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Regionalism and foreign policy:China-Vietnam relations and institution-building in the Greater Mekong Subregion

By Oliver Michael Hensengerth


This study is concerned with the institution-building and capacity-building of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) and its interactions with the foreign policies of member states, exemplified by the foreign policies of China and Vietnam.\ud \ud The structure of the GMS includes not only central governments, but also subnational units (provincial governments) and non-state actors (NGOs, firms). The\ud involvement of actors other than the central government is due to the transnationalisation of issues such as poverty and environmental degradation. This also put central government departments other than the foreign ministry on the foreign policy scene, such as the ministries of trade, environment or public security. As transnational problems cannot be solved within the domestic context only, domestic policy demands have come to inform foreign policy decisions, which relate directly to transnational subregional concerns, such as integrating the local economies of China's west and Vietnam's north into the subregion in order to tackle widespread poverty in these regions.\ud \ud A result of this diversification and proliferation of actors in the GMS is a system of committee governance, which is not based on rules but on norins. Although still dominated by central governments, it is nevertheless stable as it has led to a regular exchange of information and enhanced transparency and predictability of policies and priorities of member states. This contradicts the premise of international regimes, namely that cooperation can only be stable if legally-binding rules are introduced.\ud \ud However, for central governments - exemplified by China and Vietnam - GMS cooperation also has a global dimension. Central governments aim at using the institution of the GMS in order to attain foreign policy goals, which go beyond the\ud specific transnational concerns of subregional cooperation. Here, Vietnam and China have devised foreign policies, which - due to the traditional antagonism - have\ud resulted in opposed aims towards the GMS, leaving the institution little space for the development of an independent capacity, which could in turn structure the bilateral relations between China and Vietnam.\ud \ud As a result, we can observe in the GMS in general and in the Chinese-Vietnamese border regions in particular a mix between the Westphalian and the post-Westphalian international system: although central governments are the\ud dominant decision-making authorities and set the framework for actions of provincial governments and NGOs, subnational units and non-state actors are increasingly active in forming a transnational substructure in the GMS. In the\ud Chinese-Vietnamese border regions this is manifested by, for instance, locally implemented central agreements (provincial governments), cross-border financed\ud infrastructure projects (firms) and youth exchanges of provincial party committees. The fact, however, that central governments dominate the cooperation structure\ud gives the GMS no independent institutional capacity with which it could soften the antagonism between China and Vietnam. As a result, the asymmetry between China and Vietnam remains essentially unaffected by the GMS, a situation, which thwarts hopes of Vietnam to make China's foreign policy less assertive through cooperation\ud in the GMS

Publisher: East Asian Studies (Leeds)
Year: 2006
OAI identifier:

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