Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 00:25 | SYDNEY
Friday 17 Aug 2018 | 00:25 | SYDNEY

Even Pyongyang wants amity and cooperation, sort of


Malcolm Cook

15 July 2008 17:18

ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (TAC) is playing an increasingly important diplomatic signaling role that is helping ASEAN in its quest to be the 'driving force' of East Asian regionalism.

China and India, Asia’s and the world’s re-emerging great powers, were the first non-ASEANs to sign it in 2003. Since then, ten other countries — including Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia, Pakistan and Australia — have signed this treaty that many in Australia wrote off as a worthless document from the Non-Aligned Movement era.

The last two years has been most intriguing for the TAC. France (yes, France) signed on in 2007, as did the forgotten country of East Asia, Mongolia, along with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Timor Leste. And next week, North Korea is scheduled to sign the TAC, showing a new willingness by the Hermit Kingdom to engage in regional diplomacy and to pay ASEAN its due as the hub of East Asia engagement. North Korea is already a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum (a regional security talk shop). Signature, of course, will not change North Korea's non-amicable and non-cooperative behaviour, but it is a sign that Pyongyang wants to become less isolated.

Pyongyang’s signature of the TAC will further emphasise the US's status as the only regional country of note not to sign. Now, theoretically, ASEAN foreign ministers could invite North Korea, Mongolia and even France to join the East Asia Summit, but not the US. The ASEAN foreign ministers have laid it down that only TAC signatories can be invited to the East Asia Summit.

TAC’s renaissance as a diplomatic signaling device and gate-keeper reflects ASEAN’s continuing diplomatic relevance and the expansion of the idea of East Asia and the Asia Pacific to include India and South Asia. This presents difficulties for the US, the only global superpower, in engaging in the region. If Pyongyang can sign the TAC, surely it is time for the US to join its allies and friends in the region and sign up as well.