The Emerging role of Regionalism and the Multilateral World


     The rise of China, India, and the emergence of regional middle powers such as Indonesia in Asia has shifted the intention of policy makers and experts to Asia in a changing situation that the West has lost its exceptionalism and absolute global influence and on the other hand, the above mention countries had accelerated its positions from regional powers to global superpowers and from low-income countries to fast growing regional nations that often are defined as middle powers. Thus, the current debate in International Relations has transferred beyond defining the world either a Unipolar with one centered World Oder, or a Multipolar with that several countries are competing for domination through the realist perspective of power or within the cycle of security dilemma. Undoubtedly, the emergence of the multipolar world has generated multilateral world, where regionalism could explain the current world in both theoretic and practical frameworks. Similarly, the multilateral world has come to prove that the multipolar actors and middle powers are not only cooperative, but also inseparable components of the multilateral world. The purpose of the essay is to clarify that non-Western mainstream theories are essential to describe the changes taking place in Global politics since the emergence of the multilateral world. 

How the exceptionalism is being presented today and how it failed?

     Reading the current global situation merely through the western IR theory perspective means emphasizing on the power concept such as that the global order is deteriorating due to the financial crisis, the pandemic, geopolitical rivalry, wars and the divide between the North and the South. It is persuasive in revealing the evidences of the current global crisis and specially the split between the North and the South, but still lacks explaining the ideological shift and whether the world is currently in unipolar or multipolar shape. Moreover, Stephen G Brooks’s paper “The Myth of Multipolarity,” puts very sharply that the world system is based on the US supremacy and the other great powers such as Russia and China are far behind. His statement is based on two pillars such as economic and military powers of the US is the strongest globally. By show the US is advanced from both China and Russia from the perspective of power, does not provide enough affirmation and persuasion to the argument. Moreover, downgrading the international institutions that has been shaped by Russia and China and India that are integrating new states are seen as a great challenge today to the US in its desire for global influence. Moreover Stephen G. Brooks, could have mentioned for example the foundation of such institutions by Russia and China such as the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation and test them in terms of its eligibility or performance, and make a counter-argument such as “although the BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation do exist, but lack of its commitment does not challenge the US in global arena.” Hence, showing only the military and economic power of the US is not persuasive enough to make a statement that the multipolar world is a myth. Thus, such statements based on liberal IR theories adds confusion in defining the current condition in global policy that might generate false hypotheses. 

The Inclusive Nationalism of the Asian superpowers 

      The emergence non-liberal superpowers in global politics as decisive powers have shifted the political reality in global politics from unilateral world governance to a multipolar system where international relations are being orchestrated or managed from different continents and by countries that possess distinguishable nationalist ideology, but at the same time in coalition against the global liberal values. China’s national ideology “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” has been articulated clearly with president Xi Jinping’s vision on the path of transforming China into a superpower. The two pillars of Chinese characteristics of Ideology are socialism and Chinese nationalism which has been amalgamated into Sinicized socialism. Moreover, the philosophical aspect is the backbone if China’s wisdom is rooted in Confucianism that makes China hierarchical with strong social order and represents itself as the moral foundation of Chinese nation. The terms used in Chinese national ideology stresses on ethnic groups, civilization, social and cultural development, renewal of Chinese nation, history, and Chinese spirit.The Chinese nationalism has been inward looking which emphasizes the role of culture, ethics and morality of the Chinese people.

      To the same degree, India as an emerging global power, has shown first signs on nationalism against the colonial-foreign involvement in India, which was purely a desire of liberating the country from foreign invasion. Currently, among nationalists, the Western concept of secularism has been discredited for being alien to Indian culture and tradition, to them, it should be abandoned demanding a return to genuine religion to rejuvenate indigenous traditions and conduct religious tolerance for enjoying multireligious and pluralist India. In terms of national ideology, nationalism in India is has been built upon ethnicities and loyalties and at the same time emphasizes the civic loyalties (common citizenship) for regenerating the nation based on citizenship regardless of ethnicity and culture. Similarly, Christophe Jaffrelot in his “Modi’s India” book, mentions that Hindu nationalists place more emphasis on ethnic, historical, and cultural traits than on spirituality. Thus, the awakening nationalism in India had not been only a sign for resistance, but at the same time an opportunity for creating a distinct identity. 

       By revealing historical heritage, it has been indispensable to unite the fragmented Indian society especially articulation of ancient Hindu culture. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar defines Indian nationalism as “What is called nationalism can be defined as in fact the national communalism of the majority community…Thus in Hindustan it is Hindus, professing Hindu Religion and being in overwhelmingly majority, that constitute the national community and create and formulate the nationalism of the nation.” Thus, besides the two above mentioned components of ethnic and civic loyalties, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, puts the as the forefront on the path of creating a nation based on nationalism and on communal basis that entails all communities but under Hindu supremacy in establishing the nation. Precisely, the most exact term describing Indian nationalism has been Hindutva which Kripa Sirdharan translates it as “Indiannes (religious and national identity,” whereas Ana Kim gives more ethnic expression as “Hindu-ness.” Therefore, Indian nationalism has elements of ethnic identity, national unity towards maintaining territorial integrity, culture, and to lesser extent spirituality. On Global scale, among the multipolar world, India has unique national democratic ideology that has taken the function of maintaining balance between the polars and more precisely between the two competing polars namely the liberal world and the non-liberal nationalist superpowers, by joining BRICS orchestrated by Russia in order to sustain the global involvement of Russia and simultaneously has joined Quadrilateral Security Dialogue which is meant to counter China’s influence in Asia and beyond. Moreover, India has presented the North-South Corridor project that connects the Indian Ocean with Eurasia through Armenia which implies that India has already started its own projects to become not only a regional superpower, but also generates a global project in parallel with the One Belt One Road Initiative. Hence, India’s rapid development on global scale has been due to the repossession of Indian nationalism which has been the driving force for Indian awakening. 

The Emergence of Regionalism by (Asian Middle Power)

     Regionalism as factor in global IR has started to be essential primarily based on two aspects. Firstly, due to the decline of the unipolar system and the emergence of other global powers in global arena; which paved the way for regional powers to have its share of participation in global issues. Secondly, the development of regional powers in its geographical environment has shaped the essentiality of regionalism in global politics. For Instance, the Indonesian case is a great example of shaping regionalism in its geographical environment with its impact on global politics not merely in terms of its economic development as an 4th largest economy and in becoming a upper middle income country in a short term, neither evaluating its essentiality in terms of its geostrategic location per se. Instead, Indonesia’s essentiality has been in presenting a distinct national identity that is based on two pillars; the national ideology of Pancasila and the version of Moderate Islam known as the middle path. In other terms, Indonesia prioritizes its national identity that is based on historical and cultural characteristics and urges the unity of its diverse population under the one united national ideology. Moreover, in a country of diverse religions, currently it is promoting moderation in religion for achieving acceptance and cooperation among religions. Such national policy is an indication of the regionalism that Mary Farrel defines as a theory that integrates cultural and social narratives in its politics that essentializes the historical, social and political conditions related to its environment. Thus, with the emergence of the multipolar world, the regional powers in Asia such as Indonesia has become into arena as a country with its unique identity based on inclusive nationalist ideology and cooperative mechanism in religious affairs which could be explained through a theory such as regionalism. 

     On global level, Indonesia as a country located on an importance trade route and in a region of global competition, has been demonstrating its own foreign policy based on its national identity and by performing a strategy known as hedging in diplomacy. The Indonesian hedging is more than a balanced foreign policy- a strategy that shows neutrality between the superpowers-which enhances a desire to be acknowledge a regional player in global affairs with its distinguished stance. In regard, Cheng Chwee Kuik as a prominent Asian expert defined hedging as an “…insurance-maximizing behavior under high-uncertainty…where a rational actor…mitigates and offsets risks by pursuing active impartiality, inclusive diversifications and prudent contradictions, with ultimate goal of cultivating a fall-back position”. In this sense, the Indonesian hedging does perform more than balancing diplomacy among the multipolar world, but bringing forward its own foreign policy as an expert on Indonesian expert, Amad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar notes the willingness of Indonesia to see a global order that middle powers shape policy as well, and the interference in its internal affairs should be unacceptable by the super powers. Moreover, the current Indonesian government under the president Jokowi, has taken critical approach towards the global inequalities caused by the liberal capitalist system. Thus, the enhanced role in such regionalism in global policy accelerates the role of the middle power as an alternative to multipolar competition and bipolar rivalry, by shaping the non-alignment faction that is pragmatic in its foreign policy in terms of cooperation with multiple sides and at the same time by shaping its our identity in global policy. Hence, the Indonesian case as a model of regionalism with its distinct foreign policy generator brings the theory of regionalism into International Relations. 

     Moreover, the Indonesian distinct foreign policy, has shown its desire not only to have its stance in global affairs, but also has presented to be a mediator in global tensional issues such as the current China-US competition. Thus, such foreign policy based on regionalism in global policy is an indication that regionalism has elements of providing the middle power to set an agenda of cooperation on global level in addition to its willingness to enhance in regional impact on global level. In regard to the enhanced role of Indonesia on security issues globally, Amad Rizky Mardhatillah Umar emphasizes the role middle power and particularly Indonesia, as an essential actor for superpowers in providing stability and sustaining global tension to transform into open conflicts, due to the ability of Indonesia in not taking side with any of the competing superpowers. Thus, the Indonesian case, due to its pragmatic and progressive foreign policy, has transformed the understanding od regionalism to another level by not only its ability to be engaged with different nations, but at the same time its ability in providing solution for enhancing stability. 


     The emergence of middle powers in many parts in the Global South and particularly in Asia, has brought the urgency for looking for theories that could be explained the world outside of the western world. At the same time, to define international relations not merely based on the western theories such as Liberalism or Realism. Undoubtedly, the rise of superpowers such as China and India, has paved the way in Asia for other countries such as Indonesia to be accepted in global politics not as a fast economic developing country, but at the same time to establish itself as a distinct regional power that could bring impact in International Relations by providing a distinct nationalist ideology that is eligible to cooperate with other nations on the basis of equality. Furthermore, the Indonesian regionalism is capable of presenting stability solutions in global politics and establishing a non-alignment coalition as an identical pillar in the system of multilateral world. In other words, the regionalism due to the emergence of countries such as Indonesia has shown the current world is not only a multipolar, but heading to a world system that has multi actors that is shifting the world from multipolarity to multilateralism.

Note: The references cited from 3 to 10 has been published partially in a book chapter co-authored by Ararat Kostanian. For further information: Kostanian, A. (2022) The Ideological Factor in the Multipolar World System, Handbook of Dialogue and Development: India-China-EU, ABS Books, Delhi.

  1.  Rodrik, D. (2022) How to Build a Better Order, September,
  2. Brooks, S. (2023) The Myth of Multipolarity. May/June 2023,
  3. Chin, X. (2017). New Theory about Socialism with Chinese Characteristic (p.26). Beijing: China Renmin University Press.   
  4. Xi, J. (2018). The Governance of China (pp. 3-4-12-14-37). Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.
  5. Kripa, S. (2000) NATIONALISM and GLOBALIZATION (P.298). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
  6. Christophe, J. (2021). Modi’s India (p.13). New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
  7. Kripa, S. (2000) NATIONALISM and GLOBALIZATION (P.290-310). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
  8. ibid, 300-310
  9.  Ibid, 310.
  10. Kim, A. (2019) The Diplomat,
  11. The Ministry of Religious Affairs . (2020) Religious Moderation, p.5, 15-16.
  12. Farrel, M. (2005) Global Politics of Regionalism (p.8). Pluto Press, London.
  13. Kuik, CH. (2022) Hedghing via institutions: ASEAN-Led multilateralism in the Age of the Indo-Pacific, Asian Journal of Peacebuilding Vol. 10. No.2. (356).
  14. Umar, A. (2023), What is Indonesia’s vision for the international order? Chatham House,
  15. ibid.

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