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New Modes of Governance in the Asia-Pacific

The global importance of the Asia-Pacific for the twenty-first century is often underlined through projections about the economic, environmental and security implications of China and India. Yet a more fundamental question lurks behind the rise of China, India and other countries in the region. How will rapidly developing states in the region be able to provide and maintain public goods?

Much of what we have taken for granted throughout the latter part of the twentieth century about public goods is now under challenge. This is due to political contention over the very scope of the public good, the erosion of the capacity of the state to provide these goods and the provision of them by other organisations Ð notably trans-national and private organisations. The analysis of new forms of governance that attempt to provide public goods will therefore be vital to the well being of the populations of the Asia-Pacific and those countries that have an interest in the stability and prosperity of the region.

Within the Asia-Pacific, far-reaching economic, social, and political changes have undermined or rendered vulnerable the capacities of existing governmental institutions to provide public goods, not least in the area of environmental sustainability. Similarly, governments are limited in their ability to provide effective regulatory frameworks in complex production chains that cut across national boundaries. Even the most basic public functions such as security are now becoming privatised or subject to transnational structures of authority.

The precise impact then of development in the region Ð both for people in the Asia-Pacific and in the countries engaging with them Ð will be mediated by governance institutions that are themselves undergoing dramatic transformations. New modes of governance are emerging that effect the instruments, methods, capacities and purposes of political, social and economic institutions in the Asia-Pacific. They cover a wide range of public policy processes and methods of implementation, including informal policy networks, new hybrid public and rivatepartnerships, new forms of compliance with regulatory objectives within private corporate entities, and the development of new standard setting organisations. What is ÔnewÕ about these modes of governance is one or other of the following features: a) they involve limited recourse to formal structures of public authority or sanction; b) they incorporate use of, or cede to, private actors and organisations in the provision of public functions and regulation; c) they take new multi level Ð international, regional, national and local Ð forms; d) they facilitate new forms of policy networks across the private and public sectors; and e) they create new avenues to measure compliance with policy and regulatory objectives.

These new modes of governance include: mechanisms for monitoring and supervising public health by the World Health Organisation; regional bodies such as the East Asian network of central bankers; forms of national state administrative accountability such as the Ombudsperson in the Philippines and non-governmental organisations monitoring labour standards in China; the increasing role of private security companies within and beyond state borders and the transnational management of internal security through new hybrid institutional forms, such as Regional Assistance Mission for Solomon Islands (RAMSI); and the proliferation of decentralised systems of political participation throughout India. New modes of governance also include the wide range of innovative public and private configurations Ñ such as in education or health Ñ which are developed to facilitate the provision of public goods.

A crucial political dimension to new modes of governance is that they embody contentious efforts to reshape the legitimacy, scope and purpose of public goods through new concepts of participation and accountability. As such, the development and emergence of new modes of governance may be symptomatic of deeper transformations of political regimes and state organisations within the region.

The Asia Research Centre is embarking on a new flagship project, New Modes of Governance in the Asia-Pacific, with the aim of identifying, analysing and assessing new modes of governance in the region. Researchers will investigate such questions as: What patterns are discernible in the way that public goods are being provided? What are the competing conceptions of the ÔpublicÕ in the provision of these goods and can they be reconciled? What conflicts and coalitions of interest are involved in the competing notions of how to provide public goods? More broadly, what are the links between new modes of governance and political regimes? Are these modes fostering forms of political participation and accountability that converge with or depart sharply from institutions of representative democracy? And what are the implications of this Ð both for the region and engagement with it?

This project will include collaboration with the Centre on Asia and Globalisation at the National University of Singapore, whose founding director is Professor Ann Florini from the Brookings Institution. The first jointly convened workshop for the project was held in Singapore in December 2007. The meeting charted the substantive research agenda of the project and a strategy for its development. Further collaborations are anticipated in this ambitious, multi-study programme.

All enquiries should be directed to Professor Richard Robison, at R.Robison@murdoch.edu.au