THE THIRD East Asia Summit (EAS) was held in Singapore last month. Following the example set in the previous two summits, Taiwan was again not invited.
The EAS included ASEAN, joined by China, Japan, South Korea and other countries. Issues discussed in this EAS covered conflict on the Korea Peninsula, climate change, the ongoing political crisis in Myanmar, regional economic integration and community awareness.
This annual gathering has touched upon issues with both political and economic dimensions that are of great concern to our country. Taiwan's absence indicates that the fear of being purposely excluded from the East Asian integration process is warranted.
The idea of East Asian integration was launched by Japan around 40 years ago. At that time, Japan tried to give East Asian self-awareness a wake-up call by adopting certain economic approaches.
Afraid of being sidelined due to its World War II aggression, Japan began to focus on strengthening its economic relations with developing countries in the region.
The concept of Asia-Pacific integration was also initiated by Japan, and the thought eventually gave birth to the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC) and later APEC. Japan used practical economic means to activate East Asian awareness. However, the beginning of Asia-Pacific integration was a political move disguised as a call for economic cooperation.
Efforts by the PECC and APEC have helped construct an Asia-Pacific cooperation model that, while not as mature as the EU, is slowly but surely moving toward its goal.
Meanwhile, the EAS has given power to an emerging East Asian integration arrangement that could and might challenge the Asia-Pacific model.
According to a report from the World Bank, "ASEAN plus three [China, Japan and South Korea]" will be able to give a boost to the real GDP growth of all contracting parties.
With such an economic incentive, East Asian awareness has been encouraged further. Given the fact that strong economic ties exist between Taiwan and other East Asian countries, the potential benefits could be further maximized if Taiwan was included in the process.
Unfortunately, Taiwan does not have a seat at the EAS table. Nevertheless, it has long been a dedicated member of both the PECC and APEC.
That means Taiwan is officially part of the Asia-Pacific cooperation model, regardless of whether it is able to take part in East Asian integration.
Through the simple rule of supply and demand, the current East Asian or Asia-Pacific frameworks have been serving as a foundation to support the global value chain.
When it comes to the global economic system, regional phenomena can easily start a chain reaction. To prevent disasters like the East Asian financial crisis from happening again, countries in this region should realize the significance of economic and financial cooperation.
However, Taiwan does not have many options to choose from. It also has to deal with more constraints than other neighboring countries when trying to optimize its position. Although Japan started the East Asian integration process, the process is now dominated by China.
What should Taiwan's strategy be in response to numerous external constraints like not being invited to the EAS and the risk of being marginalized from the East Asian integration process?
The situation for Taiwan is complicated, but the solution can be simple.
Taiwan should never mistake the existing constraints as all the variables in the equation. It needs to place greater emphasis on decisions that can be made by Taiwan.
Decisions over which Taiwan has no influence are external constraints. To further simplify my argument, Taiwan can stop paying so much attention to the East Asian integration process and EAS and instead focus more on relevant Asia-Pacific developments including the PECC, APEC and the potential Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) region.
Lacking common roots, the idea of East Asian integration can only emerge if East Asians come to share a common vision of the future and are happy with their roles in such a vision.
But the current reality is that East Asia is still far from fulfilling that vision. On the other hand, the Asia-Pacific cooperation model is gradually becoming a reality. If opportunities for participation don't exist in one arena, Taiwan should allocate its valuable resources on feasible mechanisms.
Darson Chiu is an associate research fellow at the Taiwan Institute of Economic Research.
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