Challenges of shaping a regional architecture

Hadi Soesastro, Jakarta | Sat, 04/17/2010 12:20 PM

In the economic realm, East Asia may well continue to be a status quo power in the sense that it is not seeking to introduce a radically new economic order although it may want to see adjustments being made here and there.

In popular parlance there is talk of revisions to the Washington Consensus, and indeed greater caution about global capital flows is currently a legitimate policy issue in the corridors of the International Monetary Fund, but there is no serious talk about replacing it with a Beijing Consensus.

East Asian economic cooperation is about strengthening the economic fundamentals of rapidly growing and rapidly transforming East Asian economies and how to maintain their open economic policies.

East Asian economic cooperation is about strengthening the economic fundamentals of rapidly growing and rapidly transforming East Asian economies and how to maintain their open economic policies.

In the region's current agenda there are the issues of more balanced, inclusive (including socially resilient), and sustainable (including green) growth. This agenda has been set to also adjust the region's development to current and future global challenges.

Here, the region developed a mechanism, known as ASEAN Plus Three (APT), that can address these issues and develop cooperation programs to strengthen its capacity to undertake this big task.

The APT should be seen as the region's premier economic institution for cooperation. In some areas of cooperation it may make sense to selectively invite non APT countries to take part.

Some other areas of cooperation are better suited to be pursued in the APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) process. But the APEC process has its own strategic underpinning, namely by ensuring continued US economic engagement with the region that in turn could help prevent volatile changes in US policies toward the region.

Unlike the APT, APEC does not deal directly with political and security issues. The US has also been invited to participate in a regional, multilateral process to enhance regional security, the ARF, also with a similar objective in mind. Unlike the APT and APEC, the ARF does not directly engage the political leaders in a summit process.

The EAS, which does not involve the United States, but has been broadened to include Australia, India, and New Zealand, besides the APT members, has been established as a "leaders-led" dialogue forum on issues of strategic interest to the region.

This "ASEAN plus six" process has yet to define what it is and to clearly differentiate itself from the APT. There is a tendency to duplicate APT's program but with the involvement of more participants. This will cause of major overstretch of regional activities in many regional countries.

In the politico-strategic realm, the region should have an interest in shaping a regional order as well as influence the behavior and interaction of global powers.

One basic premise is that while the US appears to be the only remaining superpower she cannot be allowed to go it alone.

The US is a Pacific power and it has a great stake in Asia, and therefore, it should be encouraged to participate effectively in a regional structure. The EAS, with some adjustments, could be the vehicle for this kind of engagement.

US-China relations will become the most important relationship affecting the region and the world as a whole. While the two countries may be attracted to manage this relationship under a G2 framework, the stability of the relationship can be better ensured if the two powers would make use of a regional, multilateral arrangement that is embedded within an environment of confidence and community building.

To conclude, I sensed that a kind of consensus on the architecture of regional arrangements is emerging. It has the following four elements:

1. The ASEAN Plus Three should be the anchor for regional cooperation and community building. Its focus should be on the strengthening of functional cooperation in key economic and social areas.

Institutional strengthening should evolve in line with the deepening of the cooperation. In some areas of cooperation, APT programs can selectively invite non-APT participants.

2. The East Asia Summit (EAS) should be developed into an effective dialogue forum of leaders on issues of strategic importance to the region.

Concrete proposals for cooperation could be proposed to be taken up by existing processes such as the APT, the ARF, or even APEC.

It appears to be essential to bring in the US into this forum, and this process already started with the decision of the ASEAN Summit in Hanoi a few days ago to invite both the US and Russia.

3. If ASEAN is to continue to play as a key driver of the wider regional cooperation processes, ASEAN must realize the ASEAN Community through vigorous implementation of the plans. Otherwise, it would rapidly lose its credibility.

4. APEC remains relevant in promoting trans-Pacific relations, especially in the economic field. It serves to ensure US continued economic engagement in the region and in turn may prevent volatile changes in US policies that will be detrimental to the region.

The writer is a senior fellow at the, Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta.

clipping from The Jakarta Post

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