Griffith researcher probes Australia’s regional power role

Kai He
Kai He

Australia’s role in an increasingly tense international power struggle in the Asia Pacific has become the target of new research by Griffith University’s Associate Professor Kai He.

The Research Fellow with the Griffith Asia Institute and Centre for Governance and Public Policy was today awarded a $910,000 Australian Research Council grant to examine the foreign policy choices of five major powers, namely the US, China, Japan, South Korea and Australia, towards multilateral institutions in the Asia Pacific.

The aim of the project is to provide insights for Australian policymakers so that they may conduct sensible and effective Asia policy in the 21st century.

“Since the Cold War ended we have seen the emergence of multilateral institutions such as APEC, ASEAN Regional Forum and East Asia Summit, providing a peaceful influence in the Asia Pacific.” said Associate Professor He.

“However, since 2000 there has been a major institutional shift, in which middle and great powers have utilised existing multilateral institutions, or initiated new ones, to drive their agenda. I called this phenomenon ‘multilateralism 2.0 in the Asia Pacific’.

New type of power struggle

“It’s a power struggle, but I would argue it’s a new type of power struggle and in the future we will see more institutional struggles to compete for influence and dominance in multilateral institutions.

“At the moment, Australia is facing a hard decision in light of strategic competition between the United States and China, especially on the maritime and territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

“On the one hand it causes a lot of tension in the region and on the other it also provides an opportunity for Australia.

“What I plan with this latest study is to develop research to test the hypothesis that Australia can play an active role in mediating the US-China competition through multilateral institutions.

“Hopefully this can lead to policy recommendations to help policymakers to choose a proper strategy to play a positive role in constructing the future regional security architecture.”

Associate Professor He said that through in-depth theoretical and empirical case studies, this project will explore when states are more likely to rely upon rule-based institutions or to use power-based strategies, such as alliance formation, to pursue security in world politics.

The project is one of 30 Griffith studies receiving a share of $11.5million in funding from the ARC this week.