We, the people of East Asia,  are witnessing a historic development in our vast region.
For the first time in modern history, our government leaders have voluntarily come together to explore and participate in regional cooperation.  They have come together with a common conviction that in this new millennium of globalization, we in East Asia must cooperate as we  face and try to  tackle common challenges in this increasingly borderless interdependent world.

In coming together, our leaders  share a common vision that with  huge potentials of human, natural and economic  resources,  the nations and people of East Asia  can, by working together,   strengthen  peace and human security,  promote development and ensure sustainable prosperity.  And they  are convinced that a united community of  peaceful, prosperous and dynamic East Asian nations can become an effective force for peace, justice and development in the world.

This paper is about  the rapid developments of regional cooperation in East Asia in recent years.  Looking at them from the perspective of an East Asian,  the steadily expanding  regional cooperation is very encouraging.

The regional cooperation in East Asia  has increased our self-confidence to try to think and act together in the face of common challenges that we cannot avoid.    It has opened up new  opportunities for governments to normalize and improve their relations; for business people to trade and invest and reap more profits; and for people to come to know more about their East Asian neighbours through tourism,  information and cultural exchanges.

Most important of all, the regional cooperation has  brought home the exciting realization that we, the people of East Asia, are very capable of working together, with goodwill and solidarity,  to create a better future for all of us and  a better world for our descendants.

ASEAN and Regionalism in East Asia**

Compared with western Europe, Latin America and Africa, East Asia is a newcomer to regional cooperation.   After the Second World War,  regional cooperation in East Asia was mostly undertaken under the UN auspices (ECAFE, now ESCAP; Mekong Committee, now Mekong River Commission; and the ADB) or in the Cold War context (SEATO and ASPEC, now defunct).  The Korean War and the wars in Indochina effectively divided East Asia into opposing ideological camps, with the US playing a dominating role in virtually all East Asian countries in the so-called “Free World” camp.   With military might, immense economic resources and hyper-active diplomats and secret operatives, the US propped up friendly regimes and undermined or overthrew unfriendly ones at will.     East Asia then was firmly in the grip of the US.

Out of the blue, the US turned to seek normalization with China in the early 1970s.  Suddenly, peaceful coexistence with China became a higher priority of the US than confrontation and containment of China.  All the followers of the US in the “Free World” camp in East Asia had no choice but to scramble to adjust their policy orientation accordingly.

Nations in Southeast Asia  had long suffered from submitting to the whims of external powers.  All in Southeast Asia, except the fortunate Thai nation, were colonized.    After the Second World War, foreign  interference  in our internal and regional affairs continued as part of their Cold War struggle against China and the Soviet Union.

With high hopes in the aims and objectives of the UN Charter, several Southeast Asian nations took part in the Bandung Conference of 1955 in Indonesia,  which came up with the Declaration on the Promotion of World Peace and Cooperation, based on the  principles of peaceful coexistence.   And while the US was escalating its direct involvement in the Viet Nam War in 1967, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand founded the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The ASEAN Declaration of 8 August 1967  (which is sometimes referred to as the “Bangkok Declaration,” for it was issued after a ministerial meeting of the five founding members in Bangkok),  emphasized the desire to end external interference and to take primary responsibility in regional affairs.[ 1 ]   The ASEAN Declaration said in part that :

“Considering that the countries in Southeast Asia share a primary responsibility for strengthening the economic and social stability of the region and ensuring their peaceful and progressive national development, and that they are determined to ensure their stability and security from external interference in any form or manifestation in order to preserve their national identities in accordance with the ideals and aspirations of their peoples; …”

What ASEAN hoped to achieve politically was further spelled out in the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality Declaration of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers in Kuala Lumpur on 27 November 1971.   The Kuala Lumpur Declaration, which  is also known as the ZOPFAN Declaration, again stressed the high hopes in and adherence to the principles in the UN Charter.  The Declaration said in part that :

“Recognizing the right of every State, large or small, to lead its national existence free form outside interference in its internal affairs as this interference will adversely affect its freedom, independence and integrity; …”

The Declaration stated also :

“That Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand are determined to exert initially necessary efforts to secure the recognition of, and respect for, Southeast Asia as a Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality, free from any form or manner of interference by outside Powers;

“That Southeast Asian countries should make concerted efforts to broaden the areas of cooperation which would contribute to their strength, solidarity and closer relationship.”

A few months after the end of the wars in Indochina, ASEAN Leaders met for  the first time in Bali on 24 February 1976.  In their Declaration of ASEAN Concord, they spelled out their common objectives and principles, which included at the top of the list the following two :

“1.  The stability of each member State and of the ASEAN region is an essential contribution to international peace and security. Each member State resolves to eliminate threats posed by subversion to its stability, thus strengthening national and ASEAN resilience.

“ 2.  Member States, individually and collectively, shall take active steps for the early establishment of the Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality.”

The ASEAN Leaders also adopted at their Bali Summit programmes of action in the following areas :  political, economic, social, cultural and information, security, and improvement of ASEAN machinery (which included the establishment of the ASEAN Secretariat).  Interestingly,  the programme of action on security matters merely called for “Continuation of cooperation on a  non-ASEAN basis between the member States in security matters in accordance with their mutual needs and interests.”

In addition, the ASEAN Leaders signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), which laid down the legal framework for inter-States relations based on the principles of UN Charter, the Ten Principles of the Asian-African Conference in Bandung in 1955, the ASEAN Declaration and the ZOPFAN Declaration.  “Non-interference in the internal affairs of one another”  was written down in Article 2 c as one of the fundamental principles.  The Treaty  provided  for pacific settlement of disputes   through  regional processes, including the convening of a ministerial High Council to “take cognizance of the dispute or the situation and shall recommend to the parties in dispute appropriate means of settlement such as good offices, mediation, inquiry or conciliation… [and] when deemed necessary, the High Council shall recommend appropriate  measures for the prevention of a deterioration of the dispute or the situation.”

ASEAN’s  strict adherence  to the principles of non-interference, equality and mutual respect, was an important reason for the other Southeast Asian nations to join the young regional grouping.    First it was Brunei Darussalam, immediately after its independence from the UK,  which joined ASEAN in January 1984.  Next came Viet Nam in July 1995.  The expansion of the ASEAN membership to include Viet Nam symbolically heralded a new era  in Southeast Asia, in which differences of  ideology and political system were no longer considered as any hindrances to regional cooperation.   This reflected a  paradigm shift in the strategic thinking in Southeast Asia.

In December 1995, at the Fifth ASEAN Summit in Bangkok, the Leaders of the seven ASEAN Member Countries together with their counterparts from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar  signed the Treaty on Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ).  Without the paradigm shift and the growing mutual trust in Southeast Asia, signing such a monumental regional agreement would be impossible.

SEANWFZ is now the second strategic component of ASEAN’s ZOPFAN after the TAC.  ASEAN has been engaging all the five Nuclear Weapon States (NWS) to persuade them to sign the Protocol to the SEANWFZ Treaty, to recognize and  respect SEANWFZ and to support ASEAN in developing cooperation with all parties concerned, including the IAEA.

Laos and Myanmar joined ASEAN in July 1997, and Cambodia  in April 1999.  The  long-cherished dream of the ASEAN Founders to see all nations of Southeast Asia come under one ASEAN roof to work for common regional peace, progress and prosperity was realized.[ 2 ]

While ASEAN members have labouriously been making  concerted efforts to unify Southeast Asian nations, they have never lost sight of the need to engage their external friends and partners in cooperation activities for mutual benefit and common good.   In the ASEAN Vision 2020, adopted by ASEAN Leaders at their 2nd Informal Summit in Kuala Lumpur on 15 December 1997, the Leaders stated that :

“We see an outward-looking ASEAN playing a pivotal role in the international fora, and advancing ASEAN’s common interests.  We envision ASEAN having an intensified relationship with its Dialogue Partners and other regional organizations based on equal partnership and mutual respect.”

Over the years, ASEAN has built an elaborate process of engaging as Dialogue Partners key countries that are economically and/or politically important to ASEAN.  They are : Australia, Canada, China, the EU, India, Japan, the RoK, New Zealand, Russia and the US.  The UNDP is also a Dialogue Partner.  Pakistan is a Sectoral Dialogue Partner.[ 3 ]

ASEAN and Northeast Asia

The relations of ASEAN as a grouping  with Northeast Asia started  with its dialogue with Japan in 1973.  In August 1977, at the Second ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur, ASEAN Leaders met with Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda.   Under the so-called “Fukuda Doctrine” Japan reassured that Japan’s policy towards Southeast Asia would give the top priority to supporting national development in  ASEAN countries.  At the Third ASEAN Summit in Manila in December 1987, ASEAN Leaders met with Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita. [ 4 ]

The RoK    is ASEAN’s second Dialogue Partner from Northeast Asia.  ASEAN and the RoK  first established their Sectoral Dialogue relations in November 1989. The ASEAN-RoK cooperation was at first  confined to the areas of trade, investment and tourism.   The cooperation with the RoK was upgraded to  full Dialogue Partnership in July 1991 at the 24th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting (AMM)   in Kuala Lumpur.

ASEAN’s relations with China started in 1991 at the 24th AMM when the Foreign Minister of China was invited as Guest of the Host (Malaysia) to attend the opening ceremony and, more importantly, to meet with ASEAN Foreign Ministers in an informal consultation session.   ASEAN and China quickly found mutual interest in their subsequent contacts and consultations.  China became a full Dialogue Partner at the 29th AMM in Jakarta in 1996.

China, Japan and the RoK joined ASEAN in launching the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in Bangkok in 1994.[ 5 ]   Through the ARF,  ASEAN found its newest friend in Northeast Asia,   the DPRK.  The Foreign Minister of the DPRK attended for the first time  the 7th ARF ministerial meeting in Bangkok in July 2000.  The DPRK must have found reassurances in the track record of ASEAN in using the “ASEAN way” to manage the ARF process through consultation and consensus-building and to develop the ARF at a pace comfortable to all of the participants.


In the late 1980s, ASEAN was alarmed by the growing competition from  the mushrooming free trade areas (FTA) in the world, including the formation of a single European market, the market integration between the US and Canada and the US and Mexico, which soon led to  NAFTA.   ASEAN was also dismayed by the slow progress in the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations.  Four significant developments emerged during the 1980s and 1990s  that represented efforts of ASEAN and its Member Countries to try to improve their collective as well as individual positions in the face of the adverse world economic situation.


First, ASEAN  cooperated with  Australia in establishing APEC in 1989.   The decision to locate the APEC Secretariat in Singapore in 1993 could be seen as  recognition of the active support of ASEAN, and of Singapore in particular, for the APEC process.    The APEC process opened new opportunities for ASEAN Member Countries to cooperate  with not only China, Japan and the RoK, but also with Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong.    Participation in the APEC process is on the national economy basis.  So far, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar are still waiting for the first opportunity to join APEC.


Next, came  the idea of an ASEAN Free Trade Area first espoused by Prime Minister Anand Panyarachun of Thailand.  At the Second ASEAN Summit held in Singapore on 27-28 January 1992, ASEAN Leaders endorsed the idea of an AFTA when they signed  the Framework Agreement on Enhancing ASEAN Economic Cooperation.     The Framework Agreement spelled out their commitment to promote cooperation in several areas, most important of which was the cooperation in trade.  Also at the Singapore Summit,  ASEAN Economic Ministers signed the Common Effective Preferential Tariff (CEPT) Scheme for the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) to start the realization of AFTA. [ 6 ]


With active support from China, Japan and the RoK, ASEAN Member Countries  initiated the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) process for East Asia to engage the EU, especially in economic cooperation, human resource development and transfer of technology.   Thailand was given  the honour to host the First ASEM  in Bangkok in 1996.   Like in APEC, participation in ASEM is also on the national basis.  So far, the three newer ASEAN Member Countries – Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar – are still out of the ASEM  process. [ 7 ]


The third response  of direct interest to this Roundtable   was the emergence of an  idea to establish an East Asia Economic Group (EAEG).   Prime Minister  Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia began to espouse his idea of an EAEG in  1990.  His view was that countries in East Asia (Southeast Asia + Northeast Asia) should do more in consultation and cooperation  to help lesser-developed economies in  the region overcome  difficulties, and to help transitional economies such as Cambodia, Laos and Viet Nam in reform and reconstruction.

Soon after that, the Malaysian Minister  of International Trade and Industry visited the other ASEAN countries to explain the EAEG idea.    The thinking then was that the EAEG would comprise the six ASEAN Member Countries, Japan, the RoK, China, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei and Viet Nam.  The Group could meet as and when necessary, either back-to-back with the annual ASEAN Ministerial Meeting and Post Ministerial Conferences (AMM/PMC) of Foreign Ministers, or back-to-back with the annual meeting of  ASEAN Economic Ministers (AEM) to discuss issues of common concern to East Asian economies.

ASEAN convened a special Senior Economic Official Meeting (Special SEOM) in Bandung, Indonesia, on 15-16 March 1991 to discuss the EAEG formally for the first time.  Subsequently, the EAEG was discussed at the 23rd AEM  in Malaysia in October 1991.   At the opening of the 23rd AEM Meeting, Prime Minister Mahathir stressed the need to work together with the East Asian economies through the formation of the EAEG, because ASEAN Member Countries alone were not strong enough to make a difference in world   trade.  He said that the EAEG would be GATT-consistent, it would not be a trade bloc because it would stand for free trade, and it would not be detrimental to ASEAN’s cohesiveness.

The 23rd  AEM  agreed to an East Asia Economic Caucus (EAEC), instead of the EAEG, and recommended it for consideration at the Fourth ASEAN Summit in Singapore in January 1992. Some details of the EAEC were described in the Joint Press Statement of the 23rd AEM.

At the Second Summit in Singapore, the EAEC was endorsed by ASEAN Leaders as part of ASEAN’s efforts in strengthening and/or establishing cooperation with other countries, regional / multilateral economic organizations, as well as APEC.  In the Singapore Declaration, ASEAN Leaders stated that:

“With respect to an EAEC, ASEAN recognises that consultations on issues of common concern among East Asian economies, as and when the need arises, could contribute to expanding cooperation among the region’s economies, and the promotion of an open and free global trading system;…”

Subsequently, the Secretary-General of the ASEAN Secretariat, [ 8 ]   Mr. Rusli Noor from Brunei Darussalam, was tasked to study an appropriate modality to realize the EAEC.    The study was completed by the new Secretary-General of ASEAN, Dato Ajit Singh from Malaysia, who took over the helm of the restructured ASEAN Secretariat at the beginning of 1993.

ASEAN officials considered the modality of the EAEC proposed by the Secretary-General of ASEAN and  submitted it to  ASEAN Foreign Ministers, who at their 26th AMM in Singapore in July 1993, decided that the EAEC would  be a “caucus within APEC” and that the AEM would provide support and direction to the EAEC.

The “caucus within APEC” indicated that the EAEC would function independently, it would not be a mechanism of APEC.  The understanding of ASEAN then was that the  EAEC need not discuss only APEC issues; it could determine its own agenda and work programme.  The EAEC need not necessarily report to APEC either.

China was interested in joining  the EAEC.  But China’s  support would come with a condition that Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong must  not be included,  even though these two along with China  already joined APEC in November 1991. China’s preference was to confine the EAEC membership to only sovereign States.    Japan and  the RoK, meanwhile, were reluctant to take a clear stand, especially after the US expressed strong opposition to the EAEC.

The US unfortunately considered the EAEC as both a threat to APEC and to the US presence in the Asia-Pacific region.  The US argued that by including some and excluding others in APEC, the EAEC could “weaken APEC or complicate its deliberations.”  Moreover, said the US in a demarche to the Secretary-General of ASEAN in 1993, “the US would be concerned about anything that raises questions about United States commitment to the region and exclusion from the region.”

Nevertheless, ASEAN continued to try to explain the EAEC to win support from especially China, Japan and the RoK.  The Secretary-General of ASEAN visited these three countries in November 1993 to discuss the EAEC.  More importantly, ASEAN Foreign Ministers held a working lunch with Foreign Ministers of Japan, China and the RoK in Bangkok on 25 July 1994, on the sidelines of the 27th AMM/PMC.

The Joint Communique of the 27th AMM reported that the Foreign Ministers had a  discussion on the EAEC and agreed that the consultations would continue on this informal basis.  Incidentally, the Foreign Minister of RoK at that time was Dr. Han Sung-joo, who would subsequently play a leading role in advocating  community-building in East Asia when he chaired the East Asia Vision Group (EAVG).

While the ASEAN side learned nothing new from the  Foreign Ministers of China, Japan and the RoK at the working lunch, one unintended but very significant outcome from the informal meeting  was the agreement to continue to meet on the same informal basis.  This paved the way to  what would turn out to be the ASEAN+3 process for cooperation in East Asia.

From 1995-1997, the ASEAN Economic Ministers took the lead in consulting  their partners from China, Japan and the RoK on the EAEC.  In 1996, the AEM reported “increasing receptiveness of the EAEC among the Asia-Pacific countries” and agreed to continue the ASEAN efforts to realize the EAEC.  The AEM also agreed to develop programmes for development of SMEs and human resources and assigned Malaysia come up with a paper on this matter.  In 1997, again the AEM reiterated the “increasing receptiveness of the EAEC among the Asia-Pacific countries” and took note of the SMEs development programme being undertaken.

By 1998 when the financial crisis in East Asia was in full-blown,  the AEM no longer mentioned the EAEC in the Joint Press Statement.   Even when Malaysia hosted the APEC Economic Leaders Meeting in 1998, Prime Minister Mahathir did not pursue the EAEC anymore.  Thus the EAEC idea was quietly laid to rest.  Or is it?

ASEAN+3 Process

The reason Prime Minister Mahathir need not pursue the EAEC any more was because he succeeded in initiating something even more satisfying and far-reaching.   For on 16 December 1997, he played host to the historic inaugural meeting of ASEAN+3 Summit, which was followed by three successive ASEAN+1 Summits with the Chinese President, the Prime Minister of Japan and the Prime Minister of RoK.

Apart from Prime Minister Mahathir, another East Asian Leader who could rightly share the honour for  initiating  the historic development was Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto of Japan.  In  his policy speech in Singapore on 14 January 1997, Prime Minister Hashimoto called for a “broader and deeper partnership” between ASEAN and Japan.  In particular, he proposed, among other things, a  “broader and deeper exchanges between Japan and ASEAN at top and all the other levels”. [ 9 ]

The Japanese proposal for  an ASEAN-Japan Summit  would  certainly be considered positively in ASEAN.   After all, Japan has been one of the most active Dialogue Partners   of ASEAN since the early 1970s. And ASEAN Leaders  had met with the two Japanese Prime Ministers  in 1977 and 1987.     Malaysia quickly found all the other Member Countries fairly receptive  to the idea of an ASEAN-Japan Summit, beck-top-back with the 2nd Informal Summit in Kuala Lumpur.[ 10]  The initiative quickly grew into a more ambitious plan to also invite China and the RoK to meet ASEAN Leaders.  The responses from China and RoK were also very positive.  Thus the  ASEAN+3 process  was born.

At first, the emphasis was more on strengthening cooperation between ASEAN-China, ASEAN-Japan and ASEAN-RoK, building on their existing dialogue mechanisms.  The inaugural meeting between ASEAN Leaders and their counterparts from China, Japan and the RoK on 16 December 1997 was followed by  three successive bilateral meetings between ASEAN-China, ASEAN-Japan and ASEAN-RoK.  In the end, ASEAN Leaders and their counterparts from China, Japan and RoK issued  three Joint Statements on their respective bilateral cooperation towards the 21st century.

The ASEAN-China Joint Statement affirmed the commitment to:

“promote good-neighbourly and friendly relations, increase high-level exchanges, strengthen the mechanism of dialogue and cooperation in all areas to enhance understanding and mutual benefit. …  “China underlined its conviction that the economies of the East Asian region would continue to be one of the fastest growing in the world.  ASEAN member States and China agreed on the need to consolidate their close economic relations by promoting trade and investment, facilitating market access, improving the flow of technology and enhancing the flow of and access to trade and investment related information. …”

The ASEAN-China Joint Statement also stated the agreement that

“the maintenance of regional peace and stability served the interests of all parties, they undertook to resolve their differences or disputes through peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force.  The parties concerned [ 11 ]  agreed to resolve their disputes in the South China Sea through friendly consultations and negotiations in accordance with universally recognized international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. …”

In the ASEAN-Japan Joint Statement, Leaders of ASEAN Member Countries and Japan :

“expressed their determination to work together to ensure that future generations would live in peace and stability and that social and economic development would be sustained.  With a view to fostering an enhanced partnership, they decided to intensify dialogues and exchanges at all levels.”

In the ASEAN-RoK Joint Statement, Leaders of ASEAN Member Countries and the RoK :

“agreed that the stability and prosperity of Northeast and Southeast Asia were inter-linked and it was essential for both sides to work closely together for the mutual  benefit of both regions.”

These three separate Joint Statements were based on one common theme :  cooperation between ASEAN and each of the three Northeast Asian nations would benefit both sides and would become building blocks for  regional cooperation in East Asia.

Formation of the East Asia Vision Group

At the ASEAN+3 Summit in Ha Noi on 16 December 1998, it was agreed that Leaders of ASEAN, China, Japan and RoK would meet regularly every year.  Another important outcome  was a decision to set up the  East Asia Vision Group (EAVG).

The EAVG was President Kim Dae Jung’s  initiative designed to bring together experts from Track-2 to discuss the future of cooperation in East Asia and to submit recommendations to  the fifth  ASEAN+3 Summit in Brunei Darussalam in  2001.   Two representatives from each of  the 10 ASEAN Member Countries, China, Japan and  the RoK would form the EAVG.

Subsequently,  former RoK Foreign Minister Dr. Han Sung-joo, now a professor at Korea University, was appointed to chair the EAVG.    The EAVG Secretariat was run by the Korea Institute for International Economic Policy, whose president, Dr. Lee Kyung-Tae, was also  a Korean representative on the EAVG. The ASEAN Secretariat was  invited as an observer  to  EAVG meetings. [ 12]

Joint Statement on East Asia Cooperation (1999)

It was at  the third ASEAN+3 Summit in Manila on 28 November 1999 that  Leaders of ASEAN Member Countries, China, Japan and the RoK spelled out what they hoped to achieve together in East Asia.   In  their Joint Statement on East Asia Cooperation,  the Leaders  said in part that:

“They noted the bright prospects for enhanced interaction and closer linkages in East Asia and recognized the fact that this growing interaction has helped increase opportunities for cooperation and collaboration with each other, thereby strengthening the elements essential for the promotion of peace, stability and prosperity in the region.”

“ Mindful of the challenges and opportunities in the new millennium, as well as the growing regional interdependence in the age of globalization and information, they agreed to promote dialogue and to deepen and consolidate collective efforts with a view to advancing mutual understanding, trust, good neighborliness and friendly relations, peace, stability and prosperity in East Asia and the world.”

Historic Meeting of China, Japan and RoK

Also at the third ASEAN+3 Summit in Manila another historic event took place.   Prime Minister Zhu Rongji, Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. and President Kim Dae Jung had an informal breakfast meeting at Manila Hotel on 27 November 1999.  This was the first meeting among the heads of government  of these three countries in modern times.  And it was their common desire to work with ASEAN and to develop East Asia cooperation that brought them together.

At the fourth ASEAN+3 Summit in Singapore in November 2000, Leaders of China, Japan and RoK  held their second  informal breakfast meeting.  They agreed, among other things,   to regularize their working breakfast meeting to improve  coordination in cooperating with ASEAN under the ASEAN+3 framework.  They also established a +3 coordination group to work closely with ASEAN’s Working Group on e-ASEAN on ICT cooperation.

ASEAN+3 Ministerial Meetings

The 1999 Joint Statement on East Asia Cooperation mentioned only the ASEAN+3 Foreign Ministers Meeting as a mechanism to review the progress of the implementation of the Joint Statement.  Since then ASEAN+3 ministerial meetings  on finance, economic/trade, labour, agriculture and forestry, tourism have been convened  and regularized.     A few more ASEAN+3 ministerial forums are emerging.

Japan convened in Osaka on  22 September 2002 a working luncheon meeting among the ASEAN + 3 Energy Ministers on the fringes of the  8th International Energy Forum held in Osaka from  21-23 September 2002.   ASEAN+3 Ministers of the Environment plan to convene their first meeting in November 2002 in Vientiane.  ASEAN Ministers on Transnational Crime will convene the first ASEAN+3 ministerial meeting on Transnational Crime with China, Japan and the RoK in Thailand in  October 2003.

Each of these ministerial meetings is served by a lower layer of senior officials meetings (SOM).   One relatively new addition at this level is the ASEAN+3 Directors-General Meeting, which was formally established in an inaugural meeting in Seoul on 30 August 2002.  This newest ASEAN+3 body will have a direct responsibility in exploring all relevant issues concerning the future direction of East Asia cooperation.

EAVG Meetings

The EAVG  met five times: EAVG-I, Seoul, 21-22 October 1999; EAVG-II, Shanghai, 20-21 April 2000; EAVG-III, Tokyo, 2-4 October 2000; EAVG-IV, Bali, 14-16 February 2001 (organized by the ASEAN Secretariat); and EAVG-V, Seoul, 27-29 May 2001.    In the afternoon of 29 May 2001, the EAVG  paid a courtesy call on President Kim Dae Jung.  The RoK President emphasized the importance of the task undertaken by the EAVG and his keen interest in awaiting the Final Report  of the EAVG.

In early October 2001, the EAVG Report was  submitted to the Leaders of ASEAN countries, China, Japan and the RoK. The EAVG Report was formally considered at the fifth ASEAN+3 Summit in  Bandar Seri Begawan on 5 November 2001.

East Asia Study Group (EASG)

Interestingly, one year before the EAVG Report was submitted, an official group at the Senior Officials (SOM) level was formed to look into the future of East Asia cooperation as well.

At the fourth ASEAN+3 Summit in Singapore in  November 2000,  President Kim Dae Jung’s proposal to establish an official East Asia Study Group (EASG) was adopted.   The EASG would  consist of the  Secretary-General of ASEAN, ASEAN SOM leaders and SOM leaders from China, Japan and the RoK.  According to its TOR, the EASG would “explore practical ways and means to deepen and expand the existing cooperation among ASEAN, the People’s Republic of China, Japan and the Republic of Korea, and prepare concrete measures and, as necessary, action plans for closer cooperation in various areas”.   Of special importance is that mandate for the EASG to  “assess the recommendations of the EAVG” and “explore the idea and implications of an East Asian Summit”. The EASG was tasked to submit its report and recommendations to the sixth ASEAN+3 Summit, to be held in Phnom Penh on 4 November 2002.

In 2001-2002, the EASG was co-chaired by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Brunei Darussalam (the country chairing the 35th ASEAN Standing Committee) and a Deputy Foreign Minister of the RoK.  Now the ASEAN co-chair is the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Cambodia (the country chairing the current 36th ASEAN Standing Committee) and a Deputy Foreign Minister of the RoK.

The EASG has established a working group, consisting of ASEAN DGs, officials from +3 countries at comparable level and a representative of the ASEAN Secretariat, to assist in its work.  The EASG Working Group now has assumed a new function as the ASEAN+3 DGs mechanism.

EAVG Report and Recommendations

Towards an East Asian Community

The title of the EAVG Report  was “Towards an East Asian Community :  Region of Peace, Prosperity and Progress”  [ 13 ]      The EAVG explained its Executive Summary of the Report that in proposing the formation of an East Asian community, “we seek the following goals:

*          Preventing conflict and promoting peace among the nations of East Asia;

*          Achieving closer economic cooperation in such areas as trade, investment, finance and development;

*          Advancing human security in particular by facilitating regional efforts for environmental protection and good governance;

*          Bolstering common prosperity by enhancing cooperation in education and human resources development; and

*          Fostering the identity of an Eat Asian community.”

The EAVG put forth altogether 57 recommendations; 22 of them were highlighted in the Executive Summary of the Report, covering  the following areas :  Economic Cooperation (4 recommendations); Financial Cooperation (3); Political and Security Cooperation (4); Environmental Cooperation (4); Social and Cultural Cooperation (5) and Institutional Cooperation (2).

Initial Responses

At the fifth ASEAN+3 Summit in Bandar Seri Begawan on  5 November 2001, the Leaders considered the Report of the EAVG and warmly thanked President Kim Dae Jung for launching the EAVG initiative in 1999.   President Kim, who led the discussion on the EAVG Report, highlighted three recommendations in the EAVG Report:

  • “Evolution of the ASEAN+3 Summit to an East Asian Summit, together with institutionalization of the East Asia cooperation process to create regular channels of communications and cooperation;
  • Establishment of  an East Asia Forum consisting of government representatives and others from  outside the government to serve as an institutional mechanism for social exchanges and  regional cooperation in East Asia;  and
  • Establishment of  an East Asian Free Trade Area (EAFTA), starting with an interim step of linking existing free trade areas in East Asia together.”

The Press Statement issued after the 2001 ASEAN+3 Summit said that the  EAVG Report contained key proposals and concrete measures to broaden East Asia cooperation.  “Some are bold yet feasible such as establishing an East Asia Free Trade and liberalizing trade well ahead of APEC’s goals.”   The Press Statement added that the EASG established by the ASEAN+3 Summit in 2000 would continue to assess the EAVG’s proposals.

The EASG has now completed its study of the EAVG recommendations.  At the 6th EASG Meeting in Phnom Penh on 13 October 2002, the EASG adopted the final report of the EASG for submission to Leaders of ASEAN Member Countries, China, Japan and the RoK.    The EASG is recommending for consideration of the sixth ASEAN+3 Summit in Phnom Penh on 4 November 2002 a total of 26 measures (17 of them are short-term measures, while the rest are medium-term and long-term measures) selected from the EAVG recommendations.  The short-term measures that are relatively easier to implement include  the formation of an East Asia Forum, an East Asia Business Council and a network of East Asian eminent intellectuals, and the promotion of East Asian studies.  The long-term measures include the formation of an East Asia Free Trade Area and the evolution of the ASEAN+3 Summit into an East Asian Summit.

The Journey Has Begun

Table 1 attached to this paper shows economic indicators of East Asian nations.  A quick look at the numbers will see the following :

  • The combined land area of East Asia (ASEAN+3) is about 50% larger than that of the USA.
    In terms of economic size, the combined GDP of East Asia (ASEAN+3) is about two-third that of the US, and nearly nine-tenth that of the EU (15); but East Asian economies are growing steadily and their combined economic size could  soon surpass that of the EU (15).
  • The combined volume of trade of East Asia (ASEAN+3) is larger than that of the US, but is only about 40% of the EU’s.
  • Most important of all, East Asia (ASEAN+3) has the combined population of about 2 billion,  which is about 150% larger than the combined population of NAFTA + EU (15).

It is quite  comforting to know that one in every three people in the world is an East Asian.    What can we do together in East Asia?  The possibility is actually endless.  But first of all, we must believe in ourselves and in our collective wisdom.  We must have self-confidence to take full responsibility in trying to shape our collective future together.  The  financial crisis of 1997-1998 in East Asia should be taken as our  last wake-up call.  It is time East Asians help one another and join hands in overcoming our common challenges.

Table 2 attached to this paper shows a web of regional and international cooperation schemes that East Asian nations participate.  Many linkages are being forged, especially in the ASEAN+3 process.  The foundation for the integration of our markets  is being built with separate building blocks, including ASEAN’s AFTA, ASEAN-China FTA, ASEAN-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership (CEP).    At the upcoming ASEAN+3 Summit in Phnom Penh on 4 November 2002, Leaders of ASEAN, China, Japan and the RoK are expected to call for a study on the feasibility and implications of an East Asia Free Trade Area, which was proposed by the East Asia Vision Group (EAVG).

For political cooperation in East Asia,  the EAVG’s recommendations included  the evolution of the ASEAN+3 Summit into an East Asia Summit.  This idea will be further discussed among officials on the ASEAN+3 DGs Meeting.   Implicitly the idea seems  to entail the creation of an East Asian Community as a new regional organization, but the EAVG did not elaborate on this point in its report.

While there is no roadmap towards a community of East Asian nations,  our leaders have come to accept the  crucial  common belief that we, East Asians, must cooperate and build our  future together.   They deserve our active support.  For we are all in this together.  The journey has begun.