DOI link for Introduction
DOI link for Introduction
It still remains to be seen whether the ‘Paciﬁc Era’ has at last begun to unfold, a hundred years after President Roosevelt proclaimed its dawn. But one important diﬀerence between his time and the beginning of the twenty-ﬁrst century is that the Asian countries had long since ceased to be pawns of the major external powers and had increasingly become masters of their own destinies. Accordingly, it is more appropriate to describe the region as the Asia-Paciﬁc. The emergence of the Asia-Paciﬁc as a region in international politics is a
modern phenomenon. Indeed, it might best be conceived as a region that is still in the process of evolution and whose identity has yet to be clearly deﬁned. It is a product of several developments associated with the modernization and globalization of economic, political and social life that has involved the spread of what might be called industrialism and statehood throughout the world. Derived from Europe and still bearing the marks of their origin, these great forces have shaped and continue to shape what we understand to be the contemporary Asia-Paciﬁc. At the same time, their implantation in this part of the world has involved accommodation and adaptation to prior non-European traditions and institutions. Thus, although the states of the Asia-Paciﬁc may be deﬁned in common legal terms (involving concepts of sovereignty, territoriality and citizenship) that would be recognizable to Europeans of the nineteenth century, the governance of the states of, say, contemporary China, Japan or, indeed, Indonesia cannot be fully understood without reference to their respective diﬀerent historical antecedents. The regional identity of the Asia-Paciﬁc may be said to derive from geopolitical
and geo-economic considerations rather than from any indigenous sense of homogeneity or commonality of purpose. Unlike Europe, the Asia-Paciﬁc cannot call upon shared cultural origins or proclaim attachment to common political values as a basis for regional identity. But the Asia-Paciﬁc can claim to have been
located at an important geographical junction of post-Second World War politics, where the competing Cold War interests of the two superpowers intersected with each other, with those of the two major regional powers and with those of the smaller resident states. The way in which these diﬀerent sets of competing and cooperative interests have interacted has given this region its distinctive if evolving identity, which has acquired recent signiﬁcance through geo-economic factors. The development of what the World Bank once called ‘the East Asian economic miracle’ has transformed East Asia from a region of poverty and insurgency into one of the most important centres of the international economy. The pattern of consistent high rates of economic growth and an increasing share of the world’s GNP and trade that began with Japan and became true of the four little dragons (South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore) has become true of southern China and most of the countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN – Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand). Vietnam too is on the threshold of participating in the ‘miracle’.2 The continuing economic dynamism of the region and the conﬁdence that resident governments have drawn from their economic achievements have enhanced a new sense of national pride and assertiveness that is in the process of acquiring regional expression. It was only once the great powers began to treat the diverse countries of the
area as a distinct arena of international politics and economics that it became possible to identify the area with some sense of coherence. It was ﬁrst treated as a separate geographical region at the Washington Conference of 1921-22 when the great powers of the day formally agreed to ﬁx the ratio of the warships they would deploy in the Paciﬁc. That was designed to limit the geographical and military scope of the challenge of Japan – the ﬁrst state in the Asia-Paciﬁc to adapt to the modernizing imperatives. By the 1930s the Japanese had not only repudiated the agreement that had restricted their naval deployments, but they sought to exclude the Western powers altogether from the region as proposed in the scheme formally declared in 1938 as the East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. It had appeared in diﬀerent guises earlier in the decade as in the concept of a ‘new order in East Asia’.3 Japan’s initial victories over the Western powers and its attempts to encourage anti-Western sentiments around the slogan ‘Asia for Asians’ stimulated local nationalism.4 However, the brutality and domineering behaviour of the Japanese conquerors undermined their image as liberators and engendered fears and animosities among local peoples that have yet to be expiated more than sixty years later. However, the Japanese sphere of military operations also deﬁned the sphere of the allied response in the Paciﬁc War. The several agreements among the wartime allies, beginning in 1941, followed by the Quebec Conference of 1943 which set up the South East Asian Command, continuing with the 1943 Cairo Declaration and culminating in the Yalta and Potsdam agreements of 1945, helped to give parts of the region greater geopolitical coherence. But they also marked the last time in which the region would be deﬁned by the great powers in accordance with their interests without even informing the local states, let alone consulting them.