Contested Multilateralism 2.0 and Regional Order Transformation in the Asia Pacific

Prof. Kai He
Panel Code

The dawn of the 21st century witnessed the emergence of “contested multilateralism 2.0” in the Asia Pacific. Differing from the “multilateralism 1.0” of the 1990s, which was mainly led by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), this wave of multilateralism has been initiated by non-ASEAN states. For example, in 2009, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd proposed the idea of the Asia Pacific Community (APC) on the basis of the East Asia Summit. Similarly, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama advocated the building of an East Asian community (EAC). In 2013, Korean President Park Geun-hye proposed the Northeast Asia Peace and Cooperation Initiatives (NAPCI) to strengthen regional security cooperation. Chinese President Xi Jinping also suggested the building of a “community of common destiny” (CCD) in Asia in 2013, along with massive Chinese investments and financial initiatives, such as the “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR) initiative. In December 2015, the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) was successfully established with 57 Prospective Founding members despite US opposition.

As part of its “pivot” or “rebalancing” strategy toward Asia, the United States under the Obama administration also actively engaged this wave of “multilateralism 2.0” through formally joining the East Asia Summit (EAS) in 2011. In addition, Obama proactively promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a multilateral trading bloc excluding China after the GFC. The twelve TPP countries finally reached an agreement in October 2015. Although the rise of Trump’s presidency in 2017 has seemingly killed the TPP in its infancy, whether the United States will launch other types of multilateral institutions against China’s “charm offensive” of multilateralism is still uncertain. In the Trump era the role of multilateralism in regional architecture will be at stake.

The major purpose of this panel is to make sense of this new wave of “multilateralism 2.0” and its implications for the transformation of regional order. A debate over the logic and desirability of multilateralism 2.0 will enrich our understanding of its utilities and limitations and shed some light for the policy community on the future regional order transformation in the Asia Pacific.