Sam is quite right to hear echoes of Hedley Bull in Peter Varghese's point about the role of rules and institutions in managing strategic relations. This does indeed make Varghese much more than a crude realist. But that does not mean Varghese is putting as much faith as Sam perhaps suggests in the existing flora of regional institutions like APEC, the EAS of the ASEAN to manage the big strategic issues which his speech describes.

Elsewhere in the speech was this passage: 

The primary burden of managing strategic stability in Asia will fall on bilateral relationships and smaller networks of relationships among the major powers of the region. And of foremost importance among these relationships will be the US-China relationship.

This is spot on, and also very reminiscent of Bull.  Rules and institutions are not necessarily multilateral, or broadly inclusive. The biggest issues tend to be managed by the smallest groupings. Certainly, stable strategic relations between the US and China will need to be based on some new rules and understandings, but the understandings will be negotiated among the region's most powerful states, not in anything that looks like the EAS.

I do not presume to claim Varghese as a convert to my idea of a Concert of Asia, but this is the core idea behind my argument that a concert-like set of understandings among Asia's major powers is the best hope for stable region. The highly inclusive model of Asian regionalism that as evolved over the past few decades won't do the job, for reasons I explore briefly here.

Photo by Flickr user bingpoint-uk.