Posted November. 30, 2004 22:38,
The creation of an East Asian union has gained more support after the leaders of 13 countries in East Asia agreed to hold an East Asian Summit conference next year at the 8th Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Plus Korea, China, Japan conference. The ASEAN plus three ended on November 30 in Laos.
The concept of East Asian community rose to the surface after calls for a unified entity such as European Union (EU) or the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for the collective economic betterment in the Asian region were voiced.
However, the international media anticipated that it would take a long time until the actual launching of such an entity due to the fierce rivalry between China and Japan over hegemony, and as the interests of the 13 involved countries differ from one another.
Would it be able to follow the EUs model?
The idea of forming an East Asian union was first proposed by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mohamad Mahatir in 1990 when he suggested creating an East Asian economic conference.
This time also, Malaysia was the most enthusiastic about forming an East Asia Summit. However, Indonesia and Vietnam held a negative view, saying that ASEAN countries would less say under the shadow of China and Japan.
Diplomatic sources said that despite dissenting views within the ASEAN, the summits could draw an agreement on establishing an East Asian summit conference because they shared a consensus that East Asia should not fall behind the international trend of regionalization.
Also, as South Korea, China, and Japan were in competition in signing free trade agreements with ASEAN countries, a drive towards economic integration gained more power.
Inevitable Competition for Hegemony-
The first East Asian Summit conference will be held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. China, though it yielded the chance to become the first host of the conference, but taking into account its strong relationship with ASEAN countries built over a long period of time, plans to seize the leadership role in the discussion.
Meanwhile, Japan considers itself as the initiator of the union talks, saying that its prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, proposed the foundation of an expanded East Asian community in January, 2002. Japan, which acquired a co-chairmanship for the next summit conference, plans to catch up with China on diplomatic relationships with ASEAN members. ASEAN countries, feeling at unease about the growing influence of China, are likely to strengthen ties with Korea and Japan to put a check on China.