Bilateral Legacies in East and Southeast Asia.

Author:Pongsudhirak, Thitinan
Position:Book review


Editor: N. Ganesan

Published by: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, 2015, 208pp, US$29.90.

In retrospect, this collection of researched chapters on bilateral relations between bordering countries in East Asia was ahead of its time. Over the past two years since its publication, this volume appears more relevant, vindicated and applicable in analysing regional dynamics in East Asian international relations. It brings back the paramount role of history and geography as the timeless dictates of international relations through the lens of bilateral overhangs and legacies which are framed as 'historical interactions ... embedded in the psyche of a state, both at the level of the elites and the citizen body. As N. Ganesan, the convenor and editor, puts it: 'Consequently, history and geography combine to provide the most forceful evidence in favour of bilateralism'. In an era where multilateralism is languishing, the thrust of this book and its emphasis on bilateralism are instructive.

But, of course, this volume should be assessed on its own terms as conference papers that were finalised as a book publication in 2015. The line-up of chapters is not exhaustive. Apart from the conceptualisation aspects, key terms and definitions in the first chapter, bilateral 'next-door' relations between South Korea and Japan, Japan and China, China and Vietnam, Myanmar and Thailand, and Thailand and Cambodia are featured as country chapters. A more comprehensive account would have included Japan and Russia on the 'Northern Territories', which is crucial in the context of North-east Asian security. On South-east Asia, the bilateral friction involving outright armed conflict between Malaysia and Indonesia, otherwise known as 'konfrontasi, would add weight to the book had it been included. The military confrontation between Malaysia and Indonesia direcdy catalysed the formation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). There are also border spats and mutually antagonistic perceptions between other countries in the region, such as those between Malaysia and the Philippines over Sabah claims and a clutch of clashing views on territorial claims in the South China Sea.

One common thread through the Korea-Japan and Japan-China chapters, on the one hand, and Myanmar-Thailand and Thailand-Cambodia, on the other hand, concerns the latent grievances from distant historical periods. Japan is seen in...

To continue reading