China and Asian Regionalism: Pragmatism Hinders Leadership
Date of Issue2009
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
China has made notable progress in consolidating its international foothold in Asia in the past decade. China’s success in its diplomacy in the region, to a large extent, originated from its active participation in various multilateral processes and mechanisms since the late 1990s. Many observers are increasingly worried that China’s role in Asian regionalism is weakening U.S. influence in the region. Is this concern based on the reality of China’s international relations in Asia? Does China have a coherent approach to Asian regionalism? And, ultimately, is China emerging as the primary leader in regional multilateralism? This paper attempts to answer these questions by utilizing various Chinese sources and interviews. I examine the track record of China’s participation in regional multilateral processes and compare the differences in its role in three sub-regions: Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia, and Central Asia. I conclude that China has not yet developed a grand vision for regional multilateralism and regional integration. China’s behavior in Asian regionalism has largely been driven by pragmatism – a pursuit for short-term national interests in accordance with changes in regional political and economic circumstances. This pragmatism is revealed in China’s super-activism in economic multilateralism, enthusiasm in non-traditional security cooperation, and differentiated approaches to conflict prevention in East Asia and Central Asia. China’s pragmatic approach is likely to be a barrier for the further growth of its influence and quest for a regional leadership position.
DRNTU::Social sciences::Political science
RSIS Working Papers, 179-09
Nanyang Technological University