State, Business and Labor in East Asian Regionalism: A Region with Two Stories

Dec 6, 2016 | 12:00 PM - 1:30 PM

Shu Min (Associate Professor of International Political Economy, Waseda University; HYI Visiting Scholar)
Chair/discussant: William Grimes (Professor of International Relations and Political Science, Boston University)

Co-sponsored with the Asia Center

The Korean President Kim Dae-Jung and the Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad could not be more different. Kim Dae-Jung was a democratic activist-turned-president; Mahathir was an authoritarian leader advocating Malay nationalism. Under their leadership, Korea accepted the IMF proposals and conducted sweeping neoliberal reforms, whereas Malaysia rejected the IMF loans and adopted capital controls. Despite these differences, the two countries’ leaders enthusiastically embraced East Asian regionalism after the Asian financial crisis (AFC). Mahathir initiated the first meeting of the influential ‘ASEAN plus Three’ framework; Kim Dae-Jung launched the ‘East Asian Vision Group’ to chart a roadmap towards the East Asian Community. What motivated Korea and Malaysia, along with other East Asian countries, to pursue the common goal of regional economic cooperation? Different from the emphasis on identity shift in the existing literature, this talk examines the domestic base of East Asian regionalism in six countries (i.e., China, Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia). Focusing on the changing political foundation of the Asian developmental state before and after the AFC, it argues that economic regionalization weakened the traditional developmental state well before the AFC, and post-AFC economic regionalism was a conscious attempt of the state actors to reclaim authority over the domestic economy. In this process, labor played a key role in allowing the state to strike back against business in Northeast Asia, and in allying with business to capture the state in Southeast Asia. These two divergent domestic processes left a decisive mark on the evolution of post-AFC East Asian regionalism.