Friday, 24 July 2009

From Rule Takers, Shakers to Makers: How Japan, China and Korea Shaped New Norms in International Economic Law

On 1st and 2nd of August, the Asian Society of International Law will hold its second biennial conference in Tokyo. While I would not be physically there, my fellow co-authors Saadia M. Pekkanen and Dukgeun Ahn  will present out joint paper on "From Rule Takers, Shakers to Makers: How Japan, China and Korea Shaped New Norms in International Economic Law". For more information on the conference, please see here. Below are the first few lines of the paper:

    While the rise of Asia in the international economy has been widely noted, much less appreciated is the way in which that rise has interacted with the forces of international economic law (IEL). Perhaps the most dominant perception among both legal scholars and social scientists is still that formal law does not play much of a role in the East Asian region – that its institutions are weak, that it has a preference for non-legalistic methods and non-binding commitments which also extend to dispute settlement mechanisms, and that in contrast to highly legal systems as, for example in Europe, far more weight should be given to the competition of national economies and ethnic groups in growing markets than legal dimensions in the case of Asia even today.

     This very conceptualization that goes within and across Asian countries has also been extended to their behavior at the multilateral and international levels. Yet even those holding to the contrast between high levels of legalization in Europe and North America and low ones in the case of Asia in the early 2000s had also begun to note the increasing role of formal law in Asia. This shift towards legalism has been most prominent at the global multilateral level as a number of works have stressed the importance of law and legal processes by and for Asian countries in contexts such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) as well as through burgeoning Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs). In this paper we go further and take the first systematic steps towards a comparison of the activities of the dominant players in contemporary Asia, namely China, Japan, and Korea (CJK) with the goal of bringing them into mainstream debates and controversies in IEL.

      Using an interdisciplinary approach combining political economy approaches with legal scholarship, we aim to show how legalization has become a force to contend within Asia. By legalization we mean specifically that, in significant contrast to the past, Asian countries have begun to stress the dimensions of precision (unambiguous rules to require, authorize, or proscribe action), obligation (rules or commitments to bind action), and delegation (third parties to implement, interpret, and apply the rules for disputes or further rule-making) in a wide range of their economic relations. To be clear, we are not stressing that by doing so they are moving toward legal integration, where like the European and Andean cases, formal or informal moves help create a seamless rule of law affecting domestic actors and international tribunals. Rather, driven by their activities at the global, multilateral and now increasingly regional levels, the moves toward legalization should be seen as an evolutionary move toward the creation of the rule of law across borders. Thus as Asian states have begun to stress the dimensions of precision, obligation, and delegation in their economic relationships at present, the sum total of their moves may well go on to have significant implications for the creation of such rule of law systems in the future particularly in their foreign economic diplomacy.

     Put simply, then, our main contention in this paper is that Asian states are no longer merely passive rule-takers in a system of IEL still widely thought to be dominated by Western countries, principally the United States and European Communities. Rather, as their economic clout has risen at both the global and regional level, key Asia states such as CJK have become aggressive users of the dispute settlement system of the WTO with novel directions in their domestic institutional landscapes; and they have also moved well beyond the narrow confines of the WTO-centered system to shape even regional and cross-regional legal frameworks to their advantage. How and why did things come to this? What exactly are the legal consequences both for IEL and these countries' domestic legal systems? What does the sum total of these sequential changes portend for the rule of law in CJK and other Asian countries more broadly?

     The remainder of the paper is in three parts. The first part provides an analytical framework that stresses the rise and significance of commercial interests operating across borders, irrespective of whether the source is public or private in nature. Thus we are less concerned with whether a government or a business is responsible for economic flows across borders than with the fact that those flows are taking place. It also provides a brief statistical background, placing Asia's economic weight in global and regional context. Although we look at East Asia more broadly in the paper, we focus on the relative weight of dominant regional players, namely CJK which also go on to form the bulk of the analysis in this paper. The second part turns to the empirical evidence, focusing on substantial changes at both the international and domestic levels over the past twenty years that deserve close attention. At the international level, in breaking with their own tradition of being reluctant litigants, CJK along with other East Asian states have started to "shake" the existing power structure by actively using the existing legal rules to advance and defend their own interests in a policy shift to "aggressive legalism." This ongoing policy shift is one of the core elements for fortifying the "rule-based" WTO system, as well as strengthening the trend toward regional interaction on the basis of rules. But these same states have also moved well beyond the WTO-centered system in the 2000s more visibly, as they have actually started to "make" new norms by proposing new rules at the multilateral level and creating a web of legal agreements at the inter-regional and intra-regional level that aim to reflect their own interests. These instruments span trade, investment, and finance, and are a harbinger of the continued legalization of Asian economic relations. The third part concludes, focusing on the implications of the analytical and empirical evidence for the future of the rule of law in the multilateral and regional system more broadly.

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