Singapore – As 16 nations prepare for the inaugural session of the East Asia Summit (EAS) in Kuala Lumpur on Dec 14, the big question that many are asking is this: Will it be yet another glorified annual talkfest with plenty of talk but little action? A group of academics from Singapore's Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies (IDSS), Nanyang Technological University, believe that the EAS could avoid such a fate if its members are prepared to "think out of the Asean box".
By that, they mean doing away with the Asean way of doing things, such as placing a premium on consensus, informality and minimalism. The group's views on what the "DNA" of the new forum should be were expounded in a newly-released policy study, An Agenda for the East Asia Summit.
A summary of the study, written by Mr Tan See Seng, Coordinator, Multilateralism and Regionalism Programme, and Mr Ralf Emmers, Deputy Head (Studies) at IDSS, was published by The Jakarta Post.
The IDSS study offers 30 policy recommendations for regional collaboration that "are essential if the EAS is to graduate from a nascent institution for addressing broad concerns and generalised confidence building, to a regional mechanism armed with a thematic and problem-oriented agenda".
Among other things, An Agenda calls for a series of cooperative measures in dealing with terrorism, piracy and maritime security, as well as health security, that can be implemented in the immediate term.
"We recommend the creation of joint cooperation zones and more accurate assessments of the piracy and maritime terrorism situation in the Malacca Strait. We advocate developing a disease-surveillance control mechanism for the East Asian region as well as strengthening cooperation among health agencies at both inter-state and intra-state levels to better deal with pandemics," the study said.
An Agenda also calls on EAS members to consider creating a regional fund for poverty reduction and developing regional agreements on disaster management and emergency responses.
Regional law enforcement and legal cooperation against illegal money-laundering and trafficking in humans and narcotics can also be enhanced through the EAS framework, the study said.
Singapore's Foreign Minister George Yeo once said that "getting the DNA right" is crucial when it comes to designing regional institutions.
"Getting the East Asia Summit's 'DNA' right will therefore be critical for EAS members. Otherwise, failure to make the Summit relevant may well result in dire region-wide consequences should East Asia experience anew the various crises which recently jolted the region, be they man-made or natural," the authors said.
The first East Asia Summit will see the participation of Asean's 10 members, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.
* The coming East Asia Summit: A thirty-point agenda (The Jakarta Post, Dec 6)