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  • Three Scenarios for Asia's Changing Regional Order
  • Renato Cruz De Castro (bio)

Prior to Donald Trump's presidential inauguration on January 20, 2017, several East Asian leaders were concerned about the fate of the Obama administration's rebalancing strategy toward the Asia-Pacific in particular and U.S. foreign policy in the region more generally. They suspected already that President Trump would ignore the region, given that one of his first official decisions was to withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Neither was their apprehension assuaged by a subgroup of White House national security officials who tried to soften or rectify the president's statements on a range of issues from the South China Sea to the notorious activities of extremist groups in Southeast Asia.1 The public airing of discord within the administration also generated confusion and doubt about the credibility of U.S. foreign policy commitments in Asia.

Trump's decision to withdraw from the TPP, his quirky temperament, his lack of strategy for the Indo-Pacific region, and his personal concern regarding Islamic militancy in the Middle East made analysts and Asian statesmen doubt whether he would heed former president Barack Obama's advice that "engaging in the Asia-Pacific is critical to America's future prosperity and security."2 Along with China's growing economic and strategic clout and increasing tensions in several regional flashpoints, all these factors made many pessimistic about the future of U.S. foreign policy in East Asia and the durability of the regional security order.

Andrew Yeo's recent work Asia's Regional Architecture: Alliances and Institutions in the Pacific Century offers a fresh and reassuring outlook on the future of Asia's security order and U.S. foreign policy in the region. In the book, Yeo argues that Asia's regional institutions are more powerful and resilient than the whims of the United States' current, eccentric president. He observes that political leaders' choices and actions [End Page 139] are framed within a larger temporal and historical context, making it difficult for new and inexperienced decision-makers to reverse existing ideas and institutions that were created to articulate states' core interests and values. He maintains that Asia's security architecture reflects greater stability and continuity; thus, it can withstand and even outlive the Trump administration's inconsistent signals regarding long-term U.S. intentions and policy toward the region.

Using historical institutionalism as a theoretical framework, the book examines the evolution of Asia's regional security order. Yeo explores the beginnings and development of U.S. bilateral security alliances as well as the modes of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) toward fostering multilateralism in Asia. He observes that while this system of bilateral alliances remains an important means of ensuring national security and regional stability, regional institutional structures are also being used by several states to organize and address emerging security and economic challenges. He assumes that bilateralism and multilateralism are complementary rather than contradictory. This raises two questions: how do bilateral and multilateral institutions interact, and how are old and new institutions layered and integrated?

Yeo traces how the emergence of the postwar bilateral alliance system in the 1950s and the formation of ASEAN in the late 1960s led to the creation of the complex patchwork of overlapping bilateral, trilateral, and multilateral institutions that currently constitute Asia's security architecture. However, despite the region's new multilateralism and the proliferation of several patchworks of regional institutions, Cold War relics such as the U.S. system of bilateral alliances and ASEAN remain at the core of this architecture. The book then examines how the Trump administration's actions and China's foreign policy goals can affect the regional order. Yeo notes that despite Trump's erratic statements on U.S. policy toward Asia, the actions of the United States appear to encourage some degree of stability and continuity in the regional architecture. Interestingly, he maintains that China does not actually want to overhaul this regional security architecture. Instead, it wants greater influence in the region and simply seeks to fill the void that the United States and its allies have left. Yeo is skeptical...


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pp. 139-142
Launched on MUSE
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