Professor Anthony (Tony) Milner is Basham Professor of Asian History at the Australian National University and Professorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne. He is a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. Professor Milner is also Tun Hussein Onn Chair in International Studies at the Institute for Strategic and International Studies, Malaysia.
In Asia, regionalism is characterized by plurality and contest. The building of regional institutions in Asia not only responds to the need for practical co-operation in commercial, security and other matters, but also becomes shaped by national rivalries and historical and cultural forces. Sharp tension between China and Japan perhaps emerges as the most dangerous dynamic. Asia, following its recent economic triumphs, is in a phase of far-reaching transition: its seemingly disorganized regional architecture reflects a deeper strategic turmoil, and one encompassing issues of identity. The term ‘regionalism’ conveys conceptions of intentional, top-down region-building. The process of ‘regionalization’, alternatively, refers to the empirical fact of an increasing density of interaction and co-operation between neighbouring countries. Regionalization may or may not represent a basis for encouraging regionalism.
Economic, educational and security interaction between Australia and numerous Asian countries has increased, and yet Australia has been excluded from selected vital East Asian regionalist initiatives. For much of the 20th century, Pacific or Asia-Pacific regionalism—in which the USA’s presence and power tend to be prominent—was influential. But it has always had to compete with a more narrowly Asian (sometimes just East Asian or South-East Asian) regionalism. In the 1990s the narrower regionalism gained momentum, despite the challenge of competing national interests and the difficulty of formulating a
satisfactory concept of ‘Asia’..