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HomeGeopolitical CompassEast AsiaMinimal Peace in Northeast Asia: A Realist-Liberal Explanation

Minimal Peace in Northeast Asia: A Realist-Liberal Explanation

Author: Bhubhindar Singh

Affiliation: S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore

Organization/Publisher: The Pacific Review

Date/Place: May 18, 2022/USA

Type of Literature: Research Paper

Number of Pages: 31 



Keywords: Northeast Asia, Peace, United States, Interdependence, Institutions


This article discusses whether minimal peace has been achieved in Northeast Asia, specifically among China, Japan, and South Korea, following the Cold War and continuing into the post-2010 period. The author examines both realist and liberal factors that may have contributed to the achievement of minimal peace, defined as a transformation of international politics without the use of military force or war. From a realist perspective, it is suggested that American hegemony has played a role in maintaining minimal peace in the region. From a liberal perspective, it is suggested that economic interdependence and institutional building have helped preserve minimal peace. The article examines the development of these factors in Northeast Asia in the post-Cold War and post-2010 periods.

Minimal Peace after the Cold War:

The author contends that Northeast Asia has not fully escaped the Cold War-like order and tension, even though the Cold War ended in Europe. This is due to issues such as the Korean Peninsula crisis, the rise of communist China, and the formation of US-led grouping networks. Despite these challenges, the author believes that minimal peace has been maintained in Northeast Asia thanks to American hegemony, economic interdependence, and institutionalism.

The author argues that the unipolar moment experienced by the US following the Cold War has been a major factor in the maintenance of minimal peace in the region. To promote American liberal internationalism, the US has established a hub-and-spoke alliance system and developed a regional security architecture in the region.

Additionally, the rise of economically powerful Asian states has been a significant development in Northeast Asia following the Cold War. Integration into the global market and export-oriented strategies have led to regional economic growth and interdependence. Economic interdependence has been a key factor in maintaining peace and stability in the region despite political and strategic tensions. The author cites two interrelated forces that have contributed to economic interdependence in Northeast Asia: China’s rapid economic growth and the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.

China’s integration into global economic globalization, exemplified by its entry into the World Trade Organization in 2001, is seen by the author as being interconnected with American hegemonic order and the promotion of liberal internationalist values. These factors have contributed to China’s rapid economic, political, and strategic rise.


The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis had a significant impact on the economies of Asian states and resulted in a shared crisis experience that increased intra-regional interactions and trade interdependence. In order to overcome the crisis, Asian countries recognized the need to strengthen trade dependence, increase intra-regional investments, and promote economic integration. These efforts at communication and multilateral relations have helped maintain minimal peace in Northeast Asia.

The emergence of institutionalism in Northeast Asia has been a byproduct of economic interdependence among states, but it has also been influenced by the 1997 Financial Crisis in three ways. First, multilateral participation was necessary to address the crisis. Second, China provided proactive support for regionalism during the crisis. Third, the crisis prompted countries to compromise with one another.

Post-2010 Order:

Since 2010, Northeast Asia has been a site of power transition driven by US-China global rivalry. This shift has been marked by China’s rise as a regional superpower and the perceived weakening of American hegemony. Some believe that China’s increasing influence may disrupt the existing minimal peace in Northeast Asia, but the author disagrees. Instead, the author believes that minimal peace will be sustained in the region for three reasons: (1) America’s enduring economic and strategic advantages over China, (2) US-led alliance groupings in the region, and (3) China’s lack of alternative regional order.


The author believes that in the post-2010 period, American hegemony has remained strong in Northeast Asia and has contributed to the maintenance of minimal peace in the region. This argument is supported by two factors: the economic and strategic advantages that the US has over China.


The author argues that in economic terms, the US is more globalized and efficient, making it an attractive partner for investment and trade for Northeast Asian states. However, China’s geostrategic location gives it an advantage in terms of its influence on global trade arrangements, despite facing demographic issues that could potentially impact its economy. It is acknowledged that China is facing demographic challenges, but these are not seen as significantly hindering its position.

The author believes that the US military has a strategic advantage in terms of its capability, capacity, and battle experience. However, China’s military has undergone rapid development in recent years, improving its capacity and technology, making it a formidable competitor to the US in terms of military power in the post-2010 period.


Therefore, it is incorrect to assume that America still holds hegemonic influence in Northeast Asia. In fact, the preference of middle powers in Northeast Asia and the wider region of Asia to hedge between the US and China suggests that the unipolarity of the post-Cold War no longer exists. In this context, minimal peace in the region is more dependent on economic interdependence in the post-2010 period.


There have been significant developments in the strengthening of intra-regional economic cooperation in Northeast Asia in the post-2010 period. For example, in 2012, China, Japan, and South Korea launched a China-Japan-Korea free-trade agreement (CJKFTA). Additionally, the region has also expanded its economic cooperation to Southeast Asia through initiatives such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).


However, the process of institutional building in Northeast Asia has faced challenges due to the great power rivalry between the US and China. This competition has the potential to polarize the region and hinder the institutional building process. For example, the US has launched the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP) initiative with Japan, while China has its Belt and Road Project (BRI). Essentially, the great power rivalry between China and the US has led other states in the region to take sides, potentially escalating conflict in the region.


Finally, this article provides valuable insight into the evolution of multilateral arrangements in Northeast Asia from the post-Cold War period until post-2010. The author has effectively analyzed the political transition in Northeast Asia following the Cold War, but has not adequately addressed the political order in the region post-2010, particularly in terms of American hegemony.

By: Salman Nugraha, CIGA Research Intern



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