Indonesia endorses expansion of EAS

Lilian Budianto , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Wed, 03/24/2010 9:29 AM | Headlines

Jakarta has endorsed the expansion of the East Asia Summit (EAS) by welcoming membership for the US and Russia in the 16-strong regional forum.

The move marks a shift in Indonesia’s EAS policy, previously geared away from admitting new members.

Officials previously said expanding the forum to include the two would risk turning the EAS into “a mini UN”, and diverting the focus of the regional grouping established under ASEAN leadership.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa announced the shift in policy on the sidelines of a press conference last Friday, saying Indonesia was anticipating EAS expansion because of “the merits of having more powers as members”.

The EAS comprises the 10 ASEAN member states and China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Its main focus is to seek political stability amid the power play between the three regional powers: Japan, China and South Korea.

“We think the EAS can be further improved by having more members, which can make a difference within the organization,” Marty said.

“Indonesia’s strategic interest is to see the region free from domination by a single power; this doesn’t imply a policy of containment.”

Russia has since 2004 expressed interest in joining the EAS.

In 2005, during the inauguration of the forum, its closest approach to date was reportedly thwarted by US lobbying of ASEAN member states.

Indonesia and Singapore were said to be behind US efforts to stymie Moscow’s ambitions.

For its part, the US’ intention to join the EAS was touched on in a speech by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier this year in Hawaii.

Analysts say the US is re-engaging in the Asian political arena in a bid to counterbalance China’s growing influence in most ASEAN countries.

Jakarta’s new policy stance comes just as an array of regional partnerships are being proposed to seek Indonesia and ASEAN’s endorsement.

The US, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Chile, Brunei, Peru and Vietnam began negotiations earlier this year for a new Trans-Pacific Partnership, ultimately seeking an Asia-Pacific free trade zone.

Australia has also separately wooed support for its Asia Pacific Union, and Japan is touting its East Asia Community concept.

Russian Ambassador to Indonesia Alexander Ivanov said Moscow welcomed the remark by Marty that it could become an EAS member in the near future.

“Russia and ASEAN have substantial relations,” he said.

“We have been a dialogue partner since 1996 and will hold the second Russian—ASEAN Summit later this year in Hanoi.”

Rizal Sukma, the executive director at the Centre for Strategy and International Studies, however, warned of the risk of a bloated EAS.

“It’s not going to be effective if it has too many members with diverse interests,” he said.

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