Date of Award

Spring 1998

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


International Studies

Committee Director

Carl Boyd

Committee Member

Xiushi Yamg

Committee Member

Steven A. Yetiv

Committee Member

Jie Chen

Committee Member

Qiu Jen


Relative gains problem basically means unequal cooperative payoffs disproportionately favoring partners. With the relative gains problem widely accepted as a serious impediment to international cooperation, some scholars have theoretically argued or modeled several conditions that are most likely to foster a state's sensitivity to relative gains and thus substantially affect the prospects for cooperation. But little empirical work has been done to date. The central objective of this dissertation is to test whether those theoretical propositions can be supported by empirical evidence. For this purpose, we have deducted three hypotheses: (1) If a state faces military threat and zero-sum political competition from another state, then it will be extremely sensitive to relative gains, thereby restricting economic interactions favoring the rival state; (2) If a state believes that its partner is a rising power in a changed system, then it will show increasing sensitivity to relative gains and seek for its bargaining power; and (3) If a cooperative arrangement is likely to put a state in a competitive disadvantage and hurt its long-term growth, then it will be acutely sensitive to such relative losses and will not cooperate. The hypothesized causal relationships are tested via three cases: Taiwan's restriction of its economic interactions with China since 1979, Japan's reduction of its ODA commitment to China in the fourth loan package, and China's rejection of the flying geese model since the mid-1980s.

The hypotheses in both Taiwan and ODA cases are strongly supported by the evidence, while the evidence for actual policy outcomes (i.e., non-cooperation) in the flying geese model is mixed. Therefore, the relative gains approach has a formal deductive logic and parsimonious power in analyzing cooperation barriers in East Asia. The study has also three policy implications. First, largely because of "defensive cooperation," relative gains concerns do not always jeopardize or eliminate cooperation. Second, even high relative gains concerns may not be fully reflected in policy outcomes, since the extent to which they are ultimately translated into policy is constrained by many other factors. And third, due to strong relative gains concerns, no formal economic bloc in East Asia could be created in the near future, and the continuation of US military presence in the region is highly necessary.