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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: October 2015

5 - The Nature of East Asian Integration and Australia's Engagement



This chapter focuses on states’ involvement in the institutional integration processes in East Asia. “Institutional integration” here means formal agreements between states, such as free trade agreements (FTAs), as well as their participation in regional cooperation frameworks, such as ASEAN and ASEAN+3 (ten ASEAN members and Japan, China, and South Korea).

The outbreak of the Asian financial crisis in 1997 gave direct momentum to the creation of the concept of “East Asia” as a region and political and economic integration in the region. Since then, the integration processes in East Asia have developed in various aspects and forms: from separate bilateral currency swap agreements to the Chiang Mai Initiative, from bilateral FTAs to ASEAN+1 FTAs, and from ASEAN cooperation to ASEAN+3 and ASEAN+6 (ASEAN+3 plus Australia, New Zealand, and India) initiatives, among others. During these processes several characteristics of East Asian integration processes have emerged. The main aim of this chapter is to identify these characteristics and try to explain the factors behind such characteristics.

First, this chapter points out that integration processes in East Asia are generally sector- and function-based, and bilateral, subregional, and multilateral frameworks coexist in the same sectors. It also shows that “extra-regional” states are participating in many of these bilateral and multilateral frameworks. Then, the chapter considers the factors behind these characteristics. It assumes that individual East Asian states are seeking practical and concrete benefits from the processes and they are not tying themselves to any particular method, or geographical area, to achieve the benefits.

Second, it argues that East Asian engagement policies of Australia — whose place in “East Asia” remains ambiguous — illustrate the characteristics of East Asian integration in the last twenty years. Australia changed its foreign policy approach significantly at the turn of the century. The chapter explains the change in some detail, and argues that the nature of East Asian integration can be explained in sharp relief by examining the differences in intentions and results of Australia's Asian engagement policies in the 1990s and 2000s.