Friday, November 6, 2009

Is there need for the US to be included in the East Asian grouping or community?

All eyes on the rising factory to the world
THE emergence of China, and especially its economic power, is being closely watched not only by developed nations but also the world's second-largest economy -- Japan.
Beijing is seen as the locomotive for the world economy in the face of the dismal performance of developed economies, including the United States and Europe.

Rapid economic growth and an increasingly sophisticated and growing consumer market have raised the region's dependence on China for trade and investment.

China, described as "the factory to the world", has seen its trade with countries in the East and Southeast Asia increase.

China is emerging as a major trading partner for a number of countries in the region, replacing the US and Japan, which were important markets and sources of foreign investment for many countries in Southeast Asia.

China showed that it is a responsible economic power, and won the appreciation and trust of Asian nations during the financial crisis in 1997-1998, by not depreciating its currency, which would have worsened the situation for the affected nations, including Malaysia.
The latest figures from Seoul show that South Korea's exports to China rose while those to Japan and the US declined. China is now South Korea's biggest trading partner.

Beijing is also a major export market for many countries in the region and a source of foreign direct investment for a number of countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

As a result, Japan, the only member of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialised nations, sees its economic clout in the region declining.

The situation has not escaped the attention of the new leadership in Tokyo. Concerted efforts are being made to remain ahead in technological advancement and to retain its influence in the region.

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama proposed setting up an East Asian Community, comprising the 10 Asean members together with China, South Korea, Japan, Australia, India and New Zealand (Asean+6).

This proposal is seen by some as a means to limit China's growing power and influence in the region.

The earlier proposal for Asean+3 is viewed by some as establishing China as the dominant power in the group. A larger grouping of Asean+6 would dilute Beijing's influence.

Indeed, Dr Go Ito of Meiji University in Tokyo told Asean journalists that Asean+3 was a Chinese strategy for Beijing to have greater leverage in the region. That was why, he said, Japan had proposed the Asean+6: to reduce China's leverage.

Other Japanese leaders, including corporate figures, said it was important for Japan to engage an emerging China, and that the two neighbouring nations could form a partnership.

Australia, which is also pushing for an Asean+6 community, would like to see US participation in some form.

Japan, which tabled the Asean+6 proposal at the recent Asean summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, has not explicitly said it would like to see the US included in the group.

Japan's senior vice-minister of trade, economy and industry, Teruhiko Mashiko, said in Tokyo last week that Japan placed importance on East Asia, would like to see the emergence of the East Asian Community, and views it as important in every aspect of its relations with the region.

Mashiko added that Japan valued its relationship with the US, which was still important despite it pursuing the Asean+6 initiative.

East Asia is in better economic health than the developed West, and is now more vocal and confident.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh summed it up: "The world's eyes are on Asia as the region that can lead the global economic revival."

But there is an urgent need for the region to get its act together. The region's traditional markets in the West are not expected to provide growth momentum for its goods and services. The old model cannot be relied upon.

As Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said: "The old growth model where ...we have to rely on consumption in the West for goods and services produced here, we feel will no longer serve us as we move to the future."

The region will have to rely on itself. With growing intra-regional trade and interdependence, will countries in the region set aside their suspicions of each other and be prepared to cooperate, irrespective of which member is perceived as the dominant partner?

Asean+3 has some traction, and it has been in the works for more than a decade. (The original proposal was made by former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad in the early 1990s. It was criticised by the US, which urged South Korea and Japan not to support it.)

The continuing debate on membership, and on whether the US should be included as a member, is viewed by some as a move to dilute Asia's growing power.

Is there need for the US to be included in the East Asian grouping or community?

Geographically, the US is not part of East Asia. There are also other groupings, such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec), in which the US is a member along with Australia and other East Asian economies. By HARDEV KAUR

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