Suh’s writing is both about the contentious relationship among Northeast Asian countries and the perceptions that people hold over those countries. As the author notes, it is of course true that the region has had some in-fighting, but there is disagreement over whether one should categorize this as being a history of war or whether one is safe in categorizing this as a history of diplomacy. The distinction, the author suggests, is quite an important one that can shape one’s perceptions of how these countries behave in regard to one another today.
The author suggests in this work that contentions among close geographic nations can serve a positive purpose in some instances. In some cases, this can help to shape and inform future discussions among those nations by providing each nation with a better understanding of what the other countries need or what they want. However, certain conditions have to be met that can then vault a disagreement from being one that is destructive to being one that is productive. First, the countries involved have to have a solid understanding and respect for the legitimacy of the other nations involved. While contentions can center on many things, they cannot center on the legitimacy of one of the nations involved. The author notes that Northeast Asia has been unique in a way. While nations have been battling with each other for influence and space, there has been a common understanding of the legitimacy of each nation, and there has been a shared commitment to discussion in the public sphere. This is certainly to be understood as good thing moving forward for the region. The author notes that something called a “regional public sphere” has helped to create something productive for the region to make of its past contentions. Japan transforming into a regular state with a normal military in the 1980s was one of the most important things to happen. Prior to that, Japan had been highly dependent on the US, and Korea and China had mostly been in control of their own part of the region. With the emergence of Japan as more of a power, there was no longer an ability to have separate spheres with Korea and China controlling their little parts of the world. Rather, there needed to be more a consensus in the region in order to avoid destruction. This led to the Second Cold War in the region, and it helped to create the channels of discussion that have been so important for the region over time. Namely, though the different parties were contentious toward one another, they learned how to dialogue, they learned cultural elements that would impact their discussions and negotiations, and beyond that, they learned how to work out problems without going to war.

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One question I would want to ask the guest speaker is whether there are other regions in the world that are similar to Northeast Asia in this regard. This is an important question because the world is currently shifting. There are changes in the way countries relate to one another and changes in the global economic arrangement. In order to understand what might take place in the future, it is critical to see whether this part of Asia reminds the speaker of another place. This article does a good job of breaking down the basic dynamics of Northeast Asia, so I want to go ahead and understand whether those prevailing conditions exist in parts of Europe, Africa, or even South America, which itself has been somewhat contentious in the same was Northeast Asia has been to this point.

  • Suh, J. J. (2007). War-like history or diplomatic history? Contentions over the past and regional orders in Northeast Asia. Australian Journal of International Affairs, 61(3), 382-402.