Early View Article - Assessing the Development–Foreign Policy Nexus of the Asian Rising Powers: South Korea, China, Japan and Indonesia

Assessing the Development–Foreign Policy Nexus of the Asian Rising Powers: South Korea, China, Japan and Indonesia

This article adopts a holistic view of the theoretical and empirical interconnection between the development and foreign policies of four Asian rising powers: South Korea (hereafter Korea), Japan, Indonesia and China during three consecutive periods; the Washington Consensus (WC) era (1980–1990), the Post-Washington Consensus (PWC) era (1990–2008) and the Hybrid/Mix (H/M) era (2008–onwards). This study aims to elucidate and compare the level of coherence between the development agenda and foreign policy tools of these four Asian rising powers. First, the article provides an overview of the existing literature on the developmental state and developmental foreign policy. Second, it presents a development-foreign policy nexus (DFN) framework that takes into account five layers: (1) economics; (2) diplomacy; (3) security and peace; (4) civil society; and (5) state-market, and their related lines of action and instruments. The last part applies this DFN framework to our selected cases and provides comparative insights based on our newly created DFN Index scores, calculated separately for the four countries in each of the eras under review. In the final analysis, the results of our DFN Index and comparative case studies indicate that since the 1980s, in the selected four countries development has almost become subordinated to foreign policy and this coherence has continued to increase since the end of the 1990s.

Policy implications

  • The incorporation of development aspects into foreign policy tools by policy makers could enhance states’ capacity to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in both the developing and developed world and decrease the likelihood of trade-offs between different SDGs.
  • States’ development-related policies also determine the scope of their foreign policy actions, especially in the sphere of development cooperation. A developmental foreign policy can bolster donors’ motivation to increase the amount of their development aid, because the integration of development aspects into a receiving state’s foreign policies (especially development cooperation) could enhance donor countries’ national development achievements while at the same time helping non-wealthy countries overcome their development challenges.
  • A development-oriented foreign policy provides an opportunity for both developed and developing states to efficiently make use of their national assets toward reviving their economies and social welfare in a post-COVID world.
  • A high level of synergy of actions between a state’s ministry of foreign affairs and its ministry of development remains crucial for states seeking to improve their status on the global stage, because such synergy will strengthen the effectiveness of their foreign policy instruments.
  • In the context of developing countries with relatively less democratic political systems, development and foreign affairs do not operate in separate policy worlds and the division between their development and foreign policy sub-systems is in flux. In this respect, the political regime plays a key role in states’ capacity to effectively use foreign policy tools to promote development goals.
  • In less democratic political systems, the risk of the centralization of power in the hands of the head of state and/or government can lead to the use of foreign policy tools to serve the interests of the elites with little consideration of development targets. In their quest to achieve satisfactory development results, policy makers should invest in consolidating their democracies.
  • Development and foreign and security policy sub-systems within the Asian rising powers are more powerful due to their context of economic competitiveness among themselves, and between them and traditional powers. Thus, other countries in the developing world, especially emerging economies, are advised to widen their economic and political networking by forming enhanced partnerships with other countries.


Image: John Morgan via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)