Thursday 14 Oct 2021 | 22:08 | SYDNEY
Thursday 14 Oct 2021 | 22:08 | SYDNEY

One mechanism to rule them all? Not so fast


Rory Medcalf


6 June 2008 11:31

Mark has suitably sobered East Asia Summit spruikers like me with a reminder that sometimes expanding a forum is the best way to render it ineffective. And if the goal is a free trade area, then pinning your hopes on bringing together the US and China isn’t going to achieve much in a hurry (or probably even within a few decades, which from a Chinese historical perspective is about the same thing).

Certainly the East Asia Summit does not need the sort of short-sighted membership free-for-all that gave APEC its motley trans-Pacific roll call. And the ASEAN Regional Forum is already too big. But if the focus is on regional security and stability (and the East Asia Summit already has a mandate to discuss strategic issues), then sooner or later the US has to be brought into the conversation. That doesn’t mean that an East Asia Summit without the US cannot be useful. Indeed, on some issues it would be refreshing at least to begin the conversation without the US in the room; I have argued, for instance, that there may be scope to use that forum in its current shape in an attempt to pursue regional consensus on nuclear weapons restraint, initially without the US but while holding parallel consultations with Washington.

A crucial point is the need to determine whether one institution really does fit all purposes, or whether different bodies with varying memberships are needed for, say, free trade, energy co-operation, nuclear arms control or conventional military confidence-building. The Asia-Indo-Pacific super-region, however defined, needs plenty more of all four. Progress on each of them is hard enough; linking progress on one to progress on another would be a recipe for inertia.