Asia Revisited :What For, How, Whither?

-Dr. Isabelle Cordonnier

The number of articles on Asia published by academics, journalists, or by politicians from Asian countries, Europe or the United States has reached such a level that is now impossible to keep an accurate record of them. Asia figures high on the agendas of every international gathering on security matters or on strategic balances in the Cold War era. After the end of the East/West confrontation in Europe, the big thing seems now to have a guess on how Asian countries will face the turn of the century and participate in global evolutions. For the last decades, most of them have undergone an "economic miracle." These countries seem to want to achieve a further step and get a stronger footing on the diplomatic scene. The question is whether they will achieve it as individual countries or as a region.

Yet opinions vary largely when it comes to giving a definition of "Asias". Talking of Europe has always been much easier: there were Western Europe and Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe. Now that this delimitation is no more relevant and the talk is of extending the membership of former Western Europe institutions (political, economic, military) to the former Eastern Europe countries, the remaining problem lies in the inclusion or not of Russia and of the former Soviet Republics of Ukraine, Belorussia and Moldavia. Asia is more difficult to encapsulate since, until very recently, there had never been any indigenous regional grouping that claimed to be an "Asian" institution; a qualification has always been added to the name "Asia". This unidentified entity raises a lot of expectations as well as majors fears among the Western countries.

Three questions come to mind when Asia is considered as an object of political and geo-political analysis: why is there such an urgent need to give a definition to Asia? How Asia is being created? Whither Asia? I will try to answer these questions which I consider fundamental to a better understanding of the complex interactions of numerous so-called "playing fields" in the relations between countries within "Asia" as well as between these and the rest of the world. I will focus my analysis on demonstrating how the conceptual vagueness about the "region" is bound to hamper its future development and doesnít bode well for the future stability of the areas. This paper is meant to be a contribution to the study of contemporary international relations in Asia, as well as to the concept of regionalism in the post-Cold War era.

Asia : Why?

A universal rule has it that, as soon as you draw boundaries, (a) you expose yourself to the question: why are you doing so?; and (b) you take the risk of establishing a distinction between those who are "in" and those who are "out", thus creating the urge for the latter to join in and the blurring of the original motivations for drawing the boundaries.

The Asian Statesí Motivations: The Maturation of the Political Scene in Asia

The reasons to promote the formation of a political region in Asia-Pacific have been widely scrutinised. I would, therefore, put forward three factors.

First, the importance of the coming of age of Asian countries should not be overcome. With the exception of Nepal, Bhutan and Thailand (three Kingdoms), all the countries from Pakistan to the Pacific rim have undergone constitutional or/and boundary changes since the end of the Pacific war. Be it through a revolution or through decolonisation, their present form is, therefore, relatively recent. Most of the time, it was achieved through liberation wars (Vietnam, Indonesia) or through resistance to conservative forces (Peopleís Republic of China). It has also meant considerable self-sacrifices for several countries, in terms of a certain renunciation of some part of their sovereignty (South Korea and Japan had to accept the stationing of American troops on their soil).

These countries were created or became independent at the very beginning or during the Cold War. They are thus discovering what it is to be truly independent in a multipolar world. They realise two facts. First, that economic success doesnít necessarily give you political and strategic leverage. Conditions of security in Asia or of international trade parameters are controlled by Western powers. Then, that the end of the East/West confrontation in Europe has left many a conflict unsolved within their close neighbourhood and that they better start discussing about these matters among themselves if they want these conflicts solved. It is significant to note that multilateral dialogue underwent a dramatic acceleration in the early Nineties, at a time when several governments ¾ Thai, Filipino or Burmese ¾ were also negotiating the solution of the internal conflicts that had been plaguing their countries for decades. There seems to have been a general move towards conflict resolution in South-East Asia, at least in the years 1992 to 1994.

Second, they belong to one the few remaining areas of the world without a collective identity. The "assumption of cultural or civilization unity and continuity" in Asia1 is difficult to support. Yet geographic contiguity could be the first motive to try to galvanise the energies in order to reach greater political leverage. Until the creation of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in 1989 and its further developments since 1993, there were only two Asian endogenous multilateral governmental institutions: the Association of South-East Nations (ASEAN) and South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).2 This was in no way enough to create a collective identity. This was not the aim of these two associations either. It was generally felt that a collective effort could help in keeping the pace of economic growth as well as in reducing tensions between members of the club.

Third, the economic dimension. There has been no "Asian" miracle, but tens of millions of hard-working people, galvanised by the necessity to construct their nation after independence. It has also been fuelled by an "extraordinary growth in inputs like labor and capital rather than by gains in efficiency3." This economic policy meets its own limitation, with the emergence of middle-classes, of consumers, of the necessity to reward people for the sacrifices they made in their younger years.

Furthermore, East Asian economies have been export-oriented from the 1950s onwards. They exported towards their main consumersí markets, Europe, the United States, and later on, Japan and Korea. But intra-Asian trade has always been relatively less dynamic. They were thus very sensitive to the economic recession that hurt these markets in the 1980s. They came to realise the implications of being "price-takers" on the international scene; it could deeply damage their prosperity which was recently and painfully acquired. It was a natural step to try to conceive ways of protecting their economies from global variations and a rediscovered Asia. A second evolution was the willingness to set up regional economic fora in which these matters were debated in common.

The Outsidersí Motivations

Asia was first created by outsiders. European colonial powers gave a unity to what were before their arrival warring kingdoms and principalities, with the exception of China which was itself an empire. Japan was left almost untouched by the colonial era. In the 1930s, there were three major colonial empires in Asia ¾ the British, the French and the Dutch, with smaller Portuguese possessions. The Spanish had left the scene at the end of the 19th century and the Japanese had only started implementing the "Greater Asia Co-prosperity Sphere" in China and Korea. At the time, the name "Asia" was rarely used: what mattered was the British Indian Empire, the French Indochina possessions or the Dutch colonies.

Then came the Pacific (not Asia!) war. Other delimitations were created, that ran over the colonial boundaries. They were military theatres: South-East Asia, South Pacific. This was the first occurrence of these sub-regional delimitations that were to prove so useful later on. They acknowledged a fact ¾ that the naming serves operational objectives. Its purpose is more to mould a reality in an acceptable form for the describer than to give a full account of the same reality. For example, under ITU (International Telecommunication Union) terminology, Asia is made of all the countries whose telephone country code starts with an 8 or a 9. This gives a comprehensive overview of a region extending from Israel to Australia. This perception of Asia is merely operational, yet arbitrary, and doesnít allow interrogations on who can belong and who canít.

A second motivation for the external countries to create Asia derives from the first. Drawing the boundaries, be they immaterial, gives you some power over the reality you want to create. Take, for example, the French habit of collecting Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam together under the name "Indochina". No matter that they arenít French possessions any more since 1954, no matter that over than half the population is under 20 years and that these countries are looking forward to inclusion in ASEAN, which is already achieved by Vietnam; but calling them "Indochina" gives the French the illusion of still playing a role in South-East Asian affairs.

What Asia?

Letís come to the second question : What Asia is being created? This isnít an innocent way of looking at the present, since there seems to be a craving for securing the position of "Asia" on the international scene before having reached an consensus on what it is actually. In other words, "Asia" is expected to have a political signification before anyone ¾ be it "countries" or individuals ¾ agrees on what it is. This seems to be an original case in contemporary international relations and induces a questioning on the meaning of a political region in todayís international order. I would thus argue my point on stressing the political characteristic of the regional grouping in Asia, taking into consideration the economic factor without it being my focus of interest.

Is Asia a Political Region?

Most of the questions related to "regions, regional arenas or subsystems in international relations" remain unanswered.4 These questions hinge at their importance in international politics and at the homogeneity of these entities.

To start with a definition of a political region, we could turn to one which was applied to South Pacific: "a gathering of political entities, geographically close, mutually interactive, and spontaneously conscious of what they share in common".5 This implies the leaders of these entities to be conscious of what they have in common, be it in terms of historical past or of the present political situation. Their common heritage is to receive some added value by being gathered rather than scattered. They must want to give more value to one aspect of their identity, which is necessarily pluralistic, to create a collective regional identity. Finally, long-term action is needed for a momentum to be created and have credibility on the global scene. Regionalism is to be a major feature of the countryís foreign policy.

A political region is thus an artificial creation, a construction, and owes only little to the hazards of geography and history. It doesnít have any us igeneris characteristic.

Having these considerations in mind, if we take a close look at Asia, we could make a few comments in this respect. First, there already exist several sub-regional groupings bearing the name of "Asia": South Asia (the 7 countries of SAARC), South-East Asia (the 7 members of ASEAN), East Asia (the countries lying east of the Irrawady, including Burma), North-East Asia (the countries having a coast on the Sea of Japan) and Central Asia (the 5 former Soviet Republics, to which Afghanistan is commonly added as a matter of convenience). "East Asia", "North-East Asia" and "Central Asia" are not institutionalised but are commonly acknowledge as entities. But the institutions do not necessarily coincide with internal or external actorsí own perceptions of their reality. Letís consider South Asia, for example. The Pentagon places Pakistan in South-West Asia, along with the Gulf States and Afghanistan, and Burma is treated as part of South-East Asia. The notion of South Asia is not even commonly shared by New Delhi and Islamabad. For the former, South Asia is Delhi-centred, for the latter, it includes the Arabian peninsula.6

These entities are loose political groupings. They are based on their smallest common denominator, i.e. geographical proximity. Their collective dynamism is yet to be proved, with the notable exception of ASEAN. These entities are in a state of "unstable balance": the sub-regional grouping is not attractive enough since some countries are trying to escape it and to be associated with more a more dynamic sub-region or with the region as a whole. India is a noteworthy example of this. Even though it is the largest country of SAARC, it is eager to be recognised as being part of the dynamics at work in Asia at large.

Second, these countries (taken as a whole) share little in common, except their economic success of the recent decades. This is true as far as the past is concerned. As for the present, the same heterogeneity predominates in Asia. Whatever the criteria, political regimes, ethnic origin, dominant religion, demography, economic policies, to name just a few of them, diversity is the key word among Asian countries. Individual countries themselves are rarely homogeneous, in terms of ethnic origins and, increasingly, of economic development.

As a consequence, the model of "nation state" is still referred to, in order to galvanise energies on the domestic as well as on the international scene. For leaders in China as in South Korea and Japan, not to forget in Taiwan or Indonesia, the country has yet to be built into a "nation".7 Regionalism, as understood in Europe where the individual states have relinquished parcels of their own sovereignty to a supranational body, seems to run counter to this evolution. It is thus difficult to know if the current trend towards political regionalism will be furthered by the upcoming generation of leaders.

Third, several political entities are vying to be recognised with the legitimacy of representing Asia in todayís world order.

EAEC (East Asia Economic Caucus) : This concept was voiced by Dr. Mahathir Mohammad, Malaysiaís Prime Minister, for the first time in December 1990.8 The idea aimed at creating a forum for cooperation among East Asian countries, including Japan, China, South Korea and the seven (then six) members of ASEAN. This concept excludes "white" countries (USA, Canada, New Zealand, Australia) and "brown" Asia (mainly India).

APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) : A 1989 joint initiative of the then Prime Minister of Australia, Bob Hawk, it enjoys a renewed dynamism since the 1993 Seattle meeting, the first of the 17 heads of the state of government from all the member countries.9 The primary philosophy of the APEC is to further economic cooperation among its members, to remove trade barriers and to achieve common economic goals in a not too distant future. APEC Asia is focused on economics. Its overall aim is to liberalise pan-Pacific trade. The 1995 Osaka meeting showed how challenging it is to "transform that vision onto a coherent and effective programme of action."10 A paradox of APEC is that it includes Chile and Mexico, and not India.

ARF (ASEAN Regional Forum) : This forum was set up in 1994 at the initiative of the ASEAN countries, to launch the first multilateral discussions on security matters in Asia. It includes 18 countries, but these are different from the members of APEC.11 It is meant to be a forum to discuss security matters.

I would just mention the format of the first ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) meeting (Bangkok, March 1-2, 1996). Twenty-five countries will be represented at this meeting which was convened at the initiative of the ASEAN as a way of compensating the exclusion of the European countries from APEC. These 25 include the 15 European Union members, the ASEAN members, plus Japan, South Korea and the Peopleís Republic of China. So, if the definition of Europe doesnít seem to be questioned, "Asia" here means the EAEC.

This search for political leverage without a prior consensus on the meaning of the collective identity to be promoted seems quite original. It reveals the ambiguity or regionalism in the post-Cold War order.


Regionalism : An Ambiguous Concept

Conventional wisdom has it that, in the post-Cold War order, countries are fully responsible for their choices in foreign policy, with no interference of any superpowerís prevalent interest weighing on them. One would suppose that neighbouring countries would first draw closer to each other, as "regionalism constitutes a middle-range approach of responding to international problems, with unilateralism one side and universalism (or globalism) on the other."12 This political region would be considered as an actor in international relations, as Europe is.

Yet political regions are difficult to organise after the Cold War. The absence of any worldwide ideology, the multiplication of the different playing fields and the growing interrogations about what constitutes a countryís identity make the creation of political regions more difficult since they are just one of all the possible outputs of the regionalisation processes that are currently underway. These processes could lead to economic regions or to security entities, for example. All these trends can be found in Asia at large. But we will focus on the political aspect of Asian regionalism. This is a multifaceted process that provides an interesting insight on how countries could organise both their mutual relations and their role on the global scene. This could be scrutinised under three approaches.

First, letís have a look at identity in so far as it could form the basis of a region. "Some key dimensions are cultural identities, providing a potential base for a regional civil society, tendencies towards economic and political homogeneity among the countries of the region, and the nature of the security order, above all, the manner in which internal regional conflicts are managed".13 Are these elements constitutive of a regional identity in Asia?

For each component of a more general identity (culture, economics or security), most of the Asian states are part of several networks. It is impossible to encapsulate them under one single label. It is then all the more hard to choose one single common element they could pinpoint as a reference for the whole of Asia. States are not even culturally nor economically unified. With only a few possible exceptions (Korea, Japan, Taiwan), leaders in most of the Asian countries have been vying for decades to create a unified state. Minorities have been waging guerrilla wars ever since decolonisation to have their existence recognised.

Most Asian countries are developing countries, with large rural populations. Most individuals are toiling for a living and their horizon is limited to their village or the urban area they are living in. The country as a whole is an abstraction for most of them.14 The region is far beyond most of the populationís capacities.

It is then to be doubted how far heads of state or of government are willing to go in the regionalisation process. It has been acknowledged that this process leads to a sort of national disintegration.15 It is doubtful that leaders of autocratic regimes would be willing to help create a region that would blur the shape of the state they so painfully achieved. Regional and national identities are considered as rivals, not as complementary.

So membership of the region is associated with a fading of the fidelity to the state. It is thus to be led and controlled by leaders. People do business, leaders discuss political issues. They alone can decide to what level regionalisation is to go.

This leads us to relate the definition of the region "Asia" to the issue of sovereignty. This second issue contains a two-fold questioning. The urge to draw regional boundaries questions the actual need of it: how sovereign in their region the "Asian" states want to be? To which level are they ready to undertake cooperation and to relinquish part of their national sovereignty to regional institutions?

Boundaries are central to the discourse of sovereignty. One could distinguish three aspects of the concept of boundary: physical boundaries (separation between states), cultural boundaries (separation of the "same" from the "other") and conceptual boundaries (separation of the domestic from the international).16 In Asia, the constant discourse articulated by some of the most prominent politicians in East Asia ¾ Lee Kwang Yew from Singapore, Shintaro Ishigara from Japan or Dr. Mohammed Mahathir from Malaysia ¾ on "Asian values" underlines their wish to set up cultural boundaries, that would coincide with the physical boundaries of the states, but with no conceptual boundaries. That is, they wish to apply to inter-regional relations the same way of governing they apply at home: an authoritative democracy, with few dissenting voices allowed. The region seems thus to be a mere projection of the state, as it is conceived in South-East Asia mainly. The region is to be an area upon which would reign a certain order, arbitrarily defined by a few educated people, that would run parallel to the domestic order that has been achieved at home during the past decades. "Asian regionalism is about using regionalism to consider state power,"17

Furthermore, it is as if these leaders consider that the region is to be "theirs". That is, no intruder would be allowed in, they alone would decide whoís going to be with them. This reminiscence of anti-colonialism is obvious in Dr. Mahathirís EAEC. This "endogen" regionalism is similar to the feeling that was behind South Pacific newly independent countries in the early 1970s and 1980s, when they rejected external interference in "their" region. But from the very beginning, economic realism induced these countries to accept Australia and New Zealand as members of their region which, otherwise, would have been stillborn.

The second aspect of sovereignty relates to supranational sovereignty. What is striking in the present Asian regionalism is the absence of any supranational body, such as existed in the European Economic Community (EEC) since its very beginning. States are represented with full array of sovereignty in the regional institutions. The setting up of an institution whose members would be chosen by the states and that would take decisions on a consensus or majority-vote basis is not in the offing. This creates a serious limit to regionalism, as it is usually understood in Europe.

One could object that there was no supranational body in the South Pacific either. But this region is very small (13 states only were members of the South Pacific Forum in the 1980s), scarcely populated (5 million plus the two Dominions). The problems affecting the members, all small islands states, with the twin exceptions of Australia and New Zealand, were very similar. There was more to gain for each of them in gathering their energies and resources than on an individual basis (regional airline, regional university; regional fisheries agency, and so on...) This is not the case in Asia where diversity is the key word.

So the ability to create "Asia" apparently takes its roots in the belief that "space is homogeneous, that it is a geometric entity to be carved up between sovereign entities."18 However, this assumption is no longer valid in such a blunt way and strongly contrasts with the ability of some Asian countries to overcome the physical boundaries. They were the first to systematically globalise their economies and make use of the explosion of telecommunications services. They were also the first to design the "triangles of prosperity", which are transitional economic entities.

The third interrogation related to the definition of Asia is how far the region is a testing bench for international status, be it global or regional. A definite answer to the question: what is Asia? would be highly political. It would reveal much about the international status of countries aspiring to a leading regional role, such as Japan or Malaysia, and also about the regional status of countries whose integration in the region is more problematical, such as the USA or Australia.

For example, the first ASEM meeting was a political success for Dr. Mahathir, since it was a meeting of his EAEC with the European Union. EAEC had never before got a reality of any kind and this was its first formal gathering. Dr. Mahathir succeeded in excluding Australia and New Zealand from the Bangkok meeting and giving a reality to an exclusively "yellow" Asia. The main topics discussed at the meeting were economic. Superseded with a few remarks on the "global initiatives on arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction", the closing statement of the Bangkok meeting was filled with incentives to economic cooperation: "The Meeting forged a new comprehensive Asia-Europe Partnership for Greater Growth (...). The Meeting recognised the great potential for synergy between Asia and Europe on account of the economic dynamisms and diversity of the two regions (...). To promote greater trade and investment between Asia and Europe, the Meeting agreed to undertake facilitation and liberalisation measures (...)."19 This was also a success for the ASEAN countries, since the thorny issues, on which they disagree with the West, such as human rights or Chinese hegemonism, not to mention expanding the membership of the meeting to India, Pakistan, Australia and New Zealand, were left aside. Japanís role in regional economics was also acknowledged, since an Economic Ministersí meeting is due to be held there in 1997.

On the parallel, the USA or Australia want Asia to be considered in its APEC dimension. This would be a definite acknowledgment of the USA as an Asian power. Being included in a wider definition of Asia would be a recognition of status as a member of the regional community, which would go beyond the security framework they helped create during the Cold War by several bilateral agreements. It is striking to note how, in the spring of 1993, Winston Lord, then Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, stressed the need to create "a new Pacific community", with special emphasis on multilateral cooperation to pursue common interest goals such as the prevention of arms race and proliferation of mass destruction weapons. This is, of course, not exclusive of common economic and trade goals.20

As for Australia, it was granted the regional power status in the South Pacific in the early 1970s, when the first island states got their independence from Great Britain. At the time, it was also recognised as such by the USA under the Australia-New Zealand-United States (ANZUS) military agreement. Now that the Cold War is over and the economic dynamism of the neighbouring South-East Asian countries is in full swing, Australia considers it more rewarding to be integrated in Asia than in South Pacific. It is eager to be considered as an equal partner by Asian countries, a member of their community, to the prosperity of which it takes part (60 percent of its exports go to Asia).21 Paul Keating (Labour Prime Minister from 1991 to 1996) declared in 1994 that the definition of Australiaís identity was to be its main task in the coming years. Keating had definitely chosen the Asian identity, wanting a clear break from Australiaís British colonial heritage in proposing a referendum on its becoming a Republic in 2001 at the latest. At the APEC (an Australian initiative, by the way) meeting in Osaka in November 1995, Foreign Minister Gareth Evans even produced a map projection that placed Australia right in the middle of South-East Asia.

So membership of the "Asian" region is assimilated to the detention of a kind of international legitimacy to have initiatives or/and to be associated with initiatives aiming at shaping the political region. In other words, if you are of the region, you are thus allowed to join in the efforts to definite it. But if you are not from the region, you are not authorised to have a word in helping shaping it. But no one can tell why you are in or why you are out. This tautology contributes to the general feeling of "political transition" as far as Asian states are considered (cf supra). The region is yet to be created on a general consensus, and not in a perspective dictated by some individual states.

Whither Asia?

Leaders of Asian countries ¾ participants as well as non-participants in "Asian" meetings ¾ seem to be entangled in a web of contradicting interests.

1. They want Asia to be acknowledged as an actor in international relations but they never agreed on what should like at its core: there is no agreement on the membership nor on what should come out of ministerial meetings, except mutual praise for the meeting and general recommendations in the economic field.

2. They want a multi-dimensional regionalism but they leave aside contentious topics (such as Chinese international behaviour22 or the status of Japan in the region), to focus on resolutions in order to promote increased cooperation between them.

3. They boast of an Asian regionalism, which is supposed to facilitate synergies between their different potentials but which is, in fact, designed as a means of preventing the emergence of one of them as a regional power.



All these contradictions prevent them from making clear choices as to the nature of the region they want to build. Is it to be a "comprehensive region", that would encompass all aspects of state activities such as economics, political and security, or is it to be an undefined entity that would be an alibi for individual states in their international policies in general? A comprehensive region seems to be a very difficult target to reach in todayís world. In the two main areas of common concern¾ economics and security¾ Asian leaders demonstrate the near impossibility of reaching a consensus on the format of the region and on its role on the international scene.

The smooth working of "Track Two" diplomacy, that is the network of individuals, academics and intellectuals, and institutions, most often the Institutes for Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) from ASEAN countries that organise regular meetings on "Asian security", should not be confused for the achievement of a region. These individuals often have official positions, the ISIS are government-funded. "Most of those involved in regional dialogues belong to a professional elite of one form or another."23 My objection to considering they are creating a political region doesnít lie in this fact: elites are there to fulfill a role of "leaders" in a society. But the elites in Asia have not succeeded in involving individuals beyond their small circles. Yet a countryís "strategic culture" is to be worked at if it is to evolue. Furthermore, these experts agree in their analyses of the causes and consequences of instability in the region. As yet, they have not been able to convince the heads of state or of government to set up confidence-building measures. Issues like Chinaís modernisation programme and weapon acquisitions, the future of the Korean peninsula or Japanís self-defence forcesí reorientation, whose implications for the region are far-reaching, are not likely to be dealt with at a regional level.


Present regionalism in Asia widely differs from European or South Pacific regionalism. Unlike in Europe, the aim is not to create a "regional space as an object of governance."24 Neither is its aim, as was the case in the South Pacific, "towards functional and pragmatic co-operation in specific fields for specific purposes."25 It is in-between the wish to institutionalise close but informal trade relations in order to gain more political leverage on the international scene and the desire to take revenge on decades of colonialism and subsequent condescension from European countries. But, as most of the countries in Asia share similar objectives ¾ to be acknowledged as a regional power, to take part in Asian economic dynamics, to reinforce state power that is being blurred by the development of intra-state exchanges¾ it canít but lead to stalemate.

Regional institutions are, therefore, not likely to be the fora in which conflicts are to be solved, be it in the trade or security fields. Global fora and bilateral discussions are to remain the preferred means of concluding agreements. This doesnít exclude some degree of cooperation between Asian countries, but this will not constitute a "political region", even in an Asian version of regionalism. Some think that "triumphant economic man would never be so stupid as to risk again through war the hard-won economic achievements of recent decades"26, yet they would do well to remember that "economic interdependence is good for profits but has precious little to do with issues of war and peace."27

This is the paradox of Asia: countries have developed great economic momentum that spills over their geographical boundaries but this has not been pursued on the diplomatic scene, whereas the contrary has more often been true in other areas of the world. In Europe and in South Pacific, political will has preceded economic realisations. The building of a nation has been kept abreast with technical progress in 19th century France and Britain.28 But the creation of a political region doesnít necessarily follow the multiplication of informal exchanges and of trade relations.

There is still a long way to go before the numerous and diverse countries in Asia agree on political common objectives and form a region in the political definition of the meaning. For the time being, we are confronted with a recomposition of the regional order, when states are experimenting with new types of relations, both with their neighbours and with other states in the world at large. This could be a transitory period. Asia is still being created.


1. G. Segal, "Asianism and Asian Security", The National Interest, Winter 1995/1996, p. 59.

2. Association of South-East Asian Nations (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam); South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka).

3. R. Dale, "Debunking Myths of Modern Asia," International Herald Tribune, November 4, 1994.

4. T. Nierop, Systems and Regions in Global Politics: An Empirical Study of Diplomacy, International Organisation and Trade, 1950-1991 (Chichester: John Wiley p.16.).

5. R. Herr, "Regionalism in the South Seas: The Impact of the South Pacific Commission (1947-1974)", unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, (Dukeí Duke University, 1976; p.48. Several references will be made to regionalism in the South Pacific in this article. This entity provides us with interesting insight in what a political region could be, since achieving such a region was a priority, acknowledged as such, for the countries of the area in the 1970s and 1980s.

6. S. Cohen, "Images of Peace and War in South Asia", in Kanti P. Bajpai and Harish C. Shukul eds., Interpreting World Politics (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1995) p. 312-313.

7. K. Ohmae, Interview, in Far Eastern Economic Review, February 22, 1996.

8. M. Mahathir, "EAEC Idea Born of Frustration with West," The Nikkei Weekly, February 1996. At the time, EAEC was actually named "East Asia Economic Grouping" (EAEG).

9. APEC membership: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peopleís Republic of China, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, United States. Chile joined in 1994.

10. "Which Way? At a Crossroads, APEC Must Bridge Basic Differences", Asiaweek, October 27, 1995.

11. ARF membership : Australia, Brunei, Canada, European Union, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peopleís Republic of China, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, United States.

12. A.H. Habib, "Defining the Asia Pacific Region", The Indonesian Quarterly, XXIII/2, 302-308; p.305.

13. B. Hettne., "The Regional Factor in the Formation of New World Order", in Y. Sakamoto ed, Global Transformation: Challenges to the State System (New York: UN University Press, 1994) p. 138.

14. Cf interviews of slave-children in India, in Far Eastern Economic Review, March 7, 1996, p.57.

15. Hettne, n. 13 p. 162.

16. J.A. Camilleri and J. Falk, The End of Sovereignty? The Politics of a Shrinking and Fragmenting World (London: E. Elgar Publishings, 1992), p. 237.

17. K. Jayasuriya, "Singapore: The Politics of Regional Definition", Pacific Review, 7(4): 411-419; p. 419.

18. Camilleri and Falk, n.16, p.251.

19. Cf Reuter dispatches from Bangkok, March 2, 1996.

20. Cf, for example, his March 31, 1993, hearing in front of the Senate committee supportive of his nomination and in Far Eastern Economic Review, April 15, 1993.

21. G. Blainey, "Australia and Asia: Espresso Democracy in a Satay Region", The National Interest, Winter 1995-1996, pp. 72-76: p.72.

22. It is noteworthy that the first ASEM meeting took place in Bangkok a few days before Beijing started its missile "testing" campaign in the Strait of Taiwan. Everyone in Bangkok was aware of the building up of tension between the two Chinas but not a word about it was mentioned in the final communique. P Kerr, "The Security Dialogue in the Asia-Pacific," Pacific Review, 7(4): 398-409; p. 399.

24. Jayasuriya, n.17, p.419.

25. R. Crocombe, The South Pacific : An Introduction (Christchurch: University of South Pacific, 1989) p.173.

26. G. Hicks "Asian Economic Success Doesnít Rule Out War", International Herald Tribune, March 19, 1996.

27. Ibid.

28. N. Colchester, "The Nation-State is Declining, but No Replacement is at Hand", International Herald Tribune, August 4, 1994.