Role conceptions, order transition and institutional balancing in the Asia-Pacific: a new theoretical framework - by CWP Alumni Kai He

Wednesday, Mar 7, 2018

The dawn of the twenty-first century witnessed a new wave of multilateral initiatives in the Asia-Pacific. By integrating institutional balancing theory and role theory, the author proposes a new theoretical framework—‘balance of roles’—to explain the variations in institutional strategies by different states. It is argued that a state’s role conception will shape its institutional balancing strategies in an order transition period. An order defender, like the USA, is more likely to adopt exclusive institutional balancing to exclude its target from its dominated institutions. An order challenger, such as China, will choose both inclusive and exclusive institutional balancing to maximise its own power and legitimacy in a new international order. As a kingmaker, a proactive second-tier state is more likely to pick an inter-institutional balancing strategy to initiate new institutions for competing for influence with existing institutions. An institutionalised order transition might be more peaceful than widely perceived.

Introduction

The dawn of the twenty-first century witnessed a new wave of multilateral initiatives in the Asia-Pacific. For example, in 2009, the Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, proposed the idea of the Asia Pacific Community and the Japanese prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, advocated an East Asian Community. In 2013, the South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, proposed the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiative to strengthen regional security cooperation. Also in 2013, the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, suggested the building of a ‘community of common destiny’ in Asia, along with massive Chinese investments and financial initiatives, such as the Belt and Road Initiative. Even the USA under the Obama administration actively engaged with this new wave of multilateralism in the Asia-Pacific. For example, the USA under the Obama administration played a leadership role in promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a high-standard trading bloc consisting of 12 countries, although the rise of Trump has killed the TPP in its infancy.

Although some initiatives and ideas have become ‘thought bubbles’, like Rudd’s Asia Pacific Community and Hatoyama’s East Asian Community, these countries’ efforts in promoting this new wave of multilateralism deserve serious scholarly inquiries. In the 1990s, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) played a leadership role in promoting multilateralism in the Asia-Pacific. Will this new wave of multilateralism challenge ASEAN’s ‘driver’s seat’ for multilateralism in the region? More precisely, will China’s multilateral initiatives facilitate the emergence of a new regional order? Will Australia, South Korea and Japan use multilateralism to balance China’s growing influence in the future? After Trump came to power, his ‘America First’ policy seemed to drive the USA back to isolationism. Multilateralism, therefore, will become even more important in structuring regional economic and security architecture in the Asia-Pacific. It is imperative for both scholars and policymakers to better understand how states pursue their national interests through multilateralism.

Through integrating institutional balancing theory and role theory, I propose a new theoretical framework—‘balance of roles’—to explain the variations in institutional strategies by different states. I argue that a state’s role conception will shape its institutional balancing strategies in an order transition period. Specifically, an order defender, like the USA, is more likely to adopt exclusive institutional balancing to exclude its target from its dominated institutions. China, as an order challenger, will choose both inclusive and exclusive institutional balancing to maximise its own power and legitimacy in a new international order. As a kingmaker, a proactive second-tier state is more likely to pick an inter-institutional balancing strategy to initiate new institutions to compete for influence with existing institutions.

There are three sections in this article. First, I clarify my definition of international order and order transition. I suggest that an order transition has two interrelated processes: a power shift and an institutional transformation. It is why states not only fight for material power through traditional military means, but also compete for influence and dominance in multilateral institutions through institutional balancing strategies. Second, by integrating role theory and institutional balancing theory, I propose a ‘balance of roles’ framework to explain different institutional balancing strategies during the order transition period. Third, I briefly discuss how the USA, China and other major powers (Australia, Japan and South Korea) have conducted institutional balancing after the 2008 global financial crisis. In conclusion, I argue that an order transition based on institutional balancing might be more peaceful than widely predicted.

Kai HeGriffith Asia Institute & Centre for Governance and Public Policy, Griffith University, Nathan,

Published online: 01 Mar 2018

https://www.tandfonline.com/eprint/5ht64eSwCxBkhyrgueFd/full

He Kai Photo 1

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