First East Asia Summit and the Prospect of an East Asian Community

NOT for quotation

Date January 12, 2006
Speaker YAMADA Takio(Director, Regional Policy Division, Asian and Oceanian Bureau, Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Moderator TANABE Yasuo(Vice-President, RIETI)


*As per the author's request, this transcript is not for quotation.


At a BBL seminar in February last year, I spoke about an East Asian Community. At that time, I said that we need to have sound guiding principles and an adequate approach in proceeding with this concept of forming an East Asian Community because it would be difficult to realize unless we consider not only economic aspects but also political and security issues in a comprehensive manner.

Now, looking back on what we have seen over the nearly one year that has elapsed since then, I would like to cite the convening of the East Asia Summit in December 2005 as a positive development. At the same time, however, we have witnessed the occurrence of various problems in the Japan-China relationship and it seems that a range of difficulties faced by East Asia is now beginning to surface. That said, however, I do not mean we should give up on the concept of an East Asian Community. On the contrary, because of all these difficulties, it is becoming all the more important for us to get together to work toward a common goal and seriously discuss the future of this region.

When this vision of an East Asian Community was first brought to our attention, we were not sure as to what it meant in substance. It seemed as if varied people of varied standpoints were collectively dreaming of some sort of utopia. But, of course, an East Asian Community is no utopia and it is quite natural that certain confrontations emerge as we come to see the fundamental problems more clearly. And despite all the odds, the leaders of our countries confirmed their commitment to work toward the realization of this vision, which I think is the greatest achievement of the East Asia Summit.

East Asia as it stands today

We do not yet have a clear definition of the geographic scope of the East Asian region. The East Asia Summit was attended by ASEAN+3 countries (members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Japan, China and South Korea) as well as by Australia, New Zealand and India. In the past 10 years, interdependence within East Asia has rapidly deepened. This trend is conspicuously observable in trade relations; trade volume between Japan and China has quadrupled over the past decade whereas those between China and South Korea and between China and ASEAN increased eight-fold and six-fold respectively. Intraregional trade, which used to account for 33.6% of the overall trade of East Asian countries, rose to 53.3% in 2003. This compares to the corresponding ratio of 44.5% of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and 60.3% of the European Union. In East Asia, a range of negotiations for free trade agreements (FTAs) have been and are being conducted but only a few have yet been concluded. Yet in reality, trade relations between and among East Asian countries have deepened to the extent we see today. This, I think, indicates that we are now entering a new stage where we begin to build closer relationships revolving around economic ties.

There has been a growing recognition of the need for the region to get together. Tangible momentum for this was created by the Asian currency crisis of 1997, which made us recognize the importance of cooperation in monetary and financial areas. Furthermore, in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks in the United States, we renewed recognition of the importance of security cooperation.

Against this collective background, functional cooperation has been proceeding in all aspects including trade and investment, finance, and in response to various cross-border problems such as terrorism, illicit drug trade, and pirates. Playing a central role in this process is the framework of ASEAN+3 countries. Though a relatively new framework established only in 1997, it already embraces 48 consultative bodies in 17 fields. Meanwhile, Australia, New Zealand, India and the U.S. have been making vital contributions to each of these fields. When we look at trade figures for India, Australia and New Zealand, we can see that their trade values vis-a-vis ASEAN countries and China have risen sharply over the past 10 years.

Cross-border frameworks in East Asia are diverse and fairly complicated. In addition, the situation is rather unique in that neither Japan nor China is able to assume leadership as the major power in the region. Meanwhile, ASEAN, by taking advantage of being the "least objectionable" player, has been increasing its presence in the region via so-called conference diplomacy and indeed it did serve as the host for the East Asia Summit.

Challenges ahead

However, comparison with the EU, a model regional community, reveals a series of problems faced by East Asia. Europe has a clearer regional identity, both historically and culturally, than East Asia. Furthermore, by the time European countries began to integrate into the EU, postwar reconciliation between France and Germany had been achieved, European countries were already sharing common visions such as liberal democracy and free-market economy, and in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) they had a collective regional security system. With that said, any such commonalities existed in Europe in the first half of the 20th century, an era that witnessed the rise of fascism and the Russian Revolution. Yet, in the case of the EU, certain common foundations, such as those I just mentioned, were already in place at the time when the integration process began in full scale and upon these foundations further expanded European commonalities or identity. Now the question is whether we have such common foundations in East Asia. And we must admit, quite frankly, that there exist no foundations comparable to those in Europe.

East Asia, as it stands today, has begun to share certain commonalities in the economic, social and cultural aspects. In the political and security aspects, however, there still exist too many differences and problems. Thus, in working toward the integration of East Asia, we need to take an adequate approach by taking into account the dual nature of this region.

Multilayered approach required

Now, let me briefly discuss the issue of framework for regional integration, i.e. whether it should be ASEAN+3 or ASEAN+6. Arguments concerning this question tend to be presented simply in terms of highlighting the conflict or tug-of-war between Japan and China over the leadership in the region. But I think this issue contains more fundamental factors.

If we consider integration solely on economic aspects, ASEAN+3 would be a reasonably pertinent framework. Indeed, it is within this framework of ASEAN+3 that mechanisms for intraregional networking of economic activities have been most notably developed. More recently, however, Australia, New Zealand and India are becoming increasingly important trading partners for Asian countries. Moreover, when we look beyond the scope of the economy, we can see that there already exists expansive cooperation among countries -- embracing not only ASEAN+3 but also many other countries -- over various common issues. For instance, India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh are among the initial members of the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP). This is because India, for instance, has the most powerful navy in and around the Straits of Malacca. Also in the aftermath of the deadly quake off the coast of Sumatra, countries such as the U.S., Australia and India made enormous contributions to the humanitarian and restoration efforts. So, it is necessary to thoroughly consider whether we should proceed with the vision of a regional community while taking no account of all these countries.

The question of values is also important in thinking about a regional community. Recently, there have been some moves among the ASEAN countries to share the universal values of democracy, liberty, human rights and so forth. Asian values are surely important too. However, when we try to boil down exactly what Asian values are, we realize that we have no common understandings about such values and thus things tend to become subjective. After all, when we consider forming a regional community against the backdrop of ongoing globalization, I think it is inevitable to set universal values as a common axis linking countries in the region. Therefore, I think it is, in a sense, quite natural for us to think that countries sharing universal values should be included as partners in considering the vision of a regional community.

As it turned out, a total of 16 countries -- ASEAN+3 countries joined by Australia, New Zealand and India -- participated in the East Asia Summit. That is, the 16-country framework called the East Asia Summit has been added to the various frameworks already in place: ASEAN+1, ASEAN+3, the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference (PMC), the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) and so forth. When we look at the integration of Europe, we can see that the EU was not created solely through its own efforts but that a multilayered approach has been taken in the process. That is, there already existed such well-established security mechanisms as NATO and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). And through these mechanisms, regional unity on security has strengthened and mutual trust with East European countries has been forged, thereby laying the foundations of a regional community. Since situations in East Asia are more complex than those in Europe, it is only natural that we need to take a multilayered approach.

East Asia Summit and ASEAN+3 Summit

On the sidelines of the East Asian summit convened in Malaysia, another summit meeting was held under the framework of ASEAN+3 where the leaders agreed to announce in 2007 a "second joint statement on East Asia cooperation" and "joint work plans" for furthering concrete intraregional cooperation. It was also confirmed that the ASEAN+3 cooperation mechanism will continue to be the "main vehicle" in building an East Asian Community.

On the other hand, at the East Asia Summit, it was confirmed that the summit will play a "significant role" in community building in the East Asian region and it was also agreed that the summit meeting will be held every year. The East Asia Summit is counted on to develop as a forum for more comprehensive and strategic dialogue as compared to the ASEAN+3 Summit. I believe that the presence of these two frameworks will help maintain a good balance in future discussions on a regional community. At the moment, our countries differ so greatly, not only in opinions regarding the ways of forming a regional community and proceeding with regional cooperation but also having conflicting interests and viewpoints, that I think it is all the more meaningful to maintain both frameworks.

Japan managed to have its views reflected considerably in the Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the East Asia Summit (EAS Declaration). The explicit reference to the "significant role" of the East Asia Summit in community building is but one example. Based on Japan's proposals, the declaration also calls on the member states to "strive to strengthen global norms and universally recognized values," to ensure that the East Asia Summit will abide by the principle of open regionalism (i.e. to pursue an open, inclusive, transparent and outward-looking forum), to enhance functional cooperation, and so forth.

Rather than discussing which of the two frameworks -- the East Asia Summit or the ASEAN+3 Summit -- is more important, we should be thinking how we can make these two processes function effectively in a complementary way and have them generate momentum to accelerate regional cooperation, which I think is far more important.

Toward the formation of an East Asian Community

Two more significant steps were taken in a series of summit meetings held in Kuala Lumpur. One is that the leaders of the ASEAN countries agreed to establish the ASEAN Charter. In particular, Japan welcomes the fact that the promotion of democracy and human rights has been included for consideration in drafting the charter. Since the special Japan-ASEAN summit in 2003, Japan has been urging ASEAN to recognize the importance of democracy and other universal values. Thus, it is a significant step forward that ASEAN countries, at the top-level meeting, acknowledged the importance of such values. Another significant step is that they agreed to send a special envoy to Myanmar for the first time to inspect the progress of democratic reforms in the country.

Meanwhile, in the EAS Declaration, it was confirmed that the East Asia Summit will discuss not only economic issues but also political and security issues. In proceeding with the vision of an East Asia Community, we will be encountering various political and security issues. Whether or not the East Asia Summit can play a truly meaningful role in that process will be a touchstone determining the future of an East Asian Community.

In the preparatory process toward the East Asia Summit, various differences emerged among countries concerned. In the end, however, the EAS Declaration has been adopted whereby the leaders of our countries confirmed their commitment to further promote regional cooperation with an eye on the future formation of an East Asian Community. In order to further promote regional cooperation toward the peace and prosperity of the region, it will become all the more necessary to have political leadership and public support. I would like to take this opportunity to seek support from all of you to achieve this end.

Questions and Answers

Q: When we look at the map, we see such countries as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal on the east of India. If we are to create a community, shouldn't we be giving consideration to these countries?

A: The scope of member countries would differ depending on whether we focus on geographical linkage or functional linkage in considering an East Asian Community. I think that the composition of countries that have participated in the East Asian Summit, as it turns out, indicates that greater priority has been placed on functional linkage. Functional linkage was given substantial emphasis in the process of the EU integration, too. But such linkage is even more important for East Asia where economic disparities among countries are far greater than in Europe and thus geographical linkage alone would not be enough to bind them together. But of course we will need to consider the future participation of countries that are not included at the moment, that is, once functional factors are properly in place.

Q: How does ASEAN view China?

A: I think perceptions considerably differ from one country to another. But generally speaking, ASEAN's perception of China has changed notably since around 2002. This is because China changed its approach to ASEAN around that time. Symbolically, China signed the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea with ASEAN, which was an epoch-making event because the territorial dispute over the South China Sea had been the thorniest issue between China and ASEAN. Also in the same year, they concluded a Framework Agreement on Comprehensive Economic Cooperation toward establishing a China-ASEAN FTA. Then, in 2003, China formally joined the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) and the China-ASEAN Joint Declaration on the Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity was adopted. In response to all these developments, ASEAN has started to view China more positively. Of course, ASEAN's wariness of China has yet to be fully eliminated. But I think we need to recognize that the distance between China and ASEAN has been and is being narrowed substantially.

>> Original text in Japanese

*This summary was compiled by RIETI Editorial staff.