Regional order transition in East Asia: a security-economy nexus perspective

LIU Feng1

(1.Zhou Enlai School of Government, Nankai University)

【Abstract】Traditional accounts on East Asian regional order suffer the problem of treating security and economy as two separate domains, and neglect the interconnected­ ness of regional order. A synthetic structural realism, as developed in this paper, combines these two domains and offers us with a more sophisticated account on systemic transition in international relations. By making a distinction between the domains of interaction (security/economy) and the status of system (balance of power/hegemony), international system, whether on global or regional levels, can be distinguished into four types: complete balance of power, partial balance of power, complete hegemony, and partial hegemony. System transition is a successive, long or short, change from one type to another among these four types, instead of moving from one equilibrium to another equilibrium or from one hegemony to another hegemony. From this synthetic structural realist perspective, the East Asian regional system since the end of the Cold War has shifted from a complete hegemonic order dominated by the United States to a partial hegemony with several regional economic powers. A complete balance of power may be formed with the rise of China in both economic and security domains, but uncertainties exist with regard to the process as well as the final status of this transition. The prospect of systemic transition in East Asia is determined by the changing distribution of power between China and the United States on the one hand, and by the strategic adjustments and alignments of the states in the region.

【Keywords】 East Asian order; security-economy nexus; a synthetic structural realism; balance of power; hegemony;


【Funds】 Youth Project of National Social Science Fund of China (15CGJ031)

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    [1]. ① The geographical scope and number of countries covered by the concept of East Asia are controversial, and the broader concept of “Asia-Pacific” is also frequently used. In academic literature, some countries (such as Russia and Mongolia) are not included in the discussion of scope of East Asian international relations, while the United States is generally regarded as a major actor in international relations in East Asia. At present, the concepts of East Asia and Asia-Pacific are often used interchangeably, while in fact it is clear that the geographical coverage and number of countries covered by the latter are more complex. Therefore, this paper still focuses on a relatively limited and consensus-based region in East Asia. For a discussion of the formation and evolution of concepts in East Asia, see Takashi Terada, “Constructing an ‘East Asian’ Concept and Growing Regional Identity: From EAEC to ASEAN+3,” The Pacific Review, Vol.16, No.2, 2003, pp. 251–277; Mark Beeson, Regionalism and Globalization in East Asia: Politics, Security and Economic Development, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014, pp. 1–22; Yang, N. ’’’Journal of Tsinghua University (Philosophy and Social Sciences) (清华大学学报(哲学社会科学版)), (1): 39–53 (2012).

    [2]. ② The author believes that international order refers to the form of order existing between countries, as opposed to the domestic order applicable to domestic social relations. According to the spatial scope of the international order, it can be divided into global order and regional order. Regardless of the scope or hierarchy, the definitions of international order have common basic elements. For more detailed discussion of these elements, see Liu, F. Foreign Affairs Review (外交评论), (2): 5–9 (2013); Liu, F. Foreign Affairs Review (外交评论), (5): 47–51 (2015).

    [3]. ① This can be simply classified as a realistic view of order, Michael Mastanduno, “A Realist View: Three Images of the Coming International Order,” in Thazha V. Paul and John A. Hall, eds., International Order and the Future of World Politics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 19–40.

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    [6]. ④ The classification of East Asian order has been discussed from different perspectives. For example, For example, Sun Xuefeng and Huang Yu Xing distinguished hegemonic order, tribute order, balance of power order and community order according to the existence of a single power center and the degree of recognition of regional rules. Amitav Acharya distinguished hegemonic order, great power coordination order, community order and concord order from the perspectives of management type and integration degree. See Sun, X. & Huang, Y. ’Journal of Contemporary Asia-Pacific Studies (当代亚太), (1): 6–34 (2011). Amitav Acharya, “Power Shift or Paradigm Shift? China’s Rise and Asia’s Emerging Security Order,” International Studies Quarterly, Vol.58, No.1, 2014, pp.158–173. The classification of regional order in a broader sense can be found in Patrick M. Morgan, “Regional Security Complexes and Regional Orders,” in David A. Lake and Patrick M. Morgan, eds., Regional Orders: Building Security in a New World, University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997, pp. 20–42; Robert Stewart-Ingersoll and Derrick Frazier, Regional Powers and Security Orders, New York: Routledge, 2012.

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    [22]. ② For related information, please refer to the statistics published on the Asian Development Bank and the ASEAN website. For the data from Asian Development Bank, see Date of review: 2016-2-3., Date of review: 2016-2-3.

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    [34]. ① It is in this sense that Gilpin discusses the legitimacy of hegemony, Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics. pp. 30–34.

    [35]. ② The concepts of unipolar, bipolar and multipolar are not used here, because it is a concept of comprehensive strength, not limited to the economic or military strength of the country. If a country is both the economic dominant and the military leader in a system, it is undoubtedly a unipolar country. However, the relative disadvantage in a certain strength field can also make a polar country in the system, such as the Soviet Union.

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    [37]. ① A few scholars used similar concepts. For example, Michael Massan Duno used “incomplete hegemony.” Ikenburry also mentioned partial hegemony and partial balance. Michael Mastanduno, “Incomplete Hegemony and Security Order in the Asia-Pacific,” in G. John Ikenberry, ed., America Unrivaled: The Future of the Balance of Power, Ithca: Cornell University Press, 2002, p.181; G. John Ikenberry, “The Rise of China, the United States, and the Future of the Liberal International Order,” in David L. Shambaugh, ed., Tangled Titans: The United States and China, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2013, p.58. However, they neither offered any classification approach, nor did they clearly define these concepts.

    [38]. ① In Europe in the 19th century, although the United Kingdom was an economic powerhouse, continent countries such as France and Russia did not rely economically on the United Kingdom. France even tried to establish a continent economic system that excluded the United Kingdom.

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    [42]. ② In another paper, the author discusses in detail the relationship between system stability and benefit distribution. See Liu, F. Foreign Affairs Review (外交评论), (5): 47–51 (2015). Related discussions are available at Robert Powel, “Stability and the Distribution of Power,” World Politics, Vol.48, No.2, 1996, pp. 239–267.

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    [49]. ②, Date of review: 2016-2-5

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    [53]. ③ 2015 China’s GDP data can be referred to the data released by the National Bureau of Statistics,, Date of review: 2016-3-20

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    [56]. ① In recent years, some scholars have raised such questions and tried to answer them from different theoretical perspectives. Ja Ian Chong and Todd H. Hall, “The Lessons of 1914 for East Asia Today: Missing the Trees for the Forest,” International Security, Vol.39, No.1, 2014, pp.7–43; Adam P. Liff and G. John Ikenberry, “Racing Toward Tragedy? China’s Rise, Military Competition in the Asia Pacific, and the Security Dilemma,” International Security, Vol.39, No.2, 2014, pp. 52–91; Richard N. Rosecrance and Steven E. Miller, eds., The Next Great War? The Roots of World War I and the Risk of U.S.-China Conflict, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2014.

    [57]. ② John Mearsheimer is the representative of this pessimistic assertion. He predicted that Sino-US competition for hegemony in East Asia would move toward confrontation. John J. Mearsheimer, “The Gathering Storm: China’s Challenge to US Power in Asia,” Chinese Journal of International Politics, Vol.3, No.4, 2 010, pp.381–396.

    [58]. ③ Waltz pointed out the contradiction between low economic interdependence and high military interdependence under the bipolar system. Kenneth Waltz, Realism and International Politics (国家相互依赖的神话), Zhang, R. & Liu, F. (trans.) Beijing: Peking University Press, (2012), Chapter 11. Similarly in the multipolar balance-based system.

    [59]. ④ For the analysis of the nature of Sino-US strategic competition, see Yan, X. & Qi, H. Quarterly Journal of International Politics (国际政治科学), (3): 1–23 (2012); Zhu, F. World Economics and Politics (世界经济与政治), (3): 4–26 (2013); Li, W. & Zhang, Z. Quarterly Journal of International Politics (国际政治科学), (1): 25–53 (2015).

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    [61]. ② In another paper, the author pointed out that the application of compulsory strategies in China is highly reactive and selective. Liu Feng, “China’s Security Strategy Towards East Asia,” Chinese Journal of International Politics, Vol.9, No.2, 2016, forthcoming.

This Article



Vol , No. 05, Pages 32-55+156-157

May 2016


Article Outline


  • 1 Literature review on the regional order in East Asia
  • 2 Typification of international order: a synthetic structural realism theory
  • 3 From complete hegemony to partial hegemony: the change of regional order in East Asia after the Cold War
  • 4 Security-economy nexus and the prospect of East Asian order transition
  • 5 Conclusion
  • Footnote