Fri, 12 Dec 2003

Asean endorses East Asian Community plan

Kornelius Purba, The Jakarta Post, Tokyo

Amid the increasing economic and political rivalry between the regional superpower Japan and China, the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) endorsed Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's grand policy to promote the East Asian Community (EAC).

During his tour of the region in January last year, several ASEAN members, including Indonesia, gave a lukewarm response to the Prime Minister's idea. However, in a two-day summit which will end on Friday in Tokyo this week, ASEAN praised it and offered full cooperation to integrate East Asian countries into one community.

EAC will comprise the 10 Asean member countries and their dialog partners Japan, China and South Korea.

The group also agreed to boost cooperation with Japan in political and security concerns and to intensify consultative dialogs between top officials.

Indonesia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Hassan Wirayuda, openly acknowledged that Southeast Asia needed Japan as a key partner to achieve the EAC goal, while pointing out that ASEAN was also vital for Japan's national interests.

"Just a simple fact; Japan's economy is the second largest in the world... We talk about investment, trade, loans and human resources, but now Japan has agreed to develop dialog on political and security issues in this region, in the larger context," said Hassan.

The minister indicated that Japan's interest in boosting cooperation with ASEAN was also influenced by China's proactive approach, including its readiness to sign the Security of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC) during the Bali summit in October, along with India.

At that time, Japan was clearly reluctant to sign the treaty, which ASEAN concluded was because Japan did not want to have problems with its ally, the United States.

Only two months later, said Hassan, Japan agreed to sign the treaty. Yet, Japan is still not able to formally sign the treaty during the current summit, because it needs prior approval from parliament.

"In my opinion, somehow Japan felt left behind. In the Bali summit here, China stole the show when it decided to accede to the TAC.

"In the Bali summit, Japan found it difficult to sign the TAC, and 10 weeks later they decided to sign it. That is progress," said the minister.

Meanwhile, President Megawati Soekarnoputri in her opening remarks as chairperson of the first day's session of the Japan- ASEAN Commemorative Summit, praised Japan for its great contribution to ASEAN since they opened relations in 1973. Quoting the statement of Japanese Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda in 1977, she said, "A true friend is one who offers his hand in understanding and cooperation, not only in fair weather, but in adverse circumstances as well,"

The President called on the two parties to enhance existing cooperation.

"We know we can and must build a multidimensional relationship, encompassing political, economic and socio-cultural cooperation, based on mutual respect, shared interests and common benefit," said the President.

The security during the summit is very tight. Only very limited coverage is allowed at the Geihinkan State Palace, the summit venue. At least one hour after the opening, journalists still could not get a copy of Koizumi's speech or other leaders' speeches.

Unlike the Bali summit in October, where it was still possible for journalists to approach other heads of governments like Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, this time the leaders are apparently expected only to brief the media from their respective countries.

Japan's tight security is apparently influenced by global terrorist attacks.