Economic Statecraft, Geoeconomics and Regional Political Economies

Economic Statecraft, Geoeconomics and Regional Political Economies

Shaun Breslin2023-04-21

In this introduction to the special issue, we establish the overarching objective for the collection; to investigate the salience and efficacy of conceptions of Economic Statecraft (ES) and Geoeconomics for understanding and explaining shifts in state-market relationships in a number of regional political economies. After a very short overview of different generations of ES research, we establish the set of common questions that each of the papers address, and how we arrived at them as the research project evolved. We point to the importance of ensuring that ES is not just thought of as something that the more powerful regional states engage in, and the need to adopt a three-part analytical distinction between different components of ES: motivations and objectives; actions and tools; and outcomes and consequences. This allows us to trace the relationship between goals and effects, provides a basis for comparative studies, and makes it easier to make a distinction between ES and other forms of state involvement in the economy.

The starting point for this special issue is to assess the salience and efficacy of ‘new’ (or more correctly, reformulated) ways of theorising and explaining the relationship between regional states and ‘their’ economic actors. To ask if there really has been a fundamental shift in basic starting points that drive policy changes, or simply a shift in emphasis and focus within existing paradigms. And if there has been a change—either a fundamental or incremental one - why? And why now?

There is of course a long history of scholarship on the relationship between states and markets in and of the region (however you define the ‘region’). This is not to say it is a specific regional phenomenon. Far from it. As Ha-Joon Chang (Citation2002) reminded us, if you take a long historical sweep, then it has been varieties of (strong) state directed development that have tended to be the norm in early development phases, rather than the aberration that they were often argued to be during the years of neoliberal dominance. That said, it’s probably fair to say that it is a region where the role of the state has been particularly prominent in research on both domestic political economies, and broader regional dynamics too.Footnote1 Indeed, given how much has been written—not least in the pages of this journal—then it might seem a bit unnecessary to revisit the issue again. But times change, and so do the political and economic environments that policy makers try and navigate through. And in the process new concepts and approaches are developed and/or deployed to try and understand what is going on, and predict future action.

And this is where the concepts of Economic Statecraft (ES) and geoeconomics come into the equation. While both have relatively long histories, both have also evolved and emerged (relatively) recently in their current incarnations as (relatively) prominent ways of explaining the methods and goals of state direction of economic activity. And the key word in the previous sentence is ‘goals’. Because it is in identifying what that policy is meant to achieve that proponents of the utility of ES see a key difference with previous forms of state-market interactions (and the study of them).

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The project “European Hub for Contemporary China (EuroHub4Sino)” has received funding from the European Union's Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 101131737.

Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or European Research Executive Agency (REA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.