KDJ Conference

The Evolution of East Asian Regionalism: Ideas, Interests, and Domestic Institutions



In the 1980s and 1990s, analysis of the stimulants and deterrents to integration in East Asia focused on the growth of economic interactions, the networking role of firms and ethnic groups, disputes among major states, and the role of ideas. In the new millennium, however, scholarly analysis of “formal” East Asian regionalism has focused on international political and economic factors such as the end of the Cold War, the Asian financial crisis, rising Sino-Japanese rivalry, and the like. Other scholars have emphasized that East Asian countries’ trade strategies and American strategy in the region are a reaction to the global proliferation of bilateral trade agreements in the aftermath of the problems in concluding the Doha Development Round (DDR) of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Yet this new research on the East Asian region tends to be state-centric, focusing on characterizing actors’ national interests, but without paying adequate attention to key subnational players.

Although shocks and systemic changes are key catalysts in accounting for the newfound rush to regional efforts, these explanations fall short of fully capturing the subtle but crucial differences in national responses to common external shocks. In fact, key countries’ preferences for PTAs or broader trade initiatives vary significantly. To fully understand this cross-national variance in East Asia, we argue that researchers must give greater attention to the domestic politics within East Asian countries and the U.S., involving the interplay of government agencies, business groups, labor unions, and NGOs across the region. Specifically, we need to open the black box of each country’s decision-making process by examining how contingent shocks and critical junctures have affected coalition politics among different veto holders within and outside the government. This project attempts to address different types of East Asian trade and American strategies through the development of a systematic domestic bargaining game approach. Based on this analytical lens, we focus on the interplay of interests, ideas, and domestic institutions within the context of broader international shifts. We show how subnational actors engage in lobbying, both of their own governments and through their links to others in the region. In addition, we trace the evolution of interests and ideas over time, thus helping us to generate a better understanding of historical trends in the region based on changing preferences.

On December 15, 2007, the Berkeley APEC Study Center hosted its first conference on "The Evolution of East Asian Regionalism" on the UC Berkeley campus. In view of the relative difficulty of any single scholar having credible expertise on a host of subnational processes across East Asia, we draw on the leading country and regional specialists whose main focus is on economic policymaking. The conference featured a diverse array of renowned scholars who discussed the politics of East Asian regionalism, focusing on the interplay of ideas, domestic politics, and institutions.

2007 Conference Schedule (.pdf)

The second meeting of this two-year project was held on Friday, December 19, 2008 in 215 Moses Hall (IIS Conference Room). Participants included Professor Vinod Aggarwal (UC Berkeley), Professor Seungjoo Lee (Chung-Ang University), Professor Lee Lai To (National University of Singapore), Professor Ming Wan (George Mason University), and Professor Amy Searight (Stonebridge International and Center for Strategic and International Studies).

2008 Conference Schedule (.pdf)

The results of this project will be published in an edited volume, to be released in Fall 2009.

The Berkeley APEC Study Center thanks the Kim Dae-jung Presidential Library for its generous financial support.