Strategic Foresight

Policy briefs

Middle Powers Can Make a Difference in East Asia

07 Dec 2015 - 14:31
Source: Flickr/Don O' Brien

Most recent Western accounts about security in East Asia are about geopolitical rivalry, sovereignty-based conflicts and competing schemes for the regional institutional architecture.  In such a context soft power is easily reduced to a zero-sum commodity, a tool that can help mobilize populations to undercut the power of rivals - Japan versus South Korea, China versus Japan, and so forth. True, public diplomacy can and does serve narrowly defined national interests, but it can equally facilitate more broadly defined goals that are consistent with East Asia’s common regional interest. Our argument is neither conventional nor the political flavour of the day. 

In this East Asia Institute Issue Briefing we suggest that the ‘soft’ potential of public diplomacy deserves more attention, with a view to joint interests in regionalism and the construction of a common regional identity in East Asia. Our policy advice is based on the recently published book Understanding Public Diplomacy in East Asia and our argument pays special attention to the role that can be played by East Asia’s middle powers. Analyses about big power confrontation in the region show a tendency of overlooking their perspective and – crucially - their capacity to make a difference. Foreign publics have given up on East Asia’s irrational quarrels. With policies that are inclusive and closer to global norms, middle powers are well placed to use soft power and create win-win situations that will benefit the East Asian region as a whole.

The Issue Briefing can be found here .