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The Making of the Asia Pacific

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The recent landmark book, written by See Seng Tan (2013) on Asia-Pacific regionalism, has not only documented the upsurge in regional security narratives particularly since the post-Cold War period in 1990s, but also compellingly shows how knowledge networking nodes were formed across the region during the same period that have made significant strategic interventions in the field of strategic studies.

See Seng Tan is an authoritative voice in the area of Asia Pacific regionalism and Asian security studies. He has written and edited several seminal works such as "The Role of Knowledge Communities in Constructing Asia-Pacific Security: How Thought and Talk Make War and Peace", 2007, "After Bali: The Threat of Terrorism in Southeast Asia", 2003, "Asia-Pacific Security Cooperation: National Interests and Regional Order", 2004, "Bandung Revisited: The Legacy of the 1955 Asian-African Conference for International Order", 2008, "Regionalism in Asia: Critical Issues in Modern Politics", ed., 4 volumes, 2009.

This book is an extension of his earlier scholarly contributions narrating the formation of strategic think tanks and their knowledge networks across the region. In this book, his primary focus is on the formation of knowledge networks in the sub-regions of the Asia Pacific such as East Asian and Southeast Asia, particularly in the ASEAN countries.

This book is logically divided into eight chapters depicting differentiated representations of Asia-Pacific, (1) Introduction: From ‘Pacific Asia' to ‘Asia Pacific'; (2) The Desire for Essence; (3) Knowledge Networks as Agents of Representations; (4) Representing the Asia Pacific; (5) Representing the Sovereign States; (6) Representing the ‘In/Human' Faces of Asia Pacific Security; (7) Representing the ‘Authority' of Knowledge Networks; and (8) Conclusion: A Plea in Three Parts.

In introduction chapter, the author deals with naming of the region, Pacific Asia to Asia Pacific. He provided an example of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), where member countries were commonly drawn from a coastline on the Pacific Ocean. Most of the countries of Asia Pacific are much interested in regional cooperation, based on premises of economic integration, free trade, economic and technical cooperation. The author also distinguishes between ‘Pacific Asia' and ‘Asia Pacific' in this chapter. East Asia in post-Cold War era is known as Pacific Asia. However, ‘Asia Pacific' becomes the much appropriate term to give an "impression of a considerably wider regional security domain than the physical limits of East/ Pacific Asia might have allowed".

In chapter two, the author reviews pieces of literature depicting sub-regional constructs such as ‘East Asia' or ‘Southeast Asia', which belong to generic Asia Pacific region. The author here narrates constructivist and realist approaches to Asia-Pacific security, sovereignty, and subjectivity. The author quotes several scholars depicting reality in carrying out the identity of sovereign states amidst international anarchy in the region. For example, the author quotes Acharya (2001): "The notion of Southeast Asia as a homogeneous cultural or geographic entity can indeed be overstated. But its social and political identity, derived from the conscious promotion of the regional concept by states, societies and peoples, is what makes it a distinct idea in the latter part of the 20th century."

In chapter three, the author introduces region's security studies communities, knowledge communities and particularly regional networks of think-tanks and policy institutions. While analysing Asia Pacific regional knowledge networks and their representational practices, the author made following four broad observations: (i) Representational practices are ambiguous and indeterminate, (ii) Representational practices discipline and marginalise competing interpretations, (iii) Analysis of representational practices involves casualty without sacrificing history, and (iv) Representational practices are not reducible to ‘nothing but the text' or ‘ideas all the way down' logics.

In this book, Tan notes formation of following fascinating Asia Pacific knowledge networks which have contributed towards development of knowledge sharing platforms involving regional think tanks and schools of international studies: (i) ASEAN Institutes of Strategic and Institutional Studies (ASEAN-ISIS), (ii) ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), (iii) Council for Security Cooperation in Asia Pacific (CSCAP), , (iv) Consortium of Non-Traditional Security Studies in Asia (NTS-Asia), (v) Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), (v) Network of East Asian Think Tanks (NEAT), etc. Many of these knowledge networks are concerned about post-Cold War uncertainties, opportunities and sovereignty of states. Tan also pointed out several shift in regional focus to South Asian sub-region within the domain of the Asian strategic and security studies due to earth-shaking incidences of terror attacks such as 9/11 in the United States in year 2001 and 26/11 in India in 2008, where South Asian sub-regional imbalances are well reflected. Bleeding nations in the South Asian sub-region, particularly Afghanistan and Pakistan, of late have received much importance amongst scholars of Asian security studies (Sarkar, 2014). Tan also briefly spoke about the rise of Al-Qaeda and Taliban in the South and West Asian sub-regions that rattled Asia Pacific security considerations.

This study has made a significant contribution to regional security studies while critically analyzing the transition from Cold War to post-Cold War period. This book also has made an in-depth analysis of multilateral engagement with a peculiar world of Asia Pacific regionalism during the junction of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

 

References:

Acharya, A. (2001), Constructing a Security Community in Southeast Asia: ASEAN and the Problem of Regional Order. London: Routledge.

Sarkar, S. (ed.) (2014), 21st Century South Asia. New Delhi: Manas Publications.

 

About Reviewer: Dr. Anup Kumar Das is an information and communications specialist and co-author of book “Collaboration in International and Comparative Librarianship”, published in 2014.  He is attached with the Centre for Studies in Science Policy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India.

 

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