What explains ASEAN's leadership in east Asian community building?

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Conventional wisdom holds that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has been able to lead community building in East Asia by default, against the background of Sino-Japanese rivalries. The present study maintains that this line of argument is insufficient, and offers a complementary account, centred on the statement that ASEAN has actively constructed a social environment which defines itself as the legitimate leader of East Asian community building. More specifically, the leadership of ASEAN can be explained in terms of three parallel developments since the early 1990s that are associated with the Asia-Pacific framework of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF): the Southeast Asian association has been able to lead community building in East Asia because (1) it has advanced the vision of an "East Asian community" by drawing on its cooperative security norm embodied in the ARF; (2) through their participation in the ARF process, the Northeast Asian powers have come to recognize the value of ASEAN's cooperative security norm, and thus to share with the Southeast Asian nations their vision of an East Asian community; and (3) the sharing of a community-building vision by all the East Asian countries has constituted a structure that makes it costly for the Northeast Asian powers to challenge the Southeast Asian association.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-264
Number of pages18
JournalPacific Affairs
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Jun


  • ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)
  • East Asian community
  • Leadership
  • Norms


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