East Asia Summit: Much Ado About
By Ralph A. Cossa
Global Beat Syndicate
HONOLULU—Was the inaugural East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur
"much ado about nothing," as many critics are already claiming, or the
"historic event" its proponents are proclaiming?
is too soon to say. While it remains unclear what the EAS will
eventually become, it is already clear that it will not be—nor does it
wants to be—a threat to U.S. interests. It is also unlikely to form the
basis for the much-heralded but still dormant East Asia Community. That
role will remain with the more exclusive “Association of South East
Asian Nations Plus Three,” comprised of the 10 Southeast Asian states
plus China, Japan, and South Korea.
an apparent attempt to address one of Washington's potential concerns
about this new regional grouping, the Summit Declaration following the
Dec. 14 gathering noted that the EAS would be "an open, inclusive,
transparent, and outward-looking forum in which we strive to strengthen
global norms and universally recognized values." Washington's
membership would still require it to accede to the ASEAN Treaty of
Amity and Cooperation, something the Bush administration (like its
predecessors) has been reluctant to do. Observer status for the United
States appears possible, however, and is more likely to be sought by
Premier Wen Jiabao seemed to be opening the door for this when he noted
that the EAS should "welcome the participation of Russia"—President
Putin made an appearance at the Summit but Russian membership will not
be decided until next year—and that it "should strengthen contact with
the United States, the European Union, and other countries." Wen
stressed that the EAS would not be "closed, exclusive, or directed
against any particular party." In fact, Australia, New Zealand, and
India all participated this year.
the EAS host, Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, made it
abundantly clear that the 10 ASEAN countries and their Plus Three
partners constituted the core, noting that "You are talking about a
community of East Asians, I don't know how the Australians could regard
themselves as East Asians." The architects of East Asian
community-building, he clearly inferred, would all be Asians; the EAS
would merely provide a vehicle for outsiders to endorse the process.
EAS Chairman's Statement twice underscored that ASEAN remains the
"driving force" behind East Asian community-building. The Declaration
declared that future meetings "will be hosted and chaired by an ASEAN
Member Country." Beijing wanted to host the second round but ASEAN
remains as concerned about sharing driving privileges with its other
community members as it does allowing outsiders a greater say in the
undefined is how the EAS (or the “plus three” for that matter) will
interact with broader regional organizations such as the Asia-Pacific
Economic Community or the ministerial-level ASEAN Regional Forum, which
also includes Washington among its members, and which addresses key
regional strategic and military security concerns. Hopefully, this will
be one of the "modalities" to be addressed by EAS participants when
they convene again in December 2006 in Cebu, Philippines.
the interim, Washington should begin exploring the possibility of
seeking observer status in the EAS. For that matter, it should also be
asking itself why it continues to resist acceding to the Treaty of
Amity and Cooperation. As a ARF member, Washington has already endorsed
the purpose and principles of that treaty "as a code of conduct
governing relations between states and a unique diplomatic instrument
for regional confidence-building, preventive diplomacy, and political
and security cooperation."
it is time to take the next step, in order to demonstrate U.S.
commitment to regional prosperity and stability and to underscore U.S.
support for East Asian community-building.