN has continually maintained a central position in East Asia through productive power, shared meetings and common set of norms including “equitable treatment” and “pragmatic flexibility”.
The article by Amitav Acharya draws attention to the self-constructed and self-promoted claim to be regional identity by Southeast Asia. The author puts forth the point that region-building in Southeast Asia is a political act in response to the collective needs of the countries. He further puts forth an argument that the ASEAN, an indigenous project of regionalism, effectively replaced the Cold War framework of international relations and continues to be one of the most successful efforts in regional peace and prosperity.
ASEAN also developed an effective conflict management system known as “ASEAN Way” which has adopted consultative mechanism for negotiations, principle of consensus for decision-making and regarding “war” as a less legitimate means of conflict resolution. There are striking similarities between the ASEAN and traditional mandala system, as both have played a cardinal role in lowering political barriers, increasing cultural interactions as well as facilitating inter-state communication despite the existence of rivalry in the region. As a result of 51-year successful history of ASEAN in creation of a regional community, it is regarded as core entity of regionalism in East Asia. Due to ASEAN’s efforts several significant regional institutions such as ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus, East Asia Summit and ASEAN+3 have come into existence. In the second article, the author Hidetaka Yoshimatsu, analyses the way ASEAN has employed the norms of equitable treatment and pragmatic flexibility as pivotal principles for regional co-operation in Southeast Asia and their instrumental role in the process of building regional institutions in East Asia. The analysis further focuses on the wider impact of these norms on regional co-operation in East Asia.
As the article pays specific attention to social constitution, it is evident that holistic participation and flexible management are key characteristics of ASEAN and its institutions. These characteristics and norms of ASEAN have emerged from the underlying social principles and customs of the Asia-Pacific region. In the both the articles, the unique framework, norms, principles and social constitution have been emphasised on. The key norms of equitable treatment and pragmatic flexibility have been exemplified through various incidences in international relations. The progress made by ASEAN, since 1967, with respect to economic, social, cultural and political development has been meticulously evaluated.
Despite the similarity in subject under study, the focal aspects vary to some extent. In the first article, the author, Amitav Acharya has elaborated on the evolution of ASEAN thereby clarifying influences of internal and external forces in Asian regionalism. On the other hand, the second article by Hidetaka Yoshimatsu, is not only an in-depth analysis of ASEAN’s role in regional stability in East Asia and Asia-Pacific but also of the intrinsic values, norms and social constitution of ASEAN.
The first article is entirely based on justifying the creation of ASEAN on the basis of regionalism, while the latter attaches importance to its unique structure, norms and constitution which has led to measurable success on the economic, cultural and political front. Taking into consideration latest development at Shangri-La dialogue in 2018, it has been proven that Asia-Pacific regionalism is ‘dynamic’ in nature rather than a rule-based political order. The increasing co-operation between India, Japan and Australia against the China Belt and Road initiative is an example of changing regional co-operation in Asia Pacific. The increasing co-operation and new anticipated challenges involving China, has put ASEAN, which is an institutionalised form of regional co-operation, at the centre of the contestation.
With embedded principles of non-interference, sovereignty and peaceful cooperation in conflict resolution, ASEAN has a considerable declining role in the new geo-political map. With this ‘new’ geopolitical map, the concept of regionalism which came under an institutionalised form of co-operation within specific region, has been challenged by a “transregional” form of co-operation. By contrast the recent 2018 World Economic Forum on ASEAN, which has led to the initiation of the 4th Industrial revolution is based on the construction and development of the ASEAN community with shared vision. Both the articles have placed ASEAN as a self-constructed regional identity, at the central position in Asia-Pacific and East Asia regionalism. They emphasise on the ideational variables over materialist variables and proves the argument that “ASEAN plays a key role security, politics, economic globalisation, regionalism and international relations in Asia-Pacific.” In the wake of rivalry between the two Asian powers: China and Japan, ASEAN has developed social constitutional relations with both the countries which are interwoven.
As ASEAN resorted to avoiding formation of exclusive linkages with each of the two great powers, it positively engaged Japan and China in promotion of co-operative projects in East Asia. In conclusion, the central position of ASEAN in the construction of Asia-Pacific regionalism is subject to changing dynamics of international politics.