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The book’s concluding chapter underscores its contribution towards two bodies of literature, first, on middle power theory more broadly, and second, on middle powers in Asia Pacific multilateralism. In contrast to views that non-major powers do not matter in international politics, the book has demonstrated the value of an alternative structural perspective – specifically one based on differentiation – in the study of middle power behaviour, and highlighted how the differentiated structure may interact with power politics to generate middle power behaviour in multilateralism. Based on the book’s findings, the chapter also highlights key areas for further research.

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This chapter presents a comparative analysis of the middle power behaviour of Australia, Indonesia and South Korea in the formation of APEC and the EAS. It traces the empirical developments back to the differentiated structure of regional politics and the relational, relative and social power politics characterizing the respective contexts. The specifics of such negotiations of power politics would vary across the three middle powers not just due to differences in their material and ideational attributes, but also in terms of the social relations they were embedded in. The discussion further reinforces the importance of context, by briefly highlighting two other scenarios of Asia Pacific multilateralism – namely, in the establishment of the ASEAN Regional Forum and the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus – where middle power initiative was apparently absent.

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This chapter examines the circumstances that led to APEC’s creation in 1989 and its early years. Amid declining Cold War tensions and the collapse of global bipolarity, Asia’s economic rise, as well as the anxieties over extra-regional trade blocs, the behaviour of Australia, Indonesia and South Korea contributed towards diluting major-power stratificatory forces and enabling them to assume functionally differentiated roles. The actions of the three middle powers helped to shape a more inclusive and equal decision making in the region, and demonstrated the functions of middle powers – building on their material and ideational attributes – as initiators of or mediators within the new platform.

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This chapter introduces the argument, research design and contributions of the book. Drawing from insights offered by differentiation theory and power politics, this book establishes a new framework to study middle power behaviour in Asia Pacific multilateralism. The key argument is that middle powers pursue a dilution of major-power stratificatory forces as well as functionally differentiated roles for themselves in multilateral diplomacy. The book seeks to contribute theoretically to the middle power literature, as well as empirically to the knowledge of why and how middle powers shape Asia Pacific multilateralism. The chapter also offers an overview of the subsequent chapters.

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A Differential Framework
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Drawing on insights from differentiation theory, this book examines the participation of middle powers in multilateralism.

Taking Australia, Indonesia and South Korea as examples, the book examines these countries’ roles in regional organizations, and particularly their creation of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and East Asia Summit. Through its analysis, the book argues that middle powers pursue a weakening of ‘stratificatory differentiation’, targeted in particular at major powers, and a strengthening of ‘functional differentiation’ in which middle powers can assume key roles.

The book sets out a valuable new framework to explain and understand the behaviour of middle powers in multilateralism.

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This chapter examines the circumstances surrounding the formative days of the EAS that was first conceptualized in 2001 and through its expansion in 2011. Against the backdrop of the Asian financial crisis, US counterterrorism strategy post-9/11, Sino-Japanese rivalry and proliferation of ASEAN-centred multilateralism, the behaviour of Australia, Indonesia and South Korea contributed towards diluting major-power stratificatory forces and enabling them to assume functionally differentiated roles. Through the EAS and its associated processes, all three countries sought to moderate the overwhelming influence of major powers in the region. The functions of middle powers as initiators of or facilitators within regional multilateralism were also reflected in the approaches of Australia, Indonesia and South Korea towards the EAS.

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The contemporary study of middle powers has focused primarily on defining the concept and examining the foreign policies of such states. While there has yet to be a standardized definition of what middle powers are, the literature suggests three primary ways of approaching the concept, based on material capabilities, identity and behaviour. This chapter reviews the existing approaches to middle powers, with the aims of: establishing a working definition for middle powers which is then used to identify Australia, Indonesia and South Korea as middle powers in the Asia Pacific; drawing out the underlying notion of differentiation in the extant literature; and, highlighting the widely acknowledged link between middle powers and multilateralism.

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Through employing differentiation theory as a heuristic, this chapter sets out a conceptual framework to explore the differentiation mechanism that generates middle power behaviour in multilateralism. The framework here treats structure as segmented, stratified and functionally differentiated. Middle power behaviour is produced when the effects of the differentiated structure are activated by social, relative and relational power politics. Although the specific outcomes would depend on the particular circumstances of the time and place, this framework overall expects that middle powers would pursue a dilution of major-power stratification and take on functionally differentiated roles in multilateralism.

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The rapid growth of China’s power and influence has become one of the most salient phenomena in world politics today. Particularly since 2012, when President Xi Jinping became China’s top leader, China has been viewed as increasingly ‘assertive’ in conducting its foreign relations. Henry Kissinger (2014), in his book World Order, devotes an entire chapter to the complex and subtle relations between China and the international order. As he observes,

Beijing has become much more active on the world scene. … By any standard, China has regained the stature by which it was known in the centuries of its most far-reaching influence. The question now is how it will relate to the contemporary search for world order, particularly in its relations with the United States. (Kissinger, 2014: 225–6)

Likewise, John Ikenberry (2011: 343), a prominent professor of international affairs at Princeton University, remarks that ‘China is in critical respects the “swing state” in world politics’, which begs the crucial question: ‘Will China seek to oppose and overturn the evolving Western-centred liberal international order, or will it integrate into and assert authority within that order?’

There are three different answers to this question in China as well as in other parts of the world. The first answer is that for the sake of its own interest, China needs to integrate into the existing international order, rather than overturn it, albeit with some reforms (Da, 2021; see also Chapter 7).

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Bringing together leading scholars from Asia and the West, this book investigates how the dynamics of China’s rise in world politics contributes to theory-building in International Relations (IR).

The book demonstrates how the complex and transformative nature of China’s advancement is also a point of departure for theoretical innovation and reflection in IR more broadly. In doing so, the volume builds a strong case for a genuinely global and post-Western IR. It contends that ‘non-Western’ countries should not only be considered potential sources of knowledge production, but also original and legitimate focuses of IR theorizing in their own right.

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