Environmental Offshoring: Implications for East Asia’s Regionalization and Sustainable Development 

 

This research is undertaking an environmental and economic history of East Asian regionalism to reveal how rapid economic modernization and social and ecological change are intimately connected and transform each other. We focus on Thailand and Japan - two geographically distant places - where industrialization and its legacies, trade, investment, aid, and the region’s geopolitics connect and have profoundly reorganized ecologies and societies in both places.

The interdependent relationship between society and nature is a defining debate of the 21st century, including in relation to climate change, sustainable development, and the Anthropocene. Globalization and regionalization have brought about not only convenience and prosperity for some, but also cross-border challenges such as natural disasters, pollution, resource depletion, and environmental degradation that impact others. The global supply chains that characterize globalization and regionalization create connections between multiple sites of production, and ultimately consumption. In this process, which involves increased flows of people, goods, services, and finance, global supply chains interact with local communities and ecologies, leading to intensified social-ecological relations and creating new opportunities and challenges. 

To safeguard global supply chains for business continuity, through processes of “environmental offshoring”, home governments of transnational corporations have increasingly extended their environmental governance activities beyond their sovereign territories through aid, trade and investment policy to manage environment security at the sites of production. There has been a deepening of connections between business strategies and state-led environmental governance strategies. The thickening of the governance relations that connects host and home countries, private firms, consumers, and local communities and ecologies is captured in the traditional Japanese saying: "Ten wa izure sen to nari, sen wa izure men to naru" [Sooner or later points become lines, soon or later lines become planes]. When applied to the business field, it suggests strategies for generating multiplying effects and increasing production efficiency. However, in the Age of the Anthropocene, it also suggests the thickening of social-ecological interactions between multiple places.

 

This research examines the practices and implications of “environmental offshoring” under East Asia regionalism, including the consequences of bilateral and multilateral agreements and development policies. Attention will be paid to the issues of ecological sustainability, distributional equity, and business continuity. To understand how East Asian regionalism connects societies and ecologies with implications for equity and sustainability requires collaboration across the conventional boundaries, disciplines, and sectors to coproduce new and relevant knowledge.  

 

This project is a collaboration between Dr. Takeshi Ito and Dr. Carl Middleton from the Center for Social Development Studies, Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand.

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