- Author's Response:Revisiting Asia's Regional Architecture
I am sincerely grateful to each of the roundtable participants not only for sharing insights and praise for Asia's Regional Architecture but also for using my monograph to spark further discussion regarding Asian security and the future of the Indo-Pacific order. I am pleased to continue a conversation that began as an "author meets critic" panel in Singapore at the International Studies Association's 2019 Asia-Pacific conference hosted by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
In my response, I will briefly summarize areas where the other participants and I are largely in agreement before addressing points of difference and disagreement. I identify three primary critiques. First, does the book sacrifice depth for breadth by covering too much ground and too many institutions? Second, does it make conceptual sense to describe Asia's regional architecture under a single, overarching framework? Third, is optimism for liberal internationalism misplaced in an era of "America first" and the "China dream"? I acknowledge the insights and shortcomings my colleagues note in their respective reviews, but in the "spirit of discussion" (to borrow Alice Ba's phrase), this response essay addresses their questions.
A Holistic Approach to East Asian International Relations
As Ralf Emmers notes, scholars too often treat East Asian international relations in a bifurcated manner. They tend to emphasize either multilateral processes and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or bilateralism and U.S. alliances. The former are more likely to incorporate the role of norms and nontraditional security issues, whereas the latter tend to focus on power and traditional security problems. Underlying this bifurcation is the regional subdivision between Southeast and Northeast Asia.
There are sound theoretical and empirical reasons for creating such analytical distinctions in the study of East Asian international relations. Nevertheless, Asia's Regional Architecture was an attempt to examine East Asia as a whole. The roundtable participants generally agree that [End Page 143] more synergies exist across subregions and functional issues than is often acknowledged.
The Trump administration's free and open Indo-Pacific concept and China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) further reinforce the need for a "whole of Asia" approach. Both grand strategies identify linkages across subregions—including South Asia—and highlight the economic-security nexus across Asia and the Eurasian continent. For instance, a November 2019 report on the Indo-Pacific strategy released by the U.S. Department of State articulates how U.S. investments in energy, digital economy, and infrastructure support the goals of security, economic prosperity, and good governance in Indo-Pacific countries.1 Likewise, BRI, touted by Beijing as a massive overseas investment and economic development strategy, carries clear implications for regional security.2 In short, there is merit in investigating Asia's regional architecture from a whole-of-Asia perspective.
My roundtable colleagues also welcome the use of historical institutionalism to uncover elements of change and continuity in the regional architecture. The application of historical institutionalism allows room for interests, institutions, and ideas to become a part of a nuanced framework explaining Asia's evolving regional architecture. In that sense, the book provides a post-paradigmatic approach to Asian international relations.
Choosing Breadth over Depth
Even when adopting a holistic approach to the region, researchers must still make trade-offs between depth and breadth in their analyses. Two of the reviewers (Ralf Emmers and Alice Ba) suggest that empirical breadth outweighs theoretical depth in the book. As Ba writes, although the book is "inclusive of nearly all of Asia's actors and a wide range of diverse arrangements," its analysis does not dig as deep into the specific processes and mechanisms that result in Asia's complex patchwork of institutions. Without understanding "cognitive priors," or the bureaucratic or normative [End Page 144] commitments of individuals shaping decisions, the argument leans on a minimalist understanding of historical institutionalism.
Perhaps a deeper focus on a few key ASEAN-related organizations such as the ASEAN Regional Forum or the East Asia Summit may have provided a more succinct narrative while also spelling out in greater detail the mechanisms that produce continuity and change within Asia's regional architecture...