New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

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Asia has long been underrepresented in institutions of global governance. Recent challenges to those institutions have focused less on their legitimacy than on their effectiveness.

Such engagement reflects a changed approach to sovereignty. Once it was understood primarily as a defense against foreign intervention. The vast majority of Asian governments now understand that collective action does not erode, but instead protects sovereignty. Barriers remain to Asia playing a greater role on the world stage, however. In particular, there is little appetite for true leadership from Asia: Asians want to grow and perpetuate the global system, not revolutionize or reset it.

In part this is due to interests, which are well-served by many aspects of the current system. But it is also connected to the Asian style of consensus and consultation.

The “Asian way” of policy-making can be seen in recent developments in security and development, in regional cooperation, in the relative openness of Asian institutions, and the advantages of sub-regional groupings.

The positive aspects of this approach to diplomacy and governance include respect for diversity, consensus-building over conflict, pragmatic approaches rather than lofty principles, and gradualism rather than abrupt change. The negative aspects can be that the desire to avoid confrontation prevents meaningful agreements being concluded in a reasonable timeframe, or that the appearance of consensus merely masks the true politics at work.

What might this mean in practice? A speculative list of issues in which Asia - or, more properly, Asians - might contribute to global solutions includes peace and security, climate change, energy governance, energy security, financial regulation, health, development assistance, regional markets, good governance, and social enterprises.

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