The Impact of China's Resurgence on the Political Economy of East Asia: Economic Integration and Security Challenges?

Author: Junyi Wang

Wang, Junyi, 2012 The Impact of China's Resurgence on the Political Economy of East Asia: Economic Integration and Security Challenges?, Flinders University, School of International Studies

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The economic reforms embarked upon by China after 1978 allowed it to re-emerge as a major player in the political economy of East Asia, drawing Northeast and Southeast Asia together through linkages with the Overseas Chinese Business Sphere and participation in East Asia's regional processes and arrangements. Growing economic ties with Taiwan played a crucial role in this process of regional integration. At the same time, China's rise meant that various Northeast Asian security challenges in which it was a key protagonist, especially over Taiwan, became significant issues on Southeast Asia's regional agenda via ASEAN and the East Asian Summit after 2005. The growing economic and security linkages between Northeast and Southeast Asia raised important questions about whether China's rise will follow a peaceful path, or result inevitably in military conflict, as realist theorists in International Relations argue, and whether the mechanisms for managing regional tensions in East Asia are resilient enough. This thesis considers these contemporary issues in historical context. The evolution of the political economy of East Asia was marked by three phases of influence after 1945, beginning with US hegemony during the Cold War and followed by Japan's economic leadership. The rise of China, which challenged both US military primacy and Japanese economic dominance, is the third phase. An historical perspective shows many themes unchanged in East Asia: Southeast Asia was concerned about preserving its independence in the face of the great powers, and the security challenges confronting Northeast Asia in 2011 were the same as during the Cold War. Nonetheless, China's rise shifted great power relations in the region. The thesis shows how this happened historically and how the shifts impacted on East Asia's political economy and the security challenges centring on the Korean Peninsula, Taiwan and the East and South China Seas. The thesis argues that China was committed firmly to rising peacefully in support of a domestic political strategy aimed at maximising economic growth, which is essential for social stability. Growing regional economic interdependence and the desire to avoid war saw China manage tensions by seeking to preserve the status quo in East Asia via bilateral negotiations and regional engagement. China became more, rather than less, constrained by its rise, a conclusion broadly in line with liberal International Relations theories. China's regional engagement was conducted in line with the 'ASEAN Way' of consensus seeking dialogue and non-binding declarations. Unlike many analysts, the thesis argues that the 'ASEAN Way' of regionalism was sufficiently robust and will continue to serve future regional security arrangements as they evolve. The key questions, though, are whether the US, which recommitted to East Asia after 2009, and reasserted its determination in 2011 to lead an 'Asia Pacific Century', will accept the 'ASEAN Way' or seek greater institutionalisation of regional arrangements and a commitment to binding treaties, and how China will manage relations with the US, especially if it seeks to strengthen its historical alliance network and forge new ones as a basis for managing regional tensions. China's rise was the subject of extensive debate among Chinese scholars of International Relations. The thesis makes these debates available to an English-speaking readership, highlighting the insights they provide into how China's rise impacted on the political economy of East Asia and the historical security challenges it faces, and contributed to a distinctive East Asian regionalism.

Keywords: China,East Asia,Resurgence,Economic Integration,Security Challenges

Subject: International Studies thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2012
School: School of International Studies
Supervisor: Dr Michael Sullivan