Middle Powers in Asia Pacific Multilateralism: A Differential Framework. By Sarah Teo.
Middle Powers in Asia Pacific Multilateralism: A Differential Framework. By Sarah Teo. Bristol, UK: Bristol University Press, 2023. Hardcover: 203pp.
Sarah Teo provides a valuable contribution to an underexamined and undertheorized area of International Relations: what are middle powers and what makes them successful or influential within multilateral institutions? She approaches this question by setting out an original "differentiation" framework that focuses on what makes middle powers distinct from other states in the international system as well as on the strategies they adopt to "maintain their relevance and importance in international politics" (p. 4). The case studies are Australia, Indonesia and South Korea and their respective roles within the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum and the East Asia Summit (EAS). For a definition, Teo contends that middle powers are states that "quantitatively rank below the major powers" but above other states, that identify and are regarded by others as middle powers and that employ strategies such as "investing in multilateralism" and relying on "soft power" to advance their goals (p. 29).
"Differentiation", as a theoretical approach, tries to explain what makes middle powers "different" from other states by focusing on "the mechanisms and processes that make it possible for middle powers to employ certain behavioural strategies" (p. 5) within multilateral institutions. The existing international system is "differentiated" by the distinct capabilities of the states and the distinct roles they play. Within a "segmented", "stratified" and "functionally differentiated" international system, middle powers are "enabled" by multilateral platforms to reinforce or transform their roles (p. 39). The book demonstrates, for instance, how Australia took a leading role in the formation of APEC precisely because it was not a great power. Indonesia used its middle power capabilities to ensure a prominent position for ASEAN within APEC so that the new organization did not overshadow the established one. South Korea, meanwhile, helped to facilitate APEC's expansion to include China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. The EAS proceeded from ideas first advanced by South Korea, while Indonesia played a leading role in evolving it into a more inclusive body and Australia was instrumental in bringing the United States into the EAS to help counterbalance China's growing regional multilateral presence (p. 119).
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