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The Chinese Axis: Zoning Technologies and Variegated Sovereignty

  • Aihwa Ong

Concepts of regionalization and regionalism have dominated discussions of emerging global orders. With the rise of the European Union (EU), scholars have begun to look for similar multilaterally negotiated regional organizations in the Asia-Pacific region.

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I acknowledge the support of the Gorbachev Foundation of North America. An earlier version of this paper benefited from helpful comments by Byung-Kook Kim, Anthony Jones, and Daniel I. Okimoto.

1. Kim, Samuel S., “Regionalization and Regionalism in East Asia,” Journal of East Asian Studies 4, no. 1 (January–April 2004), pp. 3967.

2. Ohmae, Kenichi, The End of the Nation State: The Rise of Regional Economies (New York: The Free Press, 1996).

3. See ibid.

4. Weber, Max, Economy and Society (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), p. 220.

5. Giddens, Anthony, The Nation-State and Violence: Volume 2 of a Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), p. 172.

6. For a criticism of this model, see Taylor, P. J., “Beyond Containers: Internationality, Interstateness, Interterritoriality,” Progress in Human Geography 18 (1995): 151162.

7. See Johnson, Chalmers, MITI and the Japanese Miracle (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1982); Evans, Peter, Embedded Autonomy: States and Industrial Transformation (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995); and Castells, Manuel, The Rise of the Network Society (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996).

8. Weiss, Linda, The Myth of the Powerless State (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998).

9. Ong, Aihwa, “Graduated Sovereignty in Southeast Asia,” Theory, Culture, and Society 17, no. 4 (August 2000): 5575.

10. For a view of “social sovereignty” produced by a plurality of agents such as the state, corporations, economic institutions, and expert systems, see Latham, Robert, “Social Sovereignty,” Theory, Culture, and Society 17, no. 4: 118.

11. Rose, Nikolas, Powers of Freedom: Reframing Political Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 2.

12. Collier, Stephen J. and Ong, Aihwa, “Global Assemblages, Anthropological Problems.” In Ong, A. and Collier, S. J., eds., Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004).

13. Schmitt, Carl, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. Trans. Schwab, George (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1985).

14. Ruggie, John, Constructing the World Polity (London: Routledge, 1998), pp. 172173.

15. Krasner, Stephen D., ed., Problematic Sovereignty: Contested Rules and Political Possibilities (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001).

16. Sassen, Saskia, Losing Control? Sovereignty in an Age of Globalization (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), p. xii.

17. For accounts of historical and contemporary Chinese business networks linking China and communities in the Asia-Pacific, see Ong, Aihwa and Nonini, Donald M., eds., Ungrounded Empires: The Cultural Politics of Modern Chinese Transnationalism (New York: Routledge, 1997).

18. United Nations Industrial Development Organization, “Industrial Free Trade Zones as Incentives to Promote Export-Oriented Industries,” ID/WG, 112/3, October (New York: UNIDO, 1971).

19. Ong, Aihwa, Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline: Factory Women in Malaysia (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1987); and Ong, Aihwa, “The Gender and Labor Politics of Postmodernity.” In O'Meara, P., Mehlinger, H. D., and Krain, M., eds., Globalization and the Challenges of a New Century: A Reader (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002), pp. 253–281.

20. See Ong, , “Graduated Sovereignty in Southeast Asia.”

21. Tsuchiya, Takeo, “Free Trade Zones in Southeast Asia.” In Peet, Richard, ed., International Capitalism and Industrial Restructuring (Boston: Allen and Unwin, 1997), p. 280.

23. Ota, Tatsuyuki, “The Role of Special Economic Zones in China's Economic Development as Compared with Asia's Export Processing Zones: 1979–1995,” Asia in Extenso (March 2003): 4, available online at

24. National People's Congress, People's Republic of China, “Regulations on Special Economic Zones in Guangdong Province,” August 26, 1980, available online at

25. Kwan, Shek Ping, “China Country Report,” Hong Kong Christian Industrial Committee (June 1995), available online at

26. National People's Congress, “Regulations on Special Economic Zones in Guangdong Province.”

27. Solinger, Dorothy J., Contesting Citizenship in Urban China: Peasant Migrants, the State, and the Logic of the Market (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).

28. Ong, Aihwa, Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999), p. 44.

29. Manuel Castells attributes the rising Hong Kong–centered metropolitan network to the building of regional infrastructure and flows, but he ignores other technologies of zoning and the transfer of business skills and practices. See Castells, , The Rise of the Network Society.

30. Lee, Ching Kwan, Gender and the South China Miracle (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

31. Enright, Michael J., Scott, Edith E., and Dodwell, David, The Hong Kong Advantage (Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 100.

32. Hsiung, You-tien, Making Capitalism in China: The Taiwan Connection (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998).

34. See Ong, Aihwa, “Re-engineering Chinese Personality in Shanghai.” In Fisher, Melissa and Downer, Greg, eds., Frontiers of Capital (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004).

35. Lan, Law Siu, “Lion and Dragon: Singapore Is Building an Enclave in China. Will It Succeed?” Asiaweek (1996), available online at

36. Dolven, Ben, “Suzhou Project: Wounded Pride,” Far Eastern Economic Review , July 8, 1999.

37. See Ong, Aihwa, “Intelligent Island, Baroque Ecology.” In Bishop, Ryan, Philips, John, and Wei-Wei, Yeo, eds., Beyond Description: Time, Space, Historicity, Singapore (London: Routledge, 2004).

38. “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,”

39. Bradsher, Keith, “With Unrest Rising, Hong Kong and China Conclude an Agreement to Liberalize Trade,” New York Times , June 30, 2003.

40. For specific details on article 23 of the Basic Law, see

41. In mid-2003, the unemployment rate in Hong Kong was more than 8.5 percent, a record for the territory.

42. For a good overview, see Pottinger, Matt and Buckman, Rebecca, “In a Land of Money and Expensive Cars: Political Unrest,” Wall Street Journal , July 18, 2003, pp. A1, A4.

43. Cheong, Ching, “Beijing's Salvo Spooks Hong Kong,” Straits Times , July 16, 2003.

44. In the midst of the uproar over the new security law, Hong King once again has been ranked the freest economy in the world, Straits Times , July 8, 2003.

45. See, for example, Hutzler, Charles and Buckman, Rebecca, “China Retreats from Harsh Law as Popular Protests Grow Bolder,” Wall Street Journal , July 8, 2003, pp. A1, A10.

46. See Aihwa, , Flexible Citizenship , chap. 7; and Aihwa, , “Intelligent Island, Baroque Ecology,” for a discussion of how liberal values inform government action and goals in Singapore.

47. See Krasner, Stephen D., Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1999).

48. Jayasuriya, Kanishka, “Sept. 11, Security, and the New Postliberal Politics of Fear.” In Hershberg, E. and Moore, K. W., eds., Critical Views of September 11 (New York: New Press, 2002), pp. 131150.

49. The “ASEAN+” formula grew out of an initial Malaysian idea to form the East Asian Economic Caucus as a bulwark against U.S. domination of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

50. Haacke, Jurgen, “ASEAN's Diplomatic and Security Culture: A Constructivist Assessment,” International Relations of the Asia-Pacific 3 (2003): 5787.

51. Recently, ASEAN, under international pressure, made a rare criticism of one of its members, Myanmar, for its political retention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

52. Other political conflicts concern China's aggressive claims on the Spratly and Paracel Islands, off the Philippines, as part of its large claim over the entire South China Sea as a sphere of Chinese control. China also claims the Sipadan and Ligitan Islands off Sabah. Indonesian and Malaysian fears of the Sino world to the north may bring about a serious counteraxis in insular Southeast Asia.

53. Liberty Times , “ASEAN Should Not Ignore Taiwan's Existence,” November 29, 1999.

54. Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism , 2nd ed. (London: Verso, 1991).

55. Dirlik, Arif, ed., What Is in a Rim? Critical Perspectives on the Pacific Rim Idea (Boulder: Westview, 1993).

56. Liu, Hong, “Sino-Southeast Asian Studies: Towards an Alternative Paradigm,” Asian Studies Review 25, no. 3 (September 2001): 259284.

57. Hoshino, Shinyasu, “Transforming the Economy of North Korea,” NIRA Review (Winter 1996), available online at

58. Florcruz, Jaime, “N. Korea Creates ‘Special Economic Zone,’”, September 23, 2002.

59. For brief reports, see MacDonald, Hamish, “New Business Zone Chief's Reign Ends Before It Begins,” Sydney Morning Herald , October 5, 2002. Also see Anthony, Ted, “China Derails North Korea's Experiment with Capitalism,” Honolulu Advertiser, December 2, 2002.

60. Foucault, Michel, “Governmentality.” In Burchell, Graham, Gordon, Colin, and Miller, Peter, eds., The Foucault Effect: Studies in Govermentality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 87104.

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Journal of East Asian Studies
  • ISSN: 1598-2408
  • EISSN: 2234-6643
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