'East Asia' on the horizon
During the recently-concluded informal Asean summit in Singapore, an agreement was reached to explore the possibility of a broad East Asian regional grouping.
Not surprisingly, Asean members and representatives from China, Japan and South Korea decided to tentatively refer to the proposed grouping simply as "East Asia." Plans were made to form a working group that would explore the issue and report back on their findings next year.
Basically, the proposed regional bloc would be a formal extension of what is now known as 'Asean plus three.' The three Northeast Asian nations have been participating closely at all recent Asean meetings.
The new movement toward forming an East Asian regional bloc has its
most recent origin in efforts going back about 10 years ago. At that time, Malaysia and Singapore campaigned for an even broader formation that would be named the East Asian Economic Group (EAEG).
At that time there was resistance, particularly from the US and Europe, to the formation of such a bloc. When Japan decided to concentrate more on GATT and the WTO, the whole thing sort of got submerged.
Recently, the Asian currency crisis and difficulties in reaching a WTO consensus, have resurrected EAEG in a new form.
This turn of events should be welcomed by those interested in the continued progress and economic stability of the region.
Regional groups formed with a basis of common interest can only benefit the area if they conform to certain rules. There have to be safeguards against exploitation of people and the environment.
But these rules apply also regardless of the existence of an economic bloc. An East Asian grouping will work when the interests and well-being of each members is seen as integral to the interests of the group and to each of the other members.
One can only hope that this process will proceed successfully, and extend even beyond the current nations involved.