New East Asian bloc to meet for first time -- minus Canada

The Global and Mail BEIJING -- A potentially powerful new regional bloc, representing half of the world's population, will be born tomorrow when the first East Asian summit opens in Malaysia.Canada, h

13 December 2005

The Global and Mail

BEIJING -- A potentially powerful new regional bloc, representing half of the world's population, will be born tomorrow when the first East Asian summit opens in Malaysia.

Canada, however, will be on the sidelines even though the summit includes countries as geographically diverse as China, Japan, Australia and India.

Some analysts say Ottawa is making a mistake by failing to lobby for involvement in the fledgling organization, which could ultimately become the most important bloc of Asian and Pacific Rim countries. Canada has preferred to put its faith in APEC, the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation group, traditionally dominated by the United States.

Some Asian leaders want this week's summit to pave the way for a new East Asian community, similar to the early phases of the European community. They believe it could set the stage for an expanding free-trade zone of Asian nations, and there is even talk of a security pact with political and military implications.

The United States, which has been deliberately excluded from the summit, has described the new regional bloc as a black box whose meaning is unknown. Nobody knows what the East Asia summit is, other than leaders coming together, Eric John, a senior U.S. State Department official, said at a recent congressional hearing.

Its economic potential, however, is clear. The 16 countries at the East Asian summit have already forged a strong network of economic links, with more than half of their trade now conducted with each other. Those links could grow even tighter if the concept of an East Asian community gains momentum.
In a way, what we are observing is simply a process of institution building trying to catch up with the reality of economic integration that has characterized the region for over a decade, said Yuen Pau Woo, president of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

East Asian economic integration is already very deep, by some measures deeper than NAFTA, he said in an interview. There is huge potential for deeper integration. I have no doubt that the East Asian summit will accelerate this process.

University of Alberta political scientist Wenran Jiang argues that Canada should have lobbied for some kind of role at the summit, if only as an observer.
Why can Australia be there and not Canada Mr. Jiang asked. Flying to East Asia from Australia is as far as flying from Canada. But we didn't even apply for observer status. We were not as aggressive as Australia and India. If we want to be as engaged in Asia as the federal government says, there's no reason that we can't be more aggressive and be at the table.

The 16 members of the East Asia summit are China, Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Because China has trade leverage with almost all of these nations, the new East Asia organization could become a China-dominated rival to APEC, Mr. Jiang said. Once this rivalry between regional blocs is in place, I'm concerned that Canada could be left out.

Mr. Woo disagreed with the criticism of Ottawa's handling of the new bloc. Canada joining the East Asia Summit is a non-starter, he said. But now that EAS is a reality, there is added pressure on APEC to prove its usefulness and viability. . . . The EAS wasn't set up to replace APEC, but it could, over time, draw away attention and energy that would otherwise be given to APEC.

Rjean Beaulieu, a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Department, would not say whether Ottawa had made any effort to participate formally in the summit. The East Asia summit is not admitting observers, but we've asked to be kept informed of the results of the meeting, he said. At a meeting in Kuala Lumpur yesterday, the ASEAN members, along with China, Japan and Korea, reached agreement that the East Asia summit will become an annual event.

Asian alliance

India, Australia and New Zealand will join the so-called ASEAN + 3 (ASEAN plus China, South Korea and Japan) for the first time, fuelling talk that it could eventually lead to a pan-Asian free-trade area spanning about half the world's population and a fifth of global trade.