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  • Comparing Institution-Building in East Asia: Power Politics, Governance and Critical Junctures by Hidetaka Yoshimatsu
  • Malcolm Cook (bio)
Comparing Institution-Building in East Asia: Power Politics, Governance and Critical Junctures. By Hidetaka Yoshimatsu. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan, 2014. Hardcover: 231pp.

Comparing Institution-Building in East Asia makes a solid, empirically-based contribution to the field of East Asian regionalism, and is suitable for academics, researchers and postgraduate students. However, the author’s four-factor historical institutionalist model and its relation to International Relations theory, together with the meticulous nature of its process-tracing (a social science method of identifying causal relations and mechanisms through the detailed analysis of an empirical case-study over time) of each case study, make it less accessible to non-academic and undergraduate readers.

The books’ two major strengths are founded on this inductive, empirically sensitive model and the choice of case studies. First, the five cases of East Asian institution-building, i.e. trade, exchange rate management, rice reserves, oil reserves’ coordination and acid rain monitoring are highly comparable: all started in the last fifteen years or so, include and exclude the same states (with a few exceptions), have undergone a similar two-stage development of original soft institutionalism, followed by attempts at institutional strengthening and are in the realm of “low politics” in interstate relations. This admirable consistency across the five case studies enhances the analytical value of the commonalities and variances across them. Yoshimatsu provides a compelling argument for how the commonality of early Japanese leadership interacts with Southeast Asian states’ commitment to ASEAN “centrality” and Chinese and South Korean competition with Japan to determine the outcome of the second stage of institutionalization in all five cases. One related commonality that is not fully developed in this succinct book is the benefits of East Asia-wide regionalism and ASEAN centrality in moderating the negative effects of Northeast Asian power politics on interstate cooperation.

Second, as is true with many Japanese social science scholars, the author’s attention to empirical detail and conscientious process-tracing clarifies well the sectoral specificities of interstate interaction between China, Japan and South Korea, and Southeast Asian states’ interests in wider East Asian cooperation. On trade, through participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Japan is less [End Page 483] committed to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). South Korea prefers its own existing regional scheme to the Japanese-led one for acid rain monitoring. China has shown little interest in efforts by ASEAN Plus Three to enhance energy security. Yoshimatsu’s commitment to careful process-tracing enlivens the first of four factors in his model and the efforts to provide a more nuanced explanation than the parsimonious power politics model of Realism:

the configuration of policymakers’ preferences for political legitimacy is different between Japan and China: Japanese government officials seek to pursue political legitimacy of their own ministries through regional commitments, while the ruling party’s aspiration for maintaining its political legitimacy has strong influences on Chinese behaviour and policies towards East Asian cooperation

(p. 6).

By delving into bureaucratic details, the author provides useful insights into the nature of Japanese and Chinese bureaucratic politics, how these have changed in China in particular over the last decade, and how these forces direct and limit Japanese and Chinese leadership of East Asian cooperation.

The ambition of the book — five cases and a theoretical discussion — and its brevity — less than 200 pages — are admirable but also pose shortcomings. First, all five cases are in the International Relations realm of low politics. This dulls the book’s attack on the monocausal limits of Realism and its focus on power politics. Both classical and structural Realism concentrate on the high politics of interstate interaction and competition in traditional security. Whether or not strategic rivals such as Japan and China cooperate on issues such as regional rice reserves or the monitoring of acid rain is of little concern to Realists. The inclusion of cases such as the formation of the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus (ADMM-Plus) process even at the cost of one of the five chosen cases would have expanded and deepened the book’s contribution. As with the...


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