Monday, May 21, 2007

"Asia" as Postmodern Experiment

Asia is not Europe.

This statement seems obvious but it is important to remember that it is dangerous to use the framework of European integration to predict Asia's future. I am in Tokyo today, headed back to New York tomorrow morning. One of the themes of my current research trip on ASEAN's relations with China and Japan is that the primary motivation for ASEAN to consolidate its political structure is simply to balance China.

We are witnessing old fashioned balance of power politics in Asia, not necessarily a unified or ambitious vision. Sure, human rights and democracy may make it into the charter ASEAN will negotiate this fall, but to understand where Asia is going is to think about managing chaos without a concrete destination. Many of the people we interviewed in Asia called ASEAN an experiment, with no direction, an experiment that is both the product and manager of power politics.

A few months ago a group of Russian students asked me if we are living in a uni, bi, or multipolar system. I don't think that kind of thinking is helpful anymore.

My answer was that it depends on the question. Russia can be an energy superpower. Think about Syriana, the messy, chaotic story of the globalized energy supply chain: No one is in control; everyone is in control. This understanding of the international system, I have found, is common among those who study globalization and Asia--both of which I follow.

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