The rise of East Asia

An emerging challenge to the study of international political economy

Authored by: Henry Wai-Chung Yeung

Routledge Handbook of International Political Economy (IPE)

Print publication date:  February  2009
Online publication date:  June  2009

Print ISBN: 9780415771269
eBook ISBN: 9780203881569
Adobe ISBN: 9781135984014


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From the meteoric rise of Japan in the 1970s and the 1980s to the rapid industrialization of the four East Asian “tiger” economies and the recent ascendance of emerging giants such as China, the rise of East Asian economies poses a challenging analytical problem for the field of international political economy (IPE), understood as both a field of academic enquiry and a substantive issue area (see Gilpin 2001; Higgott 2007; Ravenhill 2008a).1 Does this general rise of East Asia necessarily follow the pathways of North America and Western Europe? Or is the phenomenon made possible because of an era of hegemonic (in)stability as originally envisaged in Keohane (1984)? If so, the rise of East Asia can simply be read off and explained by existing IPE theories. The reality of East Asian IPE as a substantive issue, however, seems to be much more complicated than allowed for in mainstream IPE theories that emanate from the US-centric view of the international political economy (see Cohen 2007, 2008b; cf. Higgott and Watson 2008; Ravenhill 2008b). In his review of the subject matter, Higgott (2007: 170) noted that “IPE, in large part because of its twentieth-century location within IR scholarship, has tended to focus on the developed, the rich and powerful of the North at the expense of the developing and the poor of the South.” Yet there is a contrary tendency in the East Asian “case”; its rapid ascendance cannot be read off as a straightforward outcome of power play among hegemonic nation-states in the global arena—a traditional focus and concern in mainstream IPE theories. East Asian economies have experienced such diverse developmental trajectories that cannot be easily captured in the form of changing inter-state relations within the context of an international or global economic order. Instead, the rise of East Asian economies reflects the complex interaction between states and non-state actors embedded in different spatial scales that range from the global economy to regional divisions of labor and local specificities.

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