Asean working on EU-style bloc
Groundwork for East Asian Community project laid at summit amid concerns over US role.
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2009 11:53 GMT
A lack of concrete proposals and the US role in the project is a major obstacle, say analysts[AFP]

Leaders of East Asian countries have laid the groundwork for a European Union-style bloc that will cover half the world's population, analysts and officials say.

Discussions on the grand project began on Saturday during the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit, which opened at the Thai beach resort of Hua Hin on Friday.

Rodolfo Severino, Asean's former secretary-general, told the AFP news agency: "It is coming together."

The proposal for the so-called East Asian Community project was mooted by Yukio Hatoyama, the Japanese prime minister, to fellow leaders at the summit, saying the region should aspire to "lead the world".

Cohesive Asia

Japan is not a member of Asean, but if the project materialises, it - along with South Korea, China, India, Australia and New Zealand - would be part of Asean, which includes Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Other Asean member states are Brunei Darussalam, Burma, Cambodia, the Philippines and Cambodia.

"It's not just Asia coming together economically but politically as well. The more integrated you are, the more forceful you are"

Head of the Singapore-based Asean Studies Centre

Severino said a more cohesive Asia would have a bigger role in global affairs, especially after the region overcame the global economic crisis more quickly than the West.

"It's not just Asia coming together economically but politically as well. The more integrated you are, the more forceful you are," Severino said.

He currently heads the Singapore-based Asean Studies Centre.

Kasit Piromya, the Thai foreign minister, said a separate study on a wider grouping that would take in India, Australia and New Zealand, would be carried out in tandem, and that the two could be combined to create "one regional co-operation on a larger scale".

Asean is already committed to setting up a single Southeast Asian free trade zone by 2015, creating a bloc with a total GDP of more than $1 trillion.

Reporting from Hua Hin, Al Jazeera's Step Vaessen said: "Before you have this economic market, you have, of course, to be connected - and that's one of the topics that has been discussed here - connectivity within the region.

"China has already pledged $10bn to improve that because there is still a lot of work to be done there."

'Difference in income'

Asean still has major issues to resolve given its diverse membership, our correspondent said.

"There's a huge difference in income between the countries. Singapore is the richest with a GDP a hundred and fifty times higher than Myanmar, the poorest in the bloc," she said.

"Politically, the differences are even more diverse," Vaessen said.

"You have democracies, you have mornachies, you have all kinds of different regimes in the region and it's very difficult to find some kind of common ground."

Analysts said East Asian community remains a long way off, largely due to the lack of concrete proposals and disagreements about the  involvement of the US and the influence of China.

Japan and some other countries want to give Washington a role in the group, as a counterbalance to the influence China might have on a new regional architecture.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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