Hedging in International Relations

Hedging is a widely-used but under-theorized term in the study of International Relations. This project aims to explain how, when, and why weaker states hedge, with particular reference to Southeast Asian states’ alignment behaviour vis-à-vis the major powers. Hedging is defined here as insurance-seeking behaviour under uncertainty, characterized by three attributes: (a) an insistence on not taking sides; (b) attempts to pursue contradicting measures to offset multiple risks across domains; and (c) an inclination to diversify and cultivate a fall-back position. By this definition, the ten Southeast Asian countries are all hedgers, although they hedge in different forms, to different degrees, and presumably for different reasons. Adopting a two-level model, I argue that hedging behavior is rooted in both structural and domestic factors. While power uncertainties at the structural level motivate states to hedge, it is domestic political factors that explain why states hedge and why different states hedge differently. Specifically, it is the ruling elites’ pathways of legitimation that explain why some smaller states opt to hedge more heavily than others. States hedge when power structures are uncertain (i.e. when a perceived threat is neither clear-cut nor immediate, and when sources of reliable allied support unclear). If power dynamics are certain and clear-cut, hedging would not be necessary. Precisely because big power relations and intentions are becoming even more uncertain, weaker states will have more reasons to avoid rigid alignment, while pursuing opposing measures to offset different risks in order to keep their options open for as long as possible.

Publications:

2021

(With Lai Yew Meng) “Structural Sources of Malaysia’s South China Sea Policy: Power Uncertainties and Small-State Hedging”, Australian Journal of International Affairs, DOI:10.1080/10357718.2020.1856329

“The Twin Chessboards of US-China Rivalry: Impact on Geostrategic Supply and Demand in Post-Pandemic Asia”, Asian Perspective, Vol. 45, No. 1, pp. 157-176.

2020

“Hedging in Post-Pandemic Asia: What, How, and Why?” The Asian Forum: An Online Journal (June 6).“Opening a Strategic Pandora’s Jar? US-China Uncertainties and the Three Wandering Genies in Southeast Asia”, The Asian Forum: An Online Journal (July 2).

2018

“Opening a Strategic Pandora’s Jar? US-China Uncertainties and the Three Wandering Genies in Southeast Asia”, The Asian Forum: An Online Journal (July 2).

“Keeping the Balance: Power Transitions Threaten ASEAN’s Hedging Role”, East Asia Forum Quarterly, Vol. 10, No. 1 (January-March), pp. 22-23.

2016

“How Do Weaker States Hedge? Unpacking ASEAN States’ Alignment Behavior towards China,” Journal of Contemporary China, Vol. 25, No. 100, pp. 500-514.


“Malaysia between the United States and China: What do Weaker States Hedge Against?” Asian Politics and Policy, Vol. 8, No. 1, pp. 155-177

(With Ithrana Lawrence) “A View from Malaysia: Duterte’s and Najib’s China Visits and the Future of Small-State ‘Realignment’ in the Trump Era,” The Asian Forum: An Online Journal (December 14).

2015

“Malaysia’s Balancing Act”, New York Times (December 7), p. 8.

(With Gilbert Rozman) “Light or Heavy Hedging: Positioning between China and the United States”, in Gilbert Rozman, Joint U.S.-Korea Academic Studies 2015, Vol. 26 (Washington, DC: Korea Economic Institute of America), pp. 1-9.

“Variations on a (Hedging) Theme: Comparing ASEAN Core States’ Alignment Behavior,” in Gilbert Rozman, Joint U.S.-Korea Academic Studies 2015, Vol. 26 (Washington, DC: Korea Economic Institute of America), pp. 11-26.

“Malaysia’s Relations with Major and Middle Powers”, Observatoire Asie du Sud-est (Paris: Asia Centre, Sciences Po).

“Introduction: Decomposing and Assessing South Korea’s Hedging Options”, in “Special Forum: South Korea’s Foreign Policy Options”, The Asian Forum: An Online Journal, Vol. 3, No. 3 (May-June).

2013

“Making Sense of Malaysia’s China Policy: Asymmetry, Proximity, and Elite’s Domestic Authority,” Chinese Journal of International Politics, Vol. 6, pp. 429-467.

“Malaysia’s U.S. Policy under Najib: Structural and Domestic Sources of a Small State’s Strategy,” Asian Security, Vol. 9, No. 3, pp. 143-164.

2012

(With Nor Azizan Idris and Abd Rahim Md Nor) “The China Factor in the U.S. ‘Reengagement’ with Southeast Asia: Drivers and Limits of Converged Hedging,” Asian Politics and Policy, Vol. 4, No. 3 (July), pp. 315-344.

2008

“The Essence of Hedging: Malaysia and Singapore’s Response to a Rising China,” Contemporary Southeast Asia, Vol. 30, No. 2 (August), pp. 159-185.

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