The historically significant East Asian Summit (EAS) has finally been held in Kuala Lumpur. Sixteen heads of state attended the summit. In addition to stating the goal of forming an East Asian Community, the joint declaration issued after the summit contained another interesting item: the EAS will be directed by ASEAN, and the annual EAS summit will be held simultaneously with, and in the same location as, the ASEAN summit.
This conclusion was quite unexpected and it immediately detracts from the importance of the EAS, because it basically means that the 10 member states of "ASEAN plus three" -- China, Japan and South Korea -- has simply been expanded by the addition of India, Australia and New Zealand.
When the news that there would be an EAS spread throughout the region a year ago, it resulted in some commotion and it was said that it would be a grand occasion for East Asia. All the relevant countries said they would participate, and research institutions and academics wrote articles predicting the character and direction of the summit. All the major economic powers competed to make their stance known. China, for example, relied on the prestige bestowed upon it by its economic development to lend enthusiastic support to the summit and said that it would host the second summit.
Even Japan, which had in the past always refused to participate in this kind of regional economic organization, was persuaded to participate. The Japanese made careful preparations and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said before the summit that Japan is planning to use the EAS to establish an assistance framework for regional development. On Dec. 9, he said in an interview with Bernama, the Malasian national news agency, that the framework would be realized through research in three main areas, namely: regional opening; respecting the common values of democracy, human rights and the WTO's global regulations; and promoting practical cooperation in socio-economic affairs and non-traditional security areas. Japan will not be afraid of paying the price of abandoning the US to participate in the EAS.
Australia had originally not planned on signing the EAS' Treaty on Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), but they did not want to miss the opportunity offered by the first EAS, and were eager to participate. ASEAN then set conditions for Australian participation, saying that only by signing the TAC would Australia be allowed to participate. The Australians had no choice but to comply.
Once the major economic powers had met ASEAN's conditions and gained admittance to the EAS, they happily traveled to Kuala Lumpur, thinking that they would in future be able to throw their weight about and play the role of an East Asian leader. Nor did these economic powers forget to jockey for position in an attempt to gain a preeminent position.
Unexpectedly, the East Asian states, always planning and scheming, declared that EAS will be led by ASEAN, and that future summits will be held in ASEAN states. This was a sly gamble and ASEAN defeated the major economic powers that had been so eager to try their luck. The future direction and progress of the EAS will now be determined by ASEAN, something that surely vexes China, Japan and Australia.
The chairman's statement after the EAS stressed that the summit was an open and outward-looking organization. After the summit, some ASEAN leaders also stressed that the EAS is not an anti-US group, nor is it a racist organization, as shown by the admittance of Australia and New Zealand. If these statements were true, then there would be no reason to exclude the US or other nations such as Taiwan, North Korea, Mongolia, Pakistan, East Timor, Sri Lanka or Papua New Guinea from the outset. In other words, from the beginning, the summit has made careful deliberations when it comes to the issue of membership. The main reason for admitting India, Australia and New Zealand was to counterbalance China, South Korea and Japan.