Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Structures and institutions of East Asian regionalism, 1980s-2010s

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posted on 2022-04-05, 21:00 authored by Ge Lai

This study investigates the structural causes of a problem in East Asian regionalism. From the 1980s to the 2010s, multiple states were involved in various intergovernmental initiatives and projects to develop a set of institutional arrangements for organizing transborder production and distribution in East Asia. There is a growing sense of a problem in East Asian regionalism in the lack of a single, region-wide institutional arrangement for East Asia as a stand-alone economic community, the rise of multiple, contending initiatives and projects for such institutional arrangement, and, finally, the emergence of two separate, competing sets of arrangements being agreed upon.

Liberal institutional theory and market force theory have been put forward to explain this problem in East Asian regionalism. Liberal institutional theory suggests that East Asian states had little experience in international institutional building and lacked a shared regional identity. Market force theory, on the other hand, argues that the failure is found not in institutions, but in the workings of market forces in the range of trans-regional trade, investment, manufacturing, and marketing. These explanations, while noting the role of international institutions and market forces, miss out a set of very important forces in the shaping of states’ behavior in international institutional building. This study seeks to identify the structural dynamics behind the complexity and high tension in the institutional preferences of individual East Asian nations for regional economic organization. This study constructs the international economic structures—global, regional, and sectoral—for visual analysis and indicator comparison, and identifies the structural forces and their logical relation with states' behavior in East Asian regionalism. The study investigates the relationship in three cases: the global economic structure and the material basis for East Asia as a stand-alone economic community; regional economic structures and states' desires and interests for multiple initiatives and projects for institutional arrangement in the region; sectoral economic structures of CP/TPP, RCEP and institutional choices of the states in East Asian regionalism.

This study uses Global Value Chains analysis and the Inter-Country Input-Output Table data to construct these international economic structures. Investigation and analysis use (1) complex networks method and regional concentration rates to determine the link in the first case; (2) the levels of global and regional connectivity to determine the link in the second case; and (3) self-sufficiency rates and agriculture-manufacturing-services ratios to determine the link in the third case.

Investigation and analysis have found that East Asia was not as regionally concentrated as was Western Europe or North America, and lacked a regionally oriented productional basis to support the institutional arrangement of East Asia as a stand-alone economic community. Moreover, the regional production networks of each national economy in the region are influenced by a different set of value-added of different global and regional origins. This divergence in their positions accounts for the mushrooming of divergent initiatives and projects for regional institutional arrangement. Finally, the institutional choices of the states to join CP/TPP and/or RCEP are found to be strongly influenced by the sectoral focuses and priorities of their economies.

My research establishes to a great extent the logical relationship between the structural forces and states’ institutional behavior in East Asian regionalism. It identifies the cause of the problem in East Asian regionalism as being due to the workings of these structural forces, and to the powerful function of international economic structures.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline

International Relations

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of History, Philosophy, Political Science and International Relations


Huang, Xiaoming