Building Asia Pacific Regional Architecture: The Challenge of Hybrid Regionalism

Richard Weixing Hu
Richard Weixing Hu Associate Professor, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Hong Kong - CNAPS Visiting Fellow, 2007-2008, The Brookings Institution

July 14, 2009


The Asia Pacific region has undergone fundamental changes in its regional organization and power structure in the post-Cold War era. The region was long perceived as institutionally underdeveloped. Since the 1990s and especially entering the 21st century, however, a wide range of community building initiatives and projects have transformed the dynamics of regional institution-building and major power relations in the region. Currently, the region is far from short of community building projects, the proliferation of which creates challenges such as divergent and sometimes competing mandates and differing notions of membership and scope in regional community building.

The Asia Pacific region is now at a critical juncture as regards building its regional architecture for the future. Currently, the regional community and its institutional architecture are a “work in progress,” gradually taking shape. Starting from the 1960s, there were a few stumbling attempts to construct some sort of formal regional community, but all have failed. In the first decade after the Cold War, regional community building was largely driven by the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) dialogues. But as the APEC-centered trade liberalization schemes ran out of steam in the late 1990s, the gravity of regional community building began to shift to East Asia. It was the Asian Financial Crisis (AFC) of 1997-98 that prompted a new wave of efforts aimed at more tightly connecting countries in the region. Since then numerous community building initiatives and projects have been implemented, including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Plus Three (ASEAN+3) process, the Chiang Mai Initiative, and the East Asia Summit (EAS). In addition, the region has been home to a series of bilateral and multilateral Free Trade Area (FTA) and Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA). Unlike prior attempts to construct an Asia Pacific regional architecture, these projects were driven by the shared sense of purpose among East Asian countries to construct a more Asian-oriented community, with the emerging ASEAN+3 process as its anchoring framework. As the countries in East Asia have become increasingly interdependent, leaders in the region have become more determined to build a framework for greater regional cooperation and integration. As stipulated in the East Asian Vision Group report in 2001, states across the region (both Northeast and Southeast Asia) should join forces “to move a region of nations to a bona fide regional community where collective efforts are made for peace, prosperity, and progress.”[1]

These new developments in the Asia Pacific region have raised serious questions about future regional architecture. These questions bring up important issues for debate: How should the region accommodate the different region-building projects? How should Asia Pacific countries balance different notions and dynamics in the community building process? What will the Asia Pacific regional architecture look like in the future? No doubt, the implications of emerging community building projects and the challenges they pose to the Asia Pacific regional architecture are not yet entirely clear. To better understand the debate on these issues, this paper attempts to focus on the implications of multiple region-building projects and hybrid regionalism for future regional architecture in the Asia Pacific region.

The notion of regional architecture adopted in this paper refers to a set of regional institutions, mechanisms, and arrangements that together provide necessary functions for regional cooperation. It is a reasonably coherent network of regional organizations, institutions, bilateral and multilateral arrangements, dialogue forums, and other relevant mechanisms that work collectively for regional prosperity, peace, and stability.[2] Regional architecture thus is not a single region-building project, no matter how comprehensive it could be. Instead, the notion of regional architecture underlies the significance of a coherent network of regional organizations, institutional fabrics, and regional community processes in the Asia Pacific. This paper is not about any particular region-building project. Rather, it is about how hybrid regionalism and multiple community building projects in the Asia Pacific help to shape future regional architecture. The implications of hybrid regionalism are complicated for regional community building, and in many ways the future regional architecture is bound to be a multi-layered and multi-textured structure in the region.

[1] See the EAVG report, Toward an East Asian Community: region of peace, prosperity and progress, p.2. The EAVG was commissioned by the ASEAN+3 leaders in 2000 on a proposal by South Korean President Kim Dae-jung to produce a blueprint for future East Asian community building. The EAVG report, Toward an East Asian Community: region of peace, prosperity and progress, was submitted and endorsed by the ASEAN+3 summit in Brunei on 31 October 2001. The full text of the report is available online at the ASEAN Secretariat’s website,

[2] Nick Bisley, “Asian Security Architectures,” in Ashley J. Tellis and Michael Wills, eds., Strategic Asia 2007-08: Domestic Political Change and Grand Strategy, (Seattle and Washington, D.C.: National Bureau of Asian Research, 2007), pp.344-45.