Fri, Dec 23, 2005 - Page 8 News List

Asian moves require close attention

By Honigmann Hong 洪財隆

The first high-profile East Asia Summit (EAS) has come to an end after Japan, China and other ASEAN member states got what they wanted and compromised with one another on other issues.

During negotiations leading up to the summit, Japan, Singapore and Indonesia successfully increased the summit's membership to include Australia, New Zealand and India in order to dilute China's influence. However, the US' absence from the meeting has secured China's role. Although the member states of ASEAN are less influential on political and economic fronts, they will continue to play their "normative" role in regulating political and economic integration in the region. In future, any country hoping to participate will have to first obey the principles established by ASEAN, including pledging not to use military force or interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, a guideline to which the US has refused to conform. In addition, any nation intending to be included in the EAS must sign an agreement to become a dialog partner of ASEAN and be regarded as an active player in political and economic affairs. That is why some members are questioning whether Russia is qualified to seek full EAS membership.

Therefore, we can only wonder if the EAS was intended to provide regional superpowers such as the US and Japan, and rising powers such as China with a platform to mitigate mutual differences, or if it was taking the first step toward stronger political and economic cooperation and a distinct framework for an "East Asian Community." Moreover, "exclusiveness" is a major characteristic of the regionalism that has placed Taiwan in a disadvantageous position. Clearly, any organizations based on the participation of East Asian nations have ignored the existence of Taiwan. Thus, we have to wonder what kind of impact it will have on cross-strait relations.

Although the EAS has yet to discuss anything substantial, a new framework for regional integration in East Asia has already come into play. The EAS did not actually successfully replace "ASEAN plus three" as it was designed to. Instead it has developed into something that can complement the existence of ASEAN. By including more members, the EAS stresses the importance of non-trade agendas such as regional security and political cooperation, while "ASEAN plus three" is directed at enhancing economic and trade integration in East Asia in addition to the progress it has made in stabilizing financial markets and ensuring energy security. However, we should observe how these two parallel organizations exert their influence, although they have both developed a distinctive mechanism, different from that of the EU and the North-American model.

In the future, a nation intending to host the EAS must be a member of ASEAN, and the EAS will be held immediately after the ASEAN summit. Next year's EAS will be held in the Philippines rather than in China, which had been extremely eager to host such an important gathering. This arrangement was clearly designed to quell a growing sense of unease that ASEAN was losing its dominant regional role. This also indicates that members are looking warily at an increasingly influential China.

Although the EAS has transformed into a new mechanism for dialogue, it still cannot alter the current situation in which nations are "talking regionally but acting bilaterally." Signing bilateral free-trade pacts is still the favored policy of many members. In addition to signing well-publicized deals with Japan, Singapore and Malaysia, China is seeking free-trade deals with more nations. Currently 27 nations have signed free-trade pacts with China.

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