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Transforming East Asia

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Transforming East Asia

The Evolution of Regional Economic Integration

Brookings Institution Press,

15 min read
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East Asian countries are at a crucial point in their development. Where are they heading?

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In 2006, East Asia was at a turning point. Sudden economic growth and increased stability in the region were shifting Asia’s geopolitical environment. Naoko Munakata, a director in Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, offers this analysis as a close observer of the transition. She is particularly critical (though diplomatically so) of American missteps, such as failure to participate in stabilization efforts during the 1997–1998 Asian financial crisis. Munakata recounts past events with an eye toward a future in which the United States, Japan and China accept and adapt to the new realities of East Asia. This detailed analysis of East Asia regional emergence is not a light read, but it deserves the attention of anyone whose responsibilities include Asian affairs. 


Regionalism in East Asia will unite formerly economically independent countries in “an open and integrated market.”

East Asia is home to roughly one-third of the globe’s population and accounts for one-fifth of the gross world product (GWP). In the 1980s, links among countries in the region strengthened and market ideology began to spread “even in socialist countries.” Economic development became a priority and US security forces minimized intraregional conflict.

Increased peace, security and prosperity in East Asia led to the gradual introduction of regionalism, that is, “regional economic integration through intergovernmental institutions.” Until 1998, free trade agreements (FTAs) were unpopular in the region because countries preferred the most-favored-nation approach to global trade liberalization. However, by 2000, FTAs were common. China’s ascendance injected fresh impetus into regional institutions, such as Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations), which has 10 member countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Asean often works in conjunction with three other countries – ...

About the Author

Naoko Munakata is a director in the manufacturing industries bureau of Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

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