ASEAN as the 'regional conductor': understanding ASEAN's role in Asia-Pacific order

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This paper analyses ASEAN’s prominence in regional order negotiation and management in Southeast Asia and the Asia-pacific through the lens of social role negotiation. It argues that ASEAN has negotiated legitimate social roles as the ‘primary manager’ in Southeast Asia and the ‘regional conductor’ of the Asia-Pacific order. It develops an English School-inspired role negotiation framework and applies it to three periods: 1954-1975 when ASEAN’s ‘primary manager’ role emerged from negotiations with the US; 1978-1991 when ASEAN’s role was strengthened through negotiations with China during the Cambodian conflict; and 1991-present when ASEAN created and expanded the ‘regional conductor’ role. Negotiations during the Cold War established a division of labour where great powers provided security public goods but the great power function of diplomatic leadership was transferred to ASEAN. ASEAN's diplomatic leadership in Southeast Asia provided a foundation for creating its 'regional conductor' role after the Cold War. ASEAN’s ability to sustain its roles depends on maintaining role bargains acceptable to the great powers, an increasingly difficult task due to great power rivalry in the South China Sea.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
Early online date9 Dec 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 9 Dec 2016


  • regional order
  • social roles
  • great powers
  • English school


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