Research Achievements

GIARI & Political Integration and Identity

Research:Publications:Working Papers FY2011

Pre-Colonial Southeast Asia and the Tribute System I: Balancing in a Hierarchical System / Min Shu


GIARI Working Paper

Excellent papers on Asian regional integration, which are prepared mainly by young researchers such as GIARI members, co-researchers, research fellows, and research assistants, will be published as working papers. Contributed papers, written in English or in Japanese, will be reviewed and examined by the editorial committee before publication. GIARI donates published papers to the libraries of Waseda and other related universities, research organizations, etc.

GIARI Working Paper Vol. 2011-E-4


Southeast Asia had long been an integral part of the China-centered tribute system in the pre-colonial era. Yet, the hierarchical relationship between China and Southeast Asia has not been studied from the perspective of international relations. This article contributes to the literature by looking into the strategic responses of Southeast Asian countries to the China-dominated regional hierarchy. It argues that international relations in pre-colonial Southeast Asia were characterized by a complex political structure of anarchy-within-hierarchy. In this structural context, Southeast Asian countries often actively sought close tributary relations with China in order to survive and dominate the sub-regional order. The tribute system was also instrumental in bringing about balancing behavior at the sub-regional level. Detailed analysis reveals that the tribute system offered three mechanisms crucial to the power balance of pre-colonial Southeast Asia: imperial recognition, tributary trade, and external arbitration and protection.