The increasing economic significance of diasporas for nation-states in 21st century Asia, whether as investors, philanthropists, educators, spiritual leaders, or lobbyists, is fast changing the territorial and political landscape within which these states and their societies operate. China’s One Belt, One Road intiative, Turkey’s neo-Ottomanism, Iran’s Shi’a Crescent, Gulf states’ sectarian outreach, and a Greater India claimed by the Hindu Right, all point to a growing regionalism--a regionalism imagined and gradually beginning to be accomplished with diasporas as both national and international partners of states. As regional ambitions and projects take states beyond their borders and connect diasporas back to their cultural homelands, we are witnessing the emergence of a spatial and social order for political action radically different from the territorial order of 20th century nation-states. Reinforcing particular notions of ethnic, cultural and religious hegemony, such politics is played out in ways ranging from jihad, military coups and sectarian nationalism, to a progressive dissolution of the constitutional rights of citizens within national territories.
The panel attempts to bring a theoretical perspective to this newly emerging spatial and social order through research papers focusing on different geographies in contemporary Asia as the connected sites of commercial and political activity for different diasporas. With Chinese Hui Muslims, Gulenists, the Baloch, Gujratis and Sindhis as protagonists, the panel illustrates how the social order of contemporary Asian regionalisms evolved and spread out through historic networks of trade, religion, kinship, and labor in the Indian Ocean and territorial Eurasia. Thus, the papers approach regionalism and the expanding influence of states beyond their territorial borders with a "diasporic view," or with analytic lenses turned inwards at the state and its relations, not just with these diasporas but with other states as well. At the centre of the argument tying the papers together are the diverse roles played by diasporas and their transnational networks in constituting what we call 'order beyond borders.'
Privileging networks rather than states helps problematize dominant perceptions of political sovereignty, ethnicity and nationalism, all of which continue to remain grounded in territorial frameworks and concepts. Such an approach also helps factor in pragmatic politics as key aspects in constituting them as the cornerstones of an international system of nation-states in the 20th century and as elements of a symbolic economy in the globalized world of the 21st century. The panel in looking towards the past of networks, also proposes strategies by which states can work better with diasporas and without compromising the economic and political aspirations of territorial citizens as well as other states. Its network-centric approach to questions of contemporary political significance in Asia as well as globally, resonates with the interests of a broad academic audience including anthropologists, historians, sociologists, political scientists and Asian Studies scholars.