Understanding Sub-State’s Agency in Regionalism: The Case of Yunnan in Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar Initiative

Published date01 December 2023
AuthorNaina Singh
Date01 December 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
27(2) 236 –261, 2023
© 2023 Jadavpur University
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/09735984231190116
Sub-State’s Agency
in Regionalism:
The Case of Yunnan
in Bangladesh–China–
Naina Singh1
Regionalism constitutes an essential unit to understanding the nature
and evolution of multi-actor-dominated contemporary international
relations. The ‘subnational turn’ in the regional interactions recognizes
the rising role of sub-state actors such as provinces in the ‘construction’
and ‘performance’ of the ‘regionness’ to access the developmental
benefits of regional and globalized capital. This paper further enriches
this insight by focusing on the interaction of two components, that
is, the sub-regionalism and the agency of sub-state units. It focuses
on China’s Yunnan province outreach in the context of Bangladesh–
China–India–Myanmar (BCIM) regionalization to critically reflect on the
‘transitioning’ agency of sub-state actors from imagining to implementing
regionalism. Utilizing the analytical frameworks within paradiplomacy
literature, the article emphasizes that sub-governments are substantive
Corresponding author:
Naina Singh, Graduate Institute of International Politics, National Chung Hsing University,
Taichung 402, Taiwan.
E-mail: singhnaina1994@gmail.com
1Graduate Institute of International Politics, National Chung Hsing University, Taichung,
Singh 237
forces, ushering dynamic economic, political, and cultural international
interactions. But, simultaneously, their power to invent and (re)define
international standing is linked to larger scales of center and national. The
sub-national lens on BCIM magnifies the opportunities and limitations at
Yunnan’s disposal and identifies its agency as an ‘initiator’ and a ‘channel’
in the BCIM practice.
Yunnan, BCIM, provincial agency, regionalism
The practice of regionalism plays an instrumental role in the ‘rescaling’
of international relations (IR). Traditionally, the process involved the
establishment of institutions; shaped and controlled by states empirically
manifested in macro-regional groupings such as European Union (EU).
With the intensification of globalization in the post-Cold War era, this
facilitator role of states has been problematized. In the mid-1980s, the
‘new regionalism’ discourse questioned this very ‘taken-for-granted’
link between regionalism and state territoriality. It brought to light the
necessity to denaturalize the political, territorial, and national state of IR
and analyze the region as a multifaceted and dynamic process (Agnew
1994: 53–80; Larner and Walters 2002: 391–432). The persisting
diversity of regionalism in terms of its forms (macro- and micro-),
drivers (structural, regional, and domestic), goals (economic, political,
and social), agents (state and non-state actors), and nature (formal and
informal) was prioritized (Hettne 2003: 22–42; Hurrell 1995: 331–358;
Mittelmen 1996: 189–213). As a space, the region became more than
just a given ‘unit of analysis between that of discreteness of the nation-
state and an undifferentiated international system’ (Cantori and Spiegel
1973: 467). EU border regions, East Asia’s cross-border production
zones, and the growth triangles of Southeast Asia are reflective of the
interconnected hierarchies of levels and actors involved in the production
of a region (Scott 2002:179–198).
Under the opportunity structure of economic globalization, such sub-
regional arrangements are placed in the ‘relativization of scale’ discourse.
The state is hypothesized to reorganize its capacities at the national level
towards both ‘upward’, that is, supranational, and ‘downward’, that is,
sub-state level to utilize the competitiveness of different economic and
political spaces (Su 2012: 1327–1347; Jessop 2002: 25–49; Perkmann
and Sum 2002: 3–24). Bangladesh–China–India–Myanmar (BCIM)

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