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Asia Is Not One

  • Amitav Acharya


Asia is not “one,” and there is no singular idea of Asia. Asia is of multiple (although not always mutually exclusive) conceptions, some drawing on material forces, such as economic growth, interdependence, and physical power, and others having ideational foundations, such as civilizational linkages and normative aspirations. Some of these varied conceptions of Asia have shaped in meaningful ways the destinies of its states and peoples. Moreover, they have underpinned different forms of regionalism, which, in turn, has ensured that Asia, despite its fuzziness and incoherence, has remained a durable, if essentially contested, notion.



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1 I have argued elsewhere that regions should be understood in terms of (1) material and ideational—regionalist ideas and regional identity that move the study of regions beyond purely materialist understandings; (2) whole and parts—a regional (as opposed to mainly country-specific) perspective based on a marriage between disciplinary and area studies approaches; (3) past and present—historical understanding of regions, going beyond contemporary policy issues; (4) inside and outside—internal construction of regions, stressing the role of local agency, as opposed to external stimuli or the naming of regions by external powers; and (5) permanence and transience—the fluidity, “porosity.” and transience of regions. See Amitav Acharya, The Making of Southeast Asia: International Relations of a Region (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, forthcoming).

2 Bernard, Mitchell and Ravenhill, John, “Beyond Product Cycles and Flying Geese: Regionalization, Hierarchy, and the Industrialization of East Asia,” World Politics 47, no. 2 (January 1995): 171209.

3 Steadman, John M., The Myth of Asia (London: Macmillan, 1969), 3233.

4 Duus, Peter, “The Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere: Dream and Reality,” Journal of Northeast Asian History 5, no. 1 (June 2008): 146–47.

5 Silverstein, Josef, The Political Legacy of Aung San (Ithaca, N.Y.: Department of Asian Studies, Southeast Asian Program Cornell University, 1972), 101.

6 Tagore, Rabindranath, Nationalism (London: Macmillan, 1918).

7 Karl, Rebecca, “Creating Asia: China in the World at the Beginning of Twentieth Century,” American Historical Review 103, no. 4 (October 1998): 1096–97.

8 Ibid., 1106.

9 San, Aung, Burma's Challenge (South Okklapa, Myanmar: U Aung Gyi, 1974), 193.

10 Keenleyside, T. A., “Nationalist Indian Attitude towards Asia: A Troublesome Legacy,” Pacific Affairs 55, no. 2 (Summer 1982): 216.

11 Acharya, Amitav, The Quest for Identity: International Relations of Southeast Asia (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 2000).

12 Goscha, Christopher E., Thailand and the Southeast Asian Networks of the Vietnamese Revolution, 1885–1954 (Surrey: Curzon Press, 1999), 244.

13 San, Aung, Bogyoke Aung San Maint-Khun-Myar (1945–1947): General Aung San's Speeches (Rangoon: Sarpay Bait Man Press, 1971), 86.

14 Goscha, Thailand and Southeast Asian Networks of the Vietnamese Revolution, 244.

15 Steadman, The Myth of Asia, 33.

16 Henderson, “The Development of Regionalism in Southeast Asia.”

17 Keenleyside, “Nationalist Indian Attitude towards Asia.”

18 Silverstein, The Political Legacy of Aung San, 101

19 Abdulghani, Roselan, The Bandung Spirit (Jakarta: Prapantja, 1964), 72, 103.

20 Nehru, Jawaharlal, “Inaugural Address,” in Asian Relations: Report of the Proceedings and Documentation of the First Asian Relations Conference, New Delhi, March–April, 1947 (New Delhi: Asian Relations Organization, 1948), 23.

21 Keenleyside, “Nationalist Indian Attitude towards Asia,” 216–17.

22 Vandenbosch, Amry and Butwell, Richard, The Changing Face of Southeast Asia (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1966), 341.

23 Ho Chi Minh, , Ho Chi Minh Talks about History, trans. Nguyen, Houng (Hanoi: Nhà Xuất Bản Đại Học Sư Phạm, 1995).

24 Goscha, Thailand and Southeast Asian Networks of the Vietnamese Revolution, 255.

25 Association of Southeast Asia, Report of the Special Session of Foreign Ministers of ASA (Kuala Lumpur/Cameron Highlands: Federation of Malaya, 1962), 33.

26 Sen, Amartya, “Human Rights and Asian Values: What Kee Kuan Yew and Le Peng Don't Understand about Asia,” The New Republic 217, nos. 2–3 (1997); and The Economist, May 18, 1994, 13–14.

27 Higgott, Richard and Stubbs, Richard, “Competing Conceptions of Economic Regionalism: APEC versus EAEC in the Asia Pacific,” Review of International Political Economy 2, no. 3 (Summer 1995): 516–35.

28 Haruhiko Kuroda, “Towards a Borderless Asia: A Perspective on Asian Economic Integration,” speech at the Emerging Markets Forum, December 10, 2005,

29 East Asia Vision Group Report, “Towards and East Asian Community: Region of Peace, Prosperity and Progress,” 2001, 2, 6, 24,

30 Acharya, Amitav, “The Idea of Asia,” Asia Policy 9 (January 2010): 3239.

31 Karl, “Creating Asia,” 1118.

Amitav Acharya () is Professor of International Relations in the School of International Service at American University.

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