The East Asian Summit (EAS) will be held in Malaysia in December, thereby realizing a suggestion first made by former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad in 1990. Changes over time and the vigor of the East Asian economies have made the summit unavoidable -- and Taiwan cannot sit by idly and watch economic development in East Asia pass by without it.
When Mahathir suggested the concept of an East Asian economic group 15 years ago, he advocated a membership made up strictly of East Asian states. The suggestion was immediately opposed by Japan and the US. Japan opposed this protectionist regional economic group and stressed its preference for a global view of economic development. The US saw it as an economic organization which, by only including East Asian states, would destroy efforts to expand economic cooperation in the wider Asia-Pacific region.
The US also felt that it should be included in the summit because of its close economic ties with the region, and objected to the organization since it felt that it might develop into an economic and trade group that excluded others.
In reality, the US worried that it would be excluded as a result of racial concerns. The US' opposition displeased Mahathir, who later refused to participate in the Fifth Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ministerial meeting in Seattle in 1993.
At last year's ASEAN summit in the Laotian capital of Vientiane, an agreement was reached that the ASEAN should support Japan's bid for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council in exchange for Japan's agreement to participate in the summit. This was a breakthrough that meant the beginning of the end to the deadlock surrounding the summit.
In December of last year, Malaysia's Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi first said that Australia and New Zealand might be invited to the summit. Singapore's Foreign Minister, George Yeo (
When hosting the Second ASEAN Leadership Forum at the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute, Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said that Malaysia did not approve of Australian, Japanese or Indian participation in the first summit, but that these countries could engage in dialogue on another occasion with the EAS regarding East Asia-related issues.
In order to solve the issue of what states would be allowed to participate, the foreign ministers of the ASEAN member states called a meeting in Cebu in the Philippines in April this year, at which they laid down three conditions for participation in the summit. First, the state must be a full ASEAN dialogue partner. Second, the state must have substantial relations with the ASEAN. Third, the state must approve of and have signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia.
These three conditions were aimed at Australia and New Zealand. Australia did not want to sign the treaty at first. But in order to be allowed to participate in the summit, the Australian parliament ratified the treaty last month, while New Zealand ratified it in July. With Australia's taking a low profile and approving the treaty, ASEAN scored yet another victory.