The prevailing scholarly orthodoxy regarding recent diplomatic initiatives in the Asia-Pacific assumes that East Asia is evolving into a distinctive regional community. The orthodoxy attributes this development to the growing influence of the diplomatic practices espoused by the Association of Southeast Asian States (ASEAN) and its related institutions. However, a paradox remains, namely: despite the failure of ASEAN’s distinctive practice to fulfil its rhetorical promise in Southeast Asia both immediately prior to and in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis in 1997, it is nevertheless considered sufficient to validate the projection of ASEAN defined norms onto a wider Pacific canvas. This study analyses how an academic preference for constructivism has misinterpreted the growth in official rhetoric extolling East Asian regionalism since 1997 in a way that has helped produce and reinforce this paradox. By contrast, we contend that government declarations of a developing East Asian identity actually serve to obscure the continuation of traditional interstate relations and do not herald any wider, let alone inexorable, movement towards an integrated regional community.
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