Ideas, identity, and institution‐building: From the ‘ASEAN way’ to the ‘Asia‐Pacific way'?

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This article examines the extent to which the development of multilateral institutions in the Asia‐Pacific region may be viewed as an exercise in identity‐building. It argues that institution‐building in this region is more of a ‘process‐orientated’ phenomenon, rather than simply being an outcome of structural changes in the international system (such as the decline of American hegemony). The process combines universal principles of multilateralism with some of the relatively distinct modes of socialization prevailing in the region. Crucial to the process have been the adaptation of four ideas: ‘cooperative security’, ‘open regionalism’, ‘soft regionalism’, and ‘flexible consensus’. The construction of a regional identity, which may be termed the ‘Asia‐Pacific Way’ has also been facilitated by the avoidance of institutional grand designs and the adoption of a consensual and cautious approach extrapolated from the ‘ASEAN Way’. The final section of the article examines the limitations and dangers of the Asia‐Pacific Way. It concludes with the assertion that while the Asia‐Pacific Way is an over‐generalised, instrumental, and pragmatic approach to regional cooperation, and there remain significant barriers to the development of a collective regional identity that is constitutive of the interests of the actors, it has helped introduce the concept and practice of multilateralism into a previously sceptical region and might have ‘bought’ enough time and space for regional actors to adapt to the demands of multilateralism.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)319-346
Number of pages28
JournalPacific Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Jan 1997


  • ASEAN Regional Forum
  • Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation
  • Consensus
  • Cooperative security
  • Institution‐building
  • Multilateralism
  • Open regionalism
  • Soft regionalism


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