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New Map Of Asia Lacks US

Former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad points at his anti-war badge after a press conference at his office in Putrajaya, 07 December 2005. Australia's hard-won entry into the inaugural East Asia summit was soured 07 December after former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad said Canberra would likely be bossy and dilute the grouping's clout. Malaysia Out AFP photo.

Washington (UPI) Dec 08, 2005
The United States will not take part in next week's East Asia summit, but, to paraphrase a former secretary of state's phrase about the Balkan wars, the Americans most certainly have a dog in this fight.

There is a fight under way at the summit, albeit a polite and diplomatic tussle. The Japanese, with discreet but potent American backing, have already ensured that the original plan of the former Malaysian premier for a purely Asian summit was blocked. Australia and New Zealand will now be taking part in the forum, to the fury of the still-influential Mahathir Mohammed.

"We are not going to have an East Asian summit. We are going to have an East Asia-Australasia summit," Mahathir told a specially convened news conference last week to complain that the presence of Australia and New Zealand subverted his dream of a genuinely Asian forum.

"Now Australia is basically European and it has made clear to the rest of the world it is the deputy sheriff to America and therefore, Australia's view would represent not the East but the views reflecting the stand of America," Mahathir added.

There was also some reluctance, discreetly fostered by China, to admit India to what was intended to be an East Asian club, but India (like Russia, but not the United States) was prepared to sign the Association of South-East Asian Nations' Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, which ASEAN nations call "the admission ticket" to the summit.

A report in China's People's Daily noted this week that Russia's inclusion in the club was "simply a matter of time," and Russian will hold a separate bilateral meeting with ASEAN immediately before the summit.

But it remains significant that the United States, as the region's security guarantor for decades and as its biggest market, is not welcome. The summit is clearly emerging as an important building block in the new economic, security and political structure of Asia that is evolving, and for obvious reasons this structure is heavily influenced by China's explosive economic growth, the new reality to which the whole of Asia is learning to adapt.

As China's People's Daily noted this week, to explain the problems of drafting a joint communique, the Kuala Lumpur Declaration, from the summit: "According to insiders, some countries including Thailand sided with China over the claim that 'this entity must take ASEAN + 3 (Japan, China, Republic of Korea) as its core' and demanded no mention of community in the draft.

While others led by Japan hope to write into the draft 'to build a future East Asia Community' and include the names of the 16 countries. By doing so, ASEAN diplomats believe, Japan is trying to drag countries outside this region such as Australia and India into the community to serve as a counterbalance to China.

"To grab the upper hand at the meeting, analysts say, Japan would most probably dish out the 'human rights' issue and draw in the United States, New Zealand and Australia to build up U.S., Japan-centered Western dominance," the People's Daily added. "At the same time, it will particularly highlight the differences in political and economic systems between developed countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the ROK and developing ones including China and Vietnam, in an attempt to crumble away cooperative forces and weaken Chinese influence in East Asia."

The summit, to be held in Kula Lumpur, Malaysia, on Dec. 14, will include Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the 10 members of ASEAN -- Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Myanmar, Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Brunei.

The eventual goals of the summit are huge. Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Aso said this week in a speech in Tokyo that: "Japan believes we should bring into being the East Asia Free Trade Area and the East Asia Investment Area in order to move us even one step closer to regional economic integration."

Eventually, he has in mind (as do many of the ASEAN countries) something similar to the process of integration through trade that created over the past 50 years the present European Union. It will take a long time, and endless negotiations, and Aso's speech also laid out the immediate agenda for economic integration.

"In Asia, the fact is that there are multiple factors inhibiting investment, including the existence of direct restrictions on investment, insufficient domestic legal frameworks, difficulties in the implementation of laws, inadequacy of the credit system, and others, particularly the complete inadequacy of protections for intellectual property rights," Aso said.

India, with backing from Australia, sees the summit paving the way for an eventual Asian free-trade zone, though it remains cool to any grander designs for security or political integration along EU lines. China, which has said little about the kind of community it wants to see, mainly wants to ensure that no Asian gathering takes place without its increasingly overwhelming presence.

So what is emerging, in America's absence, looks to be three distinct camps of a potentially uncomfortable assembly. The Australians and Indians and Japanese, and some of the more Western-minded ASEAN members, want to focus on economic cooperation and trade, but within the overall framework of the World Trade Organization, plus useful collaboration in areas like common action against avian flu. This group also wants to retain the current role of the United States as the region's key security guarantor.

Then there is China, which evidently assumes that its economic prowess will eventually ensure that the East Asian summit, the region's economy and its security system are all dominated by Beijing, and not necessarily in an aggressive way. Still, Beijing wants this process to develop on China's own terms, for example this week ruling out the usual trilateral meeting with Japan and South Korea because of its complaints that Japan is not sufficiently remorseful for its actions in World War II.

And finally there are the original ASEAN members, uncomfortably aware that they are now part of something far bigger than all of them. They understandably dread the prospect of great power rivalry between China and India, or between China and the United States, and hope that trade links and diplomatic structures like the summit process will ensure that such rivalries do not get out of hand.

Some local analysts think that because of these fundamental differences the East Asian summit process is unlikely to endure. One Malaysian scholar has called it "an empty shell unable to yield any substantial results," and Indonesia's Jakarta Post published a decidedly gloomy editorial this week.

"What we will actually see is not what East Asian leaders have long dreamed of, that is an integrated regional framework of cooperation, but a community marked rather by suspicion, distrust, individualism and perhaps unwillingness to sacrifice a minimum of national autonomy for the sake of pursuing collective and collaborative action," the paper commented.

If that gloomy forecast holds good, that would not displease the United States, instinctively suspicious of any international body designed to exclude it. But if this East Asia summit process, filled with reliable American friends, fails to prosper, something much less welcome to Washington, and perhaps more to the taste of America's critics like Malaysia's Mahathir, will almost certainly emerge to fill the vacuum.

Source: United Press International

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