The Guardian 14 December, 2005

Battle for Asia: West using
Japan & Australia as Trojan horse

The East Asian Summit taking place in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, this week, is shaping up as a Battle for Asia writes People's Daily the newspaper of the Communist Party of China. Japan is trying to include countries from outside of the region such as Australia and India to serve as a counterbalance to China, says the newspaper.

The two-day First East Asia Summit opens on December 14. Leaders from 16 countries are expected to exchange views on international and regional issues in political, economic and social fields and release a Kuala Lumpur Declaration. However, participating countries are still quite divided over some questions says People's Daily.

Political divisions

The summit is set to meet on a 10+6 pattern, that is, the ten countries of the ASEAN, plus China, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), India, Australia and New Zealand. Currently they are quite split over the content of the expected Kuala Lumpur Declaration and drafting work came to a halt last week.

According to insiders, some countries including Thailand sided with China over the claim that "this entity must take ASEAN + 3 (Japan, China, the ROK) as its core" and that the term "Community" should not be used in the draft. While some participants, led by Japan, hope to write into it "to build a future East Asia Community" and include the names of 16 countries.

The US has not been invited to the Summit nor has Russia, but before the summit, ASEAN will hold a separate 10+1 talk with Russia, whose entry into the Summit is perhaps only a question of time.

Japan, Australia and New Zealand are likely to highlight the differences in political and economic systems between developed countries such as Australia, New Zealand and the ROK and the developing ones including China and Vietnam, in an attempt to undermine cooperation and weaken Chinese influence in East Asia, says People's Daily.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang pointed out last week that China has no intention of playing a dominant role in East Asia since every country is an equal member of this region. Peace, development and stability in the region are in the interests of all members and China hopes to achieve common development and win-win results through regional cooperation.

Since participating countries have failed to reach agreement on many issues before the meeting, some foreign analysts do not expect much from this summit, saying it can only probably produce intangible results if there are any. A Malaysian researcher on strategic studies even believes that the East Asia Summit will eventually collapse, because actually it is only an empty shell unable to yield any substantial results; while an Indian official said they only regard the summit as a piece of brick in building a free trade zone.

In the lead-up to the the Summit, Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, signed the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, a condition for being admitted to the Summit meeting. In signing, Downer said that Australia still had "reservations" about the Treaty. Australia's action is obviously a straight out piece of opportunism as no statement has come from any Australian leader abandoning earlier statements made by Howard that Australia has the right to take "pre-emptive strike" action against countries in the region. The treaty specifically rules out any such aggressive policies.

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