Building Growth Areas in Asia for Development and Peace

Date01 June 2022
Published date01 June 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
26(1) 7 –42, 2022
© 2022 Jadavpur University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/09735984221081559
Building Growth
Areas in Asia for
Development and
Michael Haas1
A new type of international cooperation has arisen in Asia—economic
cooperation between provinces of adjacent countries. While the principal
motivation is joint economic development, the peace dividend involves
cooperation among the people across borders to establish and strength
ties of friendship. Although much funding comes from private investment,
the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has been instrumental in identifying
many of the most feasible projects. This article identifies one proposed
growth triangle, a few that are dormant, and some currently are in
operation, providing their historical origins, organizational components,
funding, and success in conducting operational projects or promoting
peaceful relations among members. To determine which projects have
been more successful, variables are identified from the viable projects,
testing whether criteria from the rational choice paradigm give a better
explanation of success than the community-building paradigm. Results
indicate that the two paradigms explain quite different aspects of
success. Consistent with the rational choice paradigm, success is more
likely when ‘growth area’ organizations have more funding and support
from the ADB. As predicted by the community building paradigm,
successful ‘growth area’ organizations have support from the leaders of
their respective countries and are composed of countries with rough
equality in national income. One variable—whether countries involved
are democracies—has little impact on either economic development or
peace dividend success.
1 University of Hawai’i, Honolulu, HI, USA
Corresponding author:
Michael Haas, Retired, University of Hawai’i, Honolulu, HI, USA.
8 Jadavpur Journal of International Relations 26(1)
Asia, economic development, peace, democracy, Asian Development
International aid from wealthy to developing and poor countries has
many critics and defenders. A major complaint is that the aid often lines
the pockets of contractors in rich countries and corrupt leaders of
recipient countries without necessarily going to those in need. Jumping
through those hoops of possible corruption is a new idea—aid directly to
the people in rural areas who live on both sides of an international
frontier, encouraging a sense of camaraderie across borders at the local
level. The innovation has been loosely called ‘growth areas’ and ‘growth
triangles,’ an ongoing experiment involving about a dozen efforts among
countries in Asia today.
The basic concept of ‘growth triangle’ is an arrangement for
development assistance with a minimum of three countries involving
one or more agreements that propose or fund projects which benefit the
peoples along the borders of the countries involved. Although some
‘growth triangles’ link less developed provinces of China with
corresponding areas within adjacent countries, Beijing’s proposed Belt
and Road Initiative is excluded from the concept because China, a
developed country, will derive more collective benefit than any of the
countries on the Belt linked to the Road.
This article has two major objectives. First of all, case studies of
‘growth areas’ are identified in some detail. Second, the cases are evaluated
to determine whether they are successful in either of two respects—
advancing economic development or promoting peaceful cooperation
across boundaries. The first objective is achieved by assembling
documentary evidence, often from the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
The second objective requires a quantitative analysis using data derived
from propositions within the two most relevant social science paradigms—
the rational choice paradigm and the community building paradigm.
To begin the discussion, the concept of ‘growth triangle’ or ‘growth
area’ is placed into historical context of evolving purposes for international
aid. The two major paradigms are then identified, and distinctive measures
are derived from both theoretical formulations that are hypothesized to
predict success. The case studies are described next. The measures are
operationalized primarily on the basis of three-point scales for each case
study and then correlated, using Spearman’s rank-order formula.
Haas 9
No multivariate analysis is applied, since the data are basically derived
from qualitative estimates. The ultimate aim is to determine which
elements within ‘growth triangles’ are most crucial in determining
success—that is, tangible economic development or increased cooperation
and conflict reduction among the countries involved.
Evolving Purposes for International Aid
Economic assistance from intergovernmental organizations and rich
countries has fulfilled many purposes over the years (Lancaster 2007:
ch. 2; Tarp 2000). Although the history of economic aid precedes the
twentieth century, the first legal statute dealing expressly with official
aid was passed by the UK Parliament in 1929. Highlighted by the
Marshall Plan during the early Cold War, Western countries sought to
keep countries from joining the Sino-Soviet bloc, often by providing
development aid that would bring or keep them within the capitalist bloc.
Later, aid for human rights purposes emerged because of objections that
foreign aid had previously served the ambitions of undemocratic leaders
to stay in power. As the world economy globalized after the end of the
Cold War, relief of endemic poverty and starvation began as a new goal.
Most recently, environmental aid has emerged as the world has awakened
to the possibility that the planet might become barren in due course.
Aside from military aid to provide defense against potential aggression,
peace has rarely been a stated goal or side payment of international
economic aid—until now, with the development of growth triangles.
Foreign aid can come from individual countries or intergovernmental
organizations. One purpose of the League of Nations and later the United
Nations (UN) was to bring together countries with bilateral tensions into
a forum along with third countries that might serve to mediate. The UN,
in addition, has provided economic assistance to member countries as
well as to those with health problems and refugees.
In contrast with global bodies, regional and subregional
intergovernmental organizations might appear to bring about mutual trust
between adjacent countries so long as they have a payoff of enabling
cooperation in matters economic and social. After World War II, the
formation of regional intergovernmental organizations (RIGOs) in Europe,
which grew into the European Union and related bodies, brought together
contiguous groups of countries for cooperative purposes, initially to avoid
repeated wars along with economic reconstruction. The Association of
Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was founded to extricate the region
from ongoing proxy wars during the Cold War (Haas 1989). As economic

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