The research program “Power Shift in East Asia” is a collaboration between the Swedish Defence University and the Swedish Institute of International Affairs.
Background and aim
An East Asian power shift is imminent – or so we have been told for more than two decades. The power shift literature abounds with explanations, warnings and policy advice, but fails to address the more primary theoretical question: How do we recognise a ‘power shift’ when we see one? Power thus needs to be treated as a dependent variable. This program aims to analyse how power operates in the context of an alleged East Asian power shift, and with what implications. It will enquire if and how two major actors in this theatre – China and Japan – succeed in shaping each other’s preferences, interests or identities, or such capacities of third party actors, in regard to three fiercely contested bilateral issues – a power exercise known as ‘soft power’. Since the soft power concept harbours a largely untapped potential to transcend the realm of agency by inquiring how actors are constituted, the program will also investigate the lineage of the ideas, values, norms and social practices that produce effects, and inquire how China and Japan are products thereof. Finally, the program will examine how the soft power concept itself is involved in battles over how to construct what is conceivable. Besides making a significant empirical contribution, the project will offer a re-conceptualisation of the popular soft power concept. It will also attempt to bridge the gap between the theoretical and empirical literatures on power by giving sustained attention to the central issue of operationalisation.
Areas of contribution
The program will move beyond existing research by making empirical, theoretical and methodological contributions. It will:
- make a significant contribution to the literature on China’s alleged ‘rise’, Chinese and Japanese soft power, Sino-Japanese relations and the power shift that ostensibly is underway in East Asia and beyond.
- offer a re-conceptualisation of the popular yet also very ambiguous concept of soft power, with the goal of making it analytically more meaningful and operational.
- make a marked contribution to the state of the art on power in IR and political science by bridging the gap between the vast and rich but also rather abstract and unsubstantiated theoretical/conceptual power literature and the equally vast but usually rather crude empirical/analytical one
For more information visit the program’s web: https://www.ui.se/english/research/asia/power-shift-in-east-asia/