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 ne ...
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. For example, South Korea turned to FTAs in the aftermath of the financial crisis, as the crisis opened up political space for executive initiative. The economic crisis muted South Korea’s once rigid protectionist voices, thus providing the government with a more favorable atmosphere for neoliberal economic reform, coupled with the adoption of PTA strategy. By contrast, FTA politics in Japan follows a different logic, as it avoided the worst of the Asian financial crisis.
As these examples suggest, South Korean, Japanese, and Singaporean preferences for FTA initiatives vary significantly. To fully understand this cross-national variance among them, researchers must give greater attention to the domestic politics in these countries, 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. In short, South Korea, Japan, and Singapore have embraced the rationale for FTAs to varying degrees. While these variations largely have to do with each country’s different strategic and economic positions in the global and regional system, they also stem from the fact that each country has its own way of identifying and interpreting interests shaped by policy ideas and domestic institutions.
With this backdrop, we call for a framework that helps us to explain the formation of Korean, Japanese and Singaporean FTA strategy in a dynamic and evolutionary way. We in particular shed light on how ideas, interests, and domestic institutions interact with each other in the face of external shocks. First, perceptions and ideas held by major players matter because they help policymakers and other players identify and interpret the nature of external changes, suggesting that the choice of a specific trade strategy is not an automatic response to external changes. Second, it is also crucial to examine how major players with reconfigured interests coalesce into a new trade strategy. Third, we also examine domestic institutional features related to trade strategies such as veto points, policymaking structure in the government, and institutionalized opposition to analyze how external changes and reconfigured interests are channeled in the domestic policymaking process.