Saturday, October 26, 2013

Book review of Zhiqun Zhu's 'New Dynamics in East Asian Politics: Security, Political Economy and Society'

Will appear in Political Studies Review, Volume 13 of the Journal, Issue 1, January 2015, available via Wiley Online Library

Zhiqun Zhu (2012) New Dynamics in East Asian Politics: Security, Political Economy and Society. London: Continuum. 337pp, £19.99 (p/b), ISBN 978 1 4411 6621 0

This wide ranging book works well as an introduction to studying the contemporary politics of East Asia. Focused on China, Japan, Taiwan and the two Koreas, the book’s interdisciplinary approach leads it to being neatly divided into three sections covering security and foreign policy, new political economy, and changing societies. As Zhu explains in the introduction, the aim of the book is to avoid a traditional approach of writing about government, institutions and processes. This is born out in the largely well-written and researched chapters which cover a wealth of topics including the media, gender, national identity and nationalism, student politics, the film industry, local politics, the changing nature of anti-Americanism, environmental issues, security and foreign policy, welfare, and political economy. Throughout the book the coverage ranges from the international and wider-regional perspective through to the national and local. The chapters use a range of theoretical approaches and research models. Each chapter draws on a good selection of sources, with the end of each chapter including further readings and useful questions for on-going discussion.

The book faces four problems, all of which it largely overcomes. First, tying together such a wide range of topics was never going to be easy. But the book manages this by allowing the reader an insight into how this area of the world is coping with globalisation, changes in technology, shifts in power, and the political expectations and outlooks of the peoples of the region. Second, it provides a balanced approach in its coverage of the five states, although clearly due to its size China receives the most attention. The USA is ever-present, understandable given its role as a major East Asian power. However, its use as the main point of reference when making comparisons meant other areas of the world such as South East Asia, Europe or the Middle East received few mentions. Third, the book successfully resists the temptation to focus solely on international relations and security, instead drawing out the incredible economic and social transformations. But it provides a good analysis of the military and political tensions that could undermine these transformations, but which are also being driven by them in part. Finally, the book’s aim to discuss contemporary developments means some chapters will date very quickly, although the overall analysis of the book will remain of interest for many years.