Making “Asian” IR Theories: Inspiration from Chinese Proverbs

About the Talk
It is widely recognized that international relations (IR) theories have been dominated by “Western” ideas and experiences. Despite calls for the development of Non-Western International Relations Theories, the majority of Asian IR scholars still use Western theories to explain Asian phenomena. By drawing inspiration from Chinese proverbs, this study attempts to develop IR theories which are “truly Asian”. The Chinese proverbs, especially those related to strategies, seem to be a useful basis for the development of new IR theories. They may also explain phenomena outside Asia, which cannot be satisfactorily explained by existing mainstream theories. Examples of Chinese proverbs to be examined include: 宁为鸡口,无为牛后 (be the head of chicken rather than a tail of cow; be the head of a small group rather than a follower in a large group); and 一家二貴,事乃無功 (when there are two leaders in a group, it would not function well). These ideas would seem to contradict American “materialistic” approaches to institution building and European co-leadership perspectives on regional cooperation. Suggestions of other Chinese proverbs that provide a basis for new IR theories are welcome. 

About the Speaker
Shintaro Hamanaka is currently Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Developing Economies — Japan External Trade Organization (IDE-JETRO). Between 2018 and 2020, he held a resident fellowship at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. Prior to this, he worked for the Asian Development Bank (ADB), where he was responsible for technical assistance and research on regional economic integration and cooperation. Between 2006 and 2008, Dr. Hamanaka was involved in the Doha Round of service trade negotiations at the Japanese Mission to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva. He started his career at the Bank of Japan, where he was involved in policymaking on regional financial cooperation in Asia in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. His research interests include the international political economy, global governance, geo-economics, regionalism, and economic integration. 

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