Friday 10 Apr 2020 | 00:59 | SYDNEY
Friday 10 Apr 2020 | 00:59 | SYDNEY

A quick way to kill off the East Asia Summit?


Mark Thirlwell

5 June 2008 15:53

Rory is right to note that a major obstacle facing efforts at regional institution-building is the vested interests that the various players have in supporting their own preferred bit of the regional architecture. Together with my colleague, Malcolm Cook, I have spent a fair part of the past six months or so canvassing opinions on the future of regional economic cooperation from various regional think tanks and policy analysts. The results were not encouraging for those hoping for any kind of rapid progress. 

In Beijing, for example, nobody seemed very keen on the East Asia Summit (EAS), where Indian and Australian membership was frequently described as a Japanese-inspired plot to dilute Chinese influence. In Tokyo, of course, the EAS tended to be viewed more positively precisely because of this effect. Granted, our interlocutors in both Tokyo and Beijing were at least united in agreeing that ASEAN had to be central to any regional initiative (if only because of the frosty relations between the two Northeast Asian powers) but they were also in sombre agreement that ASEAN wasn’t actually up to the job. Many in the ASEAN capitals shared a similar view. 

What about Rory’s idea of US membership in the EAS? I’m not convinced. There was a fairly significant body of opinion across the various interviews we conducted that US membership would in fact be the quickest way to kill off the EAS as an effective regional body, at least as far as economic cooperation goes. Indeed, a handful of Chinese interviewees seemed to be enamoured of the proposal for precisely this reason.