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US fears East Asia grouping will be 'exclusive'

Updated On: Mar 01, 2005

Washington– TheUnited Statesis concerned that an upcoming inaugural leaders’ meeting of East Asian countries could become an “exclusive” and “inward-looking” grouping. Malaysiawill host the summit among the 10 Asean nations andChina,JapanandSouth Koreaat the end of this year.

Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo said after talks with US Secretary of State Condo­leezza Rice and other American officials on Feb 25 thatWashington“has some concerns that the East Asian Summit will be inward looking and exclusive”.

“But I told them that countries likeSingaporeand other countries in the region will also be against that,” he told reporters.

The East Asian summit isan Asean initiative. Since 1997, the grouping has been holding summit talks withChina,JapanandSouth Koreaat the sidelines of its own summit under a loose “Asean plus three” framework.

At their last meeting in November, Asean leaders decided to formalise the structure into an East Asian summit. But members were divided over the possibility of expanding the 13-member setting.

TheUnited Stateshas been opposed since 1990 to an East Asian-only grouping, saying such a format would rip apart the Pacific. Analysts said theUSis more concerned aboutChina’s key role in it and the possibility ofWashington’s influence in the region waning as a result.

Mr Yeo saidthe issue over inclusion of any other countries into the East Asian summit had not been resolved yet, indicating that a decision could be made during an Asean foreign ministers' “retreat” meeting in April.

Singapore, he said, clearly wantedAustralia,New ZealandandIndiaincluded in the East Asian summit.Malaysiaand several Asean members have hinted they did not want to expand the East Asian grouping.

Mr Yeo, who was inWashingtonon a three-day visit, said the State Department, under Dr Rice, has a “very strong team” in place. Herdeputy, Mr Robert Zoellick the former US Trade Representative, is known for his in-depth knowledge of this region.

“I think a lot of their attention will be placed onAsia,”saidMr Yeo.

* US focused on Asia: George Yeo (The Straits Times, Feb 27)*

* US worries over inward-looking Asia (The Manila Times, Feb 27)