There’s a debate on whether the future of Asia is Europe’s past, its own past, or different altogether. While Friedberg argues that Asia’s future would be Europe’s bloody past, David Kang emphasises Asia’s history to understand its anomalies. Amitav acharya says that history might not necessarily repeat itself (as Kang asserts) now that we live in a different era. This debate makes one think if there’s a need for Asian international theory or international relations theory that exists today works universally fine. One argument can be that bringing in each region’s international theory only fragments the existing one and doesn’t make sense cause then each region would employ its international relations theory which again will not be sufficient to explain any phenomenon outside its region. Another argument could be that having own IR theory makes it possible to understand the complexities of a particular region that the current IR theories might not be able to explain, like the one in Asia and the rise of China. As David Kang puts it, there’s no balancing done against the emerging power, which does away with the balance of power argument of the realists. However, as Walt has put it, states don’t balance against power but a threat, so does that mean south Asian states don’t see China as a threat?
It’s hard to put this situation into one or the other IR theory, as these terms seem to have different meanings for different scholars. What does balancing or bandwagoning here means, rightly asks Amitav Acharya. Does economically cooperating with China for smoother trade and growing one’s economy mean bandwagoning with the rising power? Moreover, states have started increasing their militaries and defence (internal balancing), having ties with the USA, and making regional organisations (external balancing). David Kang also leaves out countries like India when he talks of the absence of balance of power in South Asia, where he only seems to speak about south-eastern countries (mainly because India doesn’t influence the politics of south-eastern Asia).
Talking of history and hierarchy, Acharya disagrees with Kang on Asia replicating its past and being under China ruled hierarchical order in future. Even if, in history, China was hierarchically superior to other states neighbouring it (southeast Asia), it doesn’t necessarily mean that states today will accept China’s hegemony and surrender before it. States now have multiple means to tackle China which might not fit the realist theory, like strategically binding it through economic interdependence rather than balancing or bandwagoning. All states look at their self-interest first. If it means working with China, they will do so, and if China threatens their sovereignty, they will act by allying with other countries (external balancing) or increasing their defence (internal).
States today, especially south-eastern states, are cautious in taking any steps directly against China since these countries gained independence from the West and some from China, too, like Vietnam and South Korea. Maintaining their sovereignty has been the priority, which was pretty evident in the 1947 Asian Relations Conference, where Asian countries didn’t form any regional organisation that India or China would then dominate or the formation of ASEAN to keep any external power influence away. Both China and the USA must be kept at a safe distance for them not to become overly dependent on the latter and not let the former dominate. They very well know the USA won’t come to their help as it has done in the case of Ukraine because not all of them are democracies or have such ties with the USA, so taking the risk of openly siding with the USA is very costly. South Asian states are particularly cautious of being entangled in this cold war bloc creation from which they want to stay away. Neither USA nor China is acting to benefit them, but their self-interest only. South-eastern states, hence, don’t want to become another country’s pawn in this power game.
When theories are applied on the ground, the results might differ from what is expected. Hence, we must go through a part region’s culture and other forms to know how a particular theory acts there. Balance of power may work in the area, but differently from how it operates in Europe; this doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist but only in a different way. Today explaining China’s rise and the subsequent response of the neighbouring states has become a critical topic in IR theory. The present theories that are more suitable or explicitly made to explain Europe/western crisis fail to explain this Asian phenomenon. David Kang rightly says that Walt’s approach, which was created to explain the Cold War era and the balance of power it led to, can’t explain an Asian phenomenon where there’s no such balancing happening. Hence, we need “more theorising about Asian security that is more faithful to Asian experience” (Acharya). Both Kang and Acharya agree on this. In Acharya’s words, “The development of non-exceptionalism Asian perspective is important to the meaningful interaction and integration between IR theory and the analysis of the Asian security order.”
Lastly, one might think, what is the larger aim of having an international relations theory, to explain international relations at large or to explain international relations at regional levels too? Looking at the current situation of IR theory, it seems that both are mutually exclusive as the Western IR theory focuses on Great Powers only, which subtracts the small powers whose sphere of influence is not as large, hence unable to explain the regional phenomenon. It has been correctly said that no one IR theory can explain all that is happening in international politics. Therefore, we must first look at the field of study and then employ a theory which is best suitable for it.