International law and East Asia’s regional order: the strengthening of a fundamental institution: Pablo Pareja-Alcaraz
The process leading to the construction of East Asia’s current regional order and the anchoring of international law as a fundamental institution can be split into three different periods that, in spite of some overlap, can be viewed as following a chronological sequence. The formation period of this order started in December 1941 with the United States’ entry into the Second World War after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and terminated in March 1955 with the ratification of its mutual defence agreement with Taiwan. This period witnessed the definition of the basic features of the new order, as well as the design of its most basic structure. The two main actors were the United States and, to a lesser extent, the Soviet Union, both fuelled by their ideological rivalry and their desire to expand the geographical areas under their influence. In parallel to the decolonization process, the confrontation between these two superpowers, their role in the First Indochina War, the occupation of Japan, the Korean War and the Chinese Civil War led to the configuration of the region’s geopolitical organization. In addition, the United States’ security strategy of hubs and spokes with its East Asian allies promoted bilateralism and international law as the two fundamental institutions of the emerging order. The consolidation period comprises the years between March 1955 and February 1972, when Washington and Beijing agreed on the first Shanghai Communiqué and embarked on the normalization of their bilateral relationship. Throughout this period the United States remained the most influential actor in shaping the regional order, whereas the Soviet Union’s room for manoeuvre decreased. By renewing previous agreements and signing new ones with their respective allies, both superpowers reinforced bilateralism and international law as the order’s fundamental institutions. In addition, the creation of the Association of Southeast Asian
so-called ‘ASEAN way’. Finally, the current adaptation period began with Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. During this period the constitutional structure and fundamental institutions of East Asia’s regional order finally took root. The traditional dominance of bilateralism, however, has been partially challenged by the advance of multilateralism.7 In parallel, the United States has lost its absolute control over the process, and other state and non-state actors have gained prominence. Moreover, economic issues have made significant inroads into the regional agenda, thus contributing to the creation of new organizations and to the transformation of the former hegemonic order into a contractual one.