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Asean reaffirms call for ‘open regionalism’ to allay US fears?

Updated On: Jun 20, 2006

In yet another bid to reaffirm the idea of “open regionalism” and place ASEAN in the driving seat for an East Asian community (EAC), ASEAN Secretary General Ong Keng Yong reiterated that the emerging EAC “will not exclude the US even as China seeks a larger role in Southeast Asia”.

About 300 Asian business leaders, government officials and scholars from 27 economies attended the World Economic Forum (WEF) for East Asia under the theme, "Creating a New Agenda for Asian Integration" on June 16. The meeting was a regional offshoot of the annual WEF of world leaders in Davos and the first to be held in Japan.

The head of the 10-nation ASEAN elaborated that Asean initiatives and cooperation in the region “are not designed to exclude anybody [and] we believe we are open and outward-looking and want to be inclusive, so we have explained this to the policymakers in the United States of America, and we have received a positive reaction.”

Secretary General Ong’s assertion comes amid both China and US increasing attention and influence in the region, as well as the exclusion of the US during the inaugural East Asia Summit held by Asean, Japan, China and South Korea last year, and which Australia, India and New Zealand attended. Echoing such a sentiment is Indonesian Defence Minister Juwono Sudarsono’s remark at the Shangri-La Dialogue on June 4 that Asean would like to see a harmonious balance between theUnited States and emerging players in the region, JapanChina and India.

The EAC was first mooted at the East Asian Vision Group to ‘10+3’ leaders in 2002. Asean’s bid to remain as the key to the emerging East Asian community was reiterated by Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak at the WEF meeting.

Yet numerous challenges remain in building an East Asian community, such as the strained China-Japan relations – whose partnership and identification with the EAC agenda will spur its development greatly.  The role of the US in the region is another unresolved question – would US be suspicious of an emerging East Asian community or would US play the role of an external federator in encouraging a more cohesive East Asia? Interestingly in another recent symposium held in Tokyo (on May 20) which brought together experts from China, Japan, South Korea and the US witnessed consensual opinion that the three crucial players in East Asia have thus far failed to establish a “solid diplomatic partnership to deal with the increasing influence of the US” (IHT/Asahi, 14 June 2006).

As the role of major powers in the region seemed uncertain, Asean, a regional organization of small and medium powers, is determined to be proactive in the game in shaping the future of the region in which it operates.

Sources:

Jakarta minister urges Washington to redefine its role in region (The Straits Times, 5 June 2006)

ASEAN chief rejects excluding US from emerging East Asian community (The Japan Times, 16 June 2006)

East Asia needs closer ties to deal with the U.S., experts agree (IHT/Asahi, 14 June 2006)

Asia Community will be tall order: WEF leaders (The Straits Times, 17 June 2006)