Book Review: Chong, Alan (Ed.). 2018. International Security in the Asia-Pacific: Transcending ASEAN towards Transitional Polycentrism

Date01 August 2018
Published date01 August 2018
Subject MatterBook Reviews
Book Reviews 221
related to Australian foreign policy, but also a ‘go to’ source for scholars seeking
to keep themselves abreast of the latest events and perspectives.
Thomas S. Wilkins
Department of Government and International Relations
University of Sydney, Australia
Chong, Alan (Ed.). 2018. International Security in the Asia-Pacific: Trans-
cending ASEAN towards Transitional Polycentrism. Cham, Switzerland:
Palgrave Macmillan. 429 pp. ISBN: 978-3-319-60761-0
DOI: 10.1177/2347797018783127
The end of the Cold War ushered in new thinking about security and a new way to
manage security issues in the Asia-Pacific region. The concept of security was
broadened to include not just traditional issues such as war and peace but also
non-traditional ones such as trafficking, disasters and climate change. At the same
time, terrorist attacks and territorial disputes replaced hegemonic and ideological
conflicts as the hottest issues in the region’s security agenda. In response to these
new threats, many militaries in the region shifted their focus from arms racing to
defence diplomacy. A new regional architecture emerged with multilateralism
awarded a more prominent place than ever before. More intriguingly, it is not any
great power but a group of small powers, the Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN), that is often regarded, praised and reassured as the centre of
the evolving regional architecture.
Against this background, International Security in the Asia-Pacific: Transcending
ASEAN towards Transitional Polycentrism adopts an unusual but interesting
approach to examining international security in the Asia-Pacific region. Readers
who want to get the big picture and the major dynamics of regional security may
be disappointed at first, but a closer look at the volume will suggest that the features
and dynamics discussed in the book are some of the most important in the regional
security landscape. Revolving around the notion of ASEAN’s centrality in the
Asia-Pacific security architecture, the book critically examines this notion and
argues that the key characteristic of international security in the Asia-Pacific
today is a transition towards a polycentric order where the transition may persist
for an indefinite long term. According to the volume’s editor, Alan Chong,
this indefinite transition is possible ‘because of the persistence of neo-realist
competition among great powers, alongside the diplomatic “middle ground”
appeal of the spaces afforded both great powers and weak states alike by ASEAN
centrality’ (p. 20). In this transitional polycentrism, ASEAN may not lose all
clout, but it is ‘collectively marginalized’ (p. 10). Also pertaining to this transi-
tional polycentrism is an interesting dynamic of great power competition spotted
by Collin Koh in his chapter on Sino-Japanese rivalry in the East China Sea.

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