EAS expansion a ‘response to new regional architecture’

Lilian Budianto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta Mon, 04/19/2010 11:02 AM

After long disagreement over admitting new members, ASEAN leaders wrapped up their summit two weeks ago in Vietnam expressing encouragement for “Russia and the US to extend their involvement” in the regional forum.

The statement comes on the heels of Indonesia and Singapore’s announcement to endorse the US and Russia bid to join in the East Asia Summit (EAS), which brings together the 10 ASEAN member states and China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

Singapore has coined the potential formation ASEAN+8. Until recently, both Singapore and Indonesia had resisted moves to admit new members.

In a briefing of the ASEAN Summit outcomes on Friday, ASEAN Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan said the endorsement to admit new members into the EAS was a response to the new initiatives of regional architecture proposed by the group’s members. “Earlier there was a sense of uncertainty of ASEAN’s centrality... That it was being challenged,” Surin told diplomats and reporters at the ASEAN Secretariat.

“But the leaders turned the coin around and looked at what existing ASEAN-led architecture — whether it is ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN Plus Three, East Asian Summit or ASEAN Plus One — required enlargement and improvement. This would respond to the notion that East Asia needs something more comprehensive: a more equipped and more overarching architecture.”

Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has wooed ASEAN support for his initiative of the East Asian Community and Australian PM Kevin Rudd for his idea of an Asia Pacific Union.

“Rather than looking at new architectures being proposed across the horizon as a challenge, ASEAN leaders turned around and looked at them as an opportunity for ASEAN and East Asia to look into ourselves. [ASEAN leaders] want an answer to the question from those proposing the new architecture: can ASEAN play the central role and pull the global community out of the global crisis?” Surin said.

When The Jakarta Post asked Surin what he preferred to call the new EAS, Surin said: “There are nuances in the names as it would reflect the number, the weight and the size, but we will leave it to the ministers and senior official meetings”.

Responding to the idea of new members in the EAS, Japan has said it expected ASEAN to focus first on the existing group that consisted of only 16 members China has said it welcomed the expansion but that integration should remain focused on ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea (ASEAN Plus Three). South Korea, India and New Zealand said they did not have any position at the moment while Australia has not officially commented on the issue.


Letter to the editor (Thursday, 22nd April 2010)

Clarification from Permanent Representative of the Republic of Singapore to ASEAN

Your article “ASEAN FM Working on Expansion of East Asia Summit: Surin”, “EAS Expansion a Response to new Regional Architecture”, and “Pacific Countries could boost EAS’ Profile: Expert” dates April 16, April 19 and April 20, 2010 respectively, imply that there has been agreement within ASEAN to expand the membership of the East Asia Summit (EAS).

This is not accurate. At the 16th ASEAN Summit in Hanoi, the leaders discussed the feasibility of engaging the US and Russia in the region through either expanding the EAS, or creating a separate ASEAN+8 Summit.

In contrast to the EAS, the ASEAN+8 Summit would meet regularly every few years taking advantage of the presence of the US and Russian presidents when they come to the region for the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting (AELM).

However, the leaders did not make a decision on whether to expand the EAS or to create a separate ASEAN+8 Summit. Instead, ASEAN leaders have tasked the ASEAN Foreign Ministers to study this issue in more detail and to come up with a recommendation.

Thuan Kuan Lim

Permanent Representative of the Republic of Singapore to ASEAN

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