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Home > Opinions Last Updated: 15:03 03/09/2007
October 27, 2003

Does Identity Matter in Facilitating or Hindering Regional Cooperation in East Asia?

Takashi INOGUCHI (Professor, University of Tokyo)

Paper presented at the Wilton Park Conference, Gotenba, Shizuoka, September 28-October 1, 2003

The two previous speakers in this session discussed economic cooperation and regional integration from the angle of economics. I try to supplement them from the angle of identity. By identity I mean something with which one's heart is at east and something for which one is ready to sacrifice a lot. In determining one country's foreign policy direction, identity often matters. Some recent book titles, Who Are We? (Huntington, 2003) and At Home Abroad (Nau, 1997), clearly show that identity is a focus in the global discussion on foreign policy direction.

In 2000 I did an international survey in nine Asian countries as well as nine European countries (Inoguchi, 2003). In it I had two questions to be answered by respondents.

(1)Many people think of themselves as being part of a particular nationality, for example French or American or Japanese or whatever. Do you think of yourself as ------------ or as belonging to another nationality or do you not think of yourself in this way? (Circle one answer)
 1.I think myself as ------------.
 2.I think of myself as another nationality.
 3.No, I do not think of myself in this way.
(2)Some people also think of themselves as being part of a larger group that includes people from other countries, for example, as European, Asian, Chinese, Islamic etc. How about you, do you think of yourself in this way? (Circle one answer)
 5.Other supranational identity (SPECIFY:
 6.No, I do not think of myself in this way.

Among three East Asians, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese, Japanese are a kind of posties in the following sense. Only two thirds of them chose Japanese to the first question. One third chose the response, I don't care, I have never thought about it. Furthermore, ten percent of them chose post-modern kinds of identity like my family, my company, my senior club, etc. To the second question, Japanese chose Asians by 26 percent. The rest answered I don't know. Clearly, the Japanese national identity is not overwhelmingly strong. Furthermore, the Japanese regional identity is weak at best.

In a good contrast, Koreans showed a vehemently nationalistic response. Eighty eight percent of them chose Korean. To the second question Koreans chose Asian by eighty eight percent. They are so clearly a vehement nationalist and regionalist at the same time.

Again in a good contrast to Japanese and to Koreans, Chinese are nationalist by some eighty percent. But unlike Koreans they are not Asianist. To the second question they chose Chinese by thirty percent and Asian by thirty percent. The Chinese cognitive map seems to be shaped by the single dimension: Chinese versus the rest. Asia does not sit well with Chinese.

I give a little historical backgrounds to the above. Traditionally Japanese Asian identity has been weak. Japan is very much like Britain vis--vis their respective Continent. Keeping arm's length is the best phrase to characterize their relationship with the Continent. To them, the Continent is a potentially troublesome place; but from some distance you must keep engaged with them; you must discourage them from attempting awful things etc. In a good contrast to them, Japanese are a maritime and globally trading nation. It is linked strongly with all free traders. Many Japanese felt relieved by finding Huntington (1993) identified Japanese civilization quite distinguished from Chinese civilization. Yet Japanese cannot help but influenced by developments on the Continent.

Sandwiched by two giants, Chinese and Japanese, Koreans seek to enhance their regional ties and framework. That is why Korea has been vigorous and ingenious in forging or consolidating such international organizations as WTO, ASEAN PLUS THREE, and ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting). Also Koreans like to imagine a greater Korea like President Roh Moo Hyon's slogan, Tonga jongsim kukka, translated as Korea is at the heart of East Asia or even Korea is the hub of East Asia. Their popular wild imagination sometimes leads them to envisage a Korean-led greater East Asian confederation: Deng Xiaoping's one country, two systems framework should be further stretched to one country, 25 systems, like Siquan, Zhejiang, Shandong for China; Japan should be encouraged to create five region-states, like Kansai, Kanto, Kyushu, Hokkaido, Shikoku, following Kenichi Ohmae (1995). In a good contrast, Korea is bound to reunify itself, though in a nebulous future. The confederal capital should be located naturally at Seoul.

Chinese are strong cultural nationalist and tend to be fuzzy about their place in Asia except that the rest of Asians are some mix of semi-Chinese, quasi-Chinese and non-Chinese. With a good number of cultural Chinese capitalists dominating most of Southeast Asian economies, the China-ASEAN free trade agreement merely validates their cultural theory of trade. A group of Chinese graduate students seeking a social science Ph.D. in universities in Japan has a journal named Dongying Qiusuo, meaning Seeking Investigations on Bubbles Floating on the Eastern Sea. That is an archaic name of Japan in China. Are they trying to compensate their complex feeling about studying in Japan when Japan should be merely bubbles on the sea?

How can one envisage East Asian economic integration moving forward when regional identity is at such a disparate mix? My quick answer to the question posed at the outset is: It does matter. But do not worry too much about such a disparate state of affairs hindering regional integration. Identity is merely one of the factors influencing economic cooperation and regional integration. Three major factors facilitating East Asian economic cooperation and regional integration are as follows: they are vitamin T, vitamin M and vitamin A. Vitamin T, trust, has been on the steady rise among the three, however from a much lower level than French, Germans and Britons were among themselves at Maastricht. Vitamin M, money, has been coming back to Asia from the nadir of the Asian financial crisis of 1997-1998. Most importantly, Japan is back. The exceedingly slow Japanese decision is lamented by Henry Kissinger(2001) who observed in his latest book that it takes normally at least 15 years for Japanese to make a decision, like from Matthew Perry's visit in 1853 to the Meiji Restoration of 1868, from the convincing defeat in World War II in 1945 to the convincing start of the announcement of the pro-alliance and economic prosperity policy line in 1960, and from the collapse of the bubble economy in 1991 to an eventual recovery that is lurking up recently in 2003. Japan has started to rise at long last. And vitamin A, America. American activism, however it is called otherwise like globalism, internationalism, multilateralism, unilateralism, militarism, Bushism, hegemonism, imperialism, will continue to help the East Asians to forge their own identity in a form not dissonant with American activism.


Huntington, Samuel (1997) The Clash of Civilizations, NY: Simon and Shuster.

----------- (2003) Who Are We?, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Inoguchi, Takashi (2003) Minshushugino knofuzen no rironteki-jisshoteki kenkyu: Questionnaire and Related Materials. , Tokyo: University of Tokyo's Institute of Oriental Culture, Report to the Ministry of Education and Science for its research grant, 11102001.

Kissinger, Henry A. (2001) Does American need Foreign Policy?, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Nau, Henry, (1997) At Home Abroad: Identity and Power in American Foreign Policy, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Ohmae, Kenichi (1995) The End of the Nation State: The Rise of Regional Economics, New York: The Free Press 1995.

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