December 3, 2004
ASEAN: 'LANDMARK' AGREEMENT WITH CHINA SIGNALS BEIJING'S 'LEADING ROLE'
** The ASEAN-China trade pact signals the growth of China's "political sway."
** Plans for an "ASEAN Community" follow a "global trend toward regional integration."
** Optimistic dailies praise the summit's "truly dazzling" results and "steady progress."
** Australia comes under fire for its "stubbornness and arrogance."
China to 'remain the leader in East Asia'-- Asian media hailed the plan to "build the world's biggest free trade area" through the ASEAN-China pact. They called China "the new big brother in the neighborhood"; Malaysia's government-influenced Nanyang Siang Pau agreed that China "has become a key move and leader." Singapore's pro-government Straits Times counseled pragmatism about China's "strategic plan to project its influence in Asia" given its "multi-faceted clout and its ability to stimulate growth...better than the U.S." Several papers contrasted Beijing's "new vitality" with Tokyo's "relatively modest diplomatic footprint"; Japan's moderate Yomiuri acknowledged that "Japan and China are competing for leadership."
'Common economic and security goals'-- Dailies welcomed the summit's promise to build an "ASEAN Community along the lines of a unified Europe." Asian papers noted that "closer economic ties can help strengthen political unity" in calling for a "strong Asian-based economic entity with a broad vision" that can "stand up to the challenge" from abroad; South Korea's independent Dong-A Ilbo saw Asia's need for a "unified entity such as the EU or NAFTA." Japanese writers stressed that any such arrangement should not "exclude the U.S.," but Malaysian and Chinese writers backed a body that is "capable of counterbalancing American influence" and "interference."
'Powerful catalyst for trade integration'-- Outlets such as the independent Jakarta Post praised how an "amazing" ASEAN had "effectively made open conflict" in the region "increasingly obsolete." India's nationalist Hindustan Times appreciated its "pioneering role in promoting regional cooperation in trade and security." Some outlets hailed ASEAN's role in promoting FTAs, noting that "trade is the main game in town." The moderately conservative Bangkok Post differed, blasting the "weird and not so wonderful regional pantomine called ASEAN" and its indulgence of the "harshly repressive military dictatorship in Burma."
'Controversy over Australia's refusal'-- Kiwi, Philippine and Malaysian papers assailed Canberra's "anti-ASEAN" decision not to sign ASEAN's non-aggression treaty. Australia's liberal Age said the treaty could constrain the "ability to comment on human rights abuses," but other outlets accused Australia of fixating on its role as the U.S.' regional "deputy sheriff." The independent Manila Times labeled PM Howard Washington's "useful and reliable flunky." Muslim writers also criticized Thailand's "inept and uncivilized" policy towards its Malay minority and demanded Bangkok "be honest" about the situation in its southern region. Thai dailies bemoaned the "crassness" of PM Thaksin's efforts to "avoid criticism of the Thai military."
Prepared by Media Reaction Branch (202) 203-7888, firstname.lastname@example.org
EDITOR: Ben Goldberg
EDITOR'S NOTE: Media Reaction reporting conveys the spectrum of foreign press sentiment. Posts select commentary to provide a representative picture of local editorial opinion. Some commentary is taken directly from the Internet. This report summarizes and interprets foreign editorial opinion and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government. This analysis was based on 50 reports from 15 countries over 27 November - 3 December 2004. Editorial excerpts are listed from the most recent date.
AUSTRALIA: "Taking Our Place At ASEAN"
The liberal Sydney Morning Herald editorialized (12/2): "The meeting of ASEAN in Laos is a significant step in Australia's relations with Asia. ASEAN has increasingly ambitious plans for Asian trade liberalization; a bold vision of a free-trade zone reaching out to the north and west to embrace Asia's biggest economies. The meeting in Vientiane confirms Australia's place in those dynamic plans.... This is a marked turnaround in a previously fraught relationship which saw ASEAN rebuff Australia, and steadfastly refuse to include it in its counsels.... ASEAN likes to see itself as a powerful catalyst for trade liberalization; it would be hard to maintain that image while continuing to rebuff Australia, given its economic importance to the region. For all that, the Howard government, often claimed to have too little regard for relations with Asia, is entitled to take a bow."
"Why Free Trade With The Tigers Is Crucial"
Tim Colebatch wrote in the liberal Melbourne-based Age (11/30): "This week the leaders of Asia are gathered in Vientiane...for talks that will, among other things, formally launch negotiations for a free trade agreement between Australia, New Zealand and the 10 nations of Southeast Asia, known as ASEAN. For Australia, this is something big.... Politically, the launch of the negotiations is also a minor coup for Howard after years of criticism that his government has focused too much on our relationship with the U.S. and too little on our own region.... And yet he has been lucky. This time the push for negotiations has been driven by the Asian nations themselves, and not because their vision of us has changed, but because of two changes in the region itself. The first was the retirement of Dr Mahathir in late 2002, and the emergence of the moderate friend to all, Abdullah Badawi, as his successor.... The second impetus for the deal comes from the shockwaves spread through the region by China's growth.... It's a huge ask, but the potential is enormous. In real terms, the 10 ASEAN countries already have a combined GDP four times the size of ours.... It is far easier for countries to catch up with the world leaders than to get ahead of them, and in the next 50 years this region will see most of the world's economic growth. For our children's sake, we should aim to be part of it."
"Sign The Peace Pact At Our Peril"
Peter Jennings remarked in the national conservative Australian (11/30): "So what of ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Co-operation?.... The treaty's practical effect has been to stop ASEAN from developing an effective role in regional security. The treaty has bolstered ASEAN members' reluctance to be critical of each other's internal politics--Burma's appalling human rights record, for example--or to play a significant role in any important regional security issue, from Cambodia and East Timor to the South China Sea and counter-terrorism.... Australia tends not to sign international obligations purely for symbolic value.... Moreover, it would be wrong to generate expectations within the Southeast Asian states that Canberra will follow the ASEAN way by not expressing concern about the internal behaviour of Burma or, indeed, any other country engaged in mass repression and human rights violations.... Another potential for problems in Laos has nothing to do with Southeast Asia. It is the danger that NZ will accede to the treaty, thus leaving Australia symbolically outside the ASEAN tent. But it would be dangerous for NZ to overplay its hand. Wellington's fundamental interests are tied more closely to Canberra than even the ASEAN capitals. This will be a test of Helen Clark's famously pragmatic cross-party friendship with Howard."
"Substance Outweighs Symbols At ASEAN"
The liberal Melbourne-based Age argued (11/30): "PM Howard might well say the things that unite the ASEAN region are greater than those that divide it. Four years after his government's overtures were rebuffed, John Howard sat down to dinner last night as the first Australian prime minister to take part in negotiations at ASEAN's annual summit. This development reflects the growth in trade and security relationships with South-East Asian nations. The importance of these day-to-day relationships should not be overlooked amid controversy about Australia's refusal to sign ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. Clearly, all ASEAN members feel strongly that Australia could have shown 'goodwill and understanding,' as Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar put it, by signing the treaty. Equally clearly, there is a common interest in closer engagement, even without a treaty signing. Australia has much to offer (as well as much to gain) and ASEAN knows it. There is some loss of face over the treaty disagreement, which tends to confirm suspicions that Australia has one foot in and one foot out of Asia, but that reflects the reality of Australia's place in the world..... Australian Government concerns about compromising its obligations under the ANZUS alliance with the U.S. ought not be dismissed. Nor should Australia make commitments that needlessly constrain its ability to comment on human rights abuses in Burma or elsewhere--most notably, ASEAN's 'big brother' partner, China.... Trade is the main game in town. Annual two-way trade with Australia already stands at $33 billion and the summit's main goal has been to endorse a timetable to conclude a free trade agreement covering a market of more than 600 million people by as early as 2007, with the eventual prospect of an expanded free trade area involving partners such as China and India. This would cover a third of the world's population. If ASEAN begins these negotiations, Australia can consider this week a success. Winning a permanent place at the table would be a bonus. Whatever the formal arrangements, ASEAN and Australia see mutual benefits in deeper engagement on almost all fronts. That is a substantial advance on the relationship of just a few years ago."
"ASEAN Overture Deserves Better"
The liberal Sydney Morning Herald noted (11/27): "PM Howard , should make the most of his time at the ASEAN summit in Laos--it is not only the first time Australia has been invited, it could well be the last. The problem--entirely created by Australia--is an argument over a non-aggression pact. The 10 ASEAN nations want Australia to sign it. We are steadfastly refusing. Just why is not clear; the provisions of the pact seem innocuous enough.... China, India and Japan are among the nations to have put their names to such treaties with ASEAN. Before long, that list is likely to include New Zealand, too. Australia should be happy to add its name, grateful for an opportunity to make explicit its peaceful intentions towards the region. Such a public commitment could allay nervousness among our northern neighbours arising from our intervention of East Timor in 1999 and sustained by Australia's plans to buy cruise missiles, and, importantly the Prime Minister's policy of pre-emptive strikes, a continuing cause of unease.... Foreign Minister Downer says Australia won't sign because of our alliance with the U.S. and because signing might prevent Australia speaking out about human rights.... Perhaps Australia thinks the treaty might compromise Mr Howard's doctrine of pre-emption.... While it is not clear what Australia gains by resisting the treaty, there is a lot to lose. The diplomatic row casts a pall over our negotiations with ASEAN for a free trade deal. More broadly, we want to maximise co-operation with our northern neighbours in the fight against terrorism as well as in other regional security matters.... It is strange diplomacy that would jeopardise ASEAN's goodwill for no good reason."
CHINA: "China-ASEAN Ties Dynamic And Concrete"
Bi Lun commented in the official English-language newspaper China Daily (11/30): “Yesterday's meeting of leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea (ROK), has the potential to inject new vitality into the already booming economic and trade relations between the Chinese and their regional peers.... The fruits of solidarity were rich for China and ASEAN, evidenced by the piles of signed agreements on aid, exchange and partnership programmes. The most prominent of these was the ASEAN-China Plan of Action to Implement the Declaration on the Strategic Partnership for Peace and Prosperity.... The signing shows cooperation between China and ASEAN has been developed from the framework level to a more substantial content. Paving the way for building up a China-ASEAN free trade area (FTA) by 2010, the agreements are expected to create a win-win situation for regional economic integration.... The benefits should not stay just at the economic front. Regional cooperation is expected to enhance mutual trust and help the member states play a bigger role in world affairs. While facilitating trade, it is inevitable that countries involved will encounter a certain amount of friction. The establishment of the mechanism for settling disputes is therefore of far-sighted significance. China has always attached importance to its cooperation with ASEAN members, and follows a consistent policy of establishing friendly relations with its neighbors. The strategic partnership geared towards peace and prosperity between China and ASEAN is in the interest of both sides and will improve the competitiveness of the whole region and contribute to a faster progress of East Asian co-operation as a whole.”
CHINA (HONG KONG SAR): "ASEAN Must Tackle Myanmar Embarrassment"
The independent English-language South China Morning Post said (12/3): "For the second year running, leaders of ASEAN have failed to take Myanmar to task formally for its regressive steps on the road to democracy. This is despite the transparent frustration of many member countries at the decision to extend house arrest for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other signs that the hardliners have tightened their grip on power.... It is ironic that ASEAN's political stagnation continues even as events are accelerating on the economic integration front. This year's meeting saw the signing of an agreement with China. When completed by 2010, the resulting free-trade zone would be the world's largest. Similar deals are in progress with Japan and South Korea. The prospects are growing that the separate agreements will be used as building blocks for the formal establishment of an ASEAN plus three zone encompassing all of East Asia. If this is accomplished, the result could be nothing less than the world's most powerful trading bloc and a diplomatically significant grouping capable of counterbalancing American influence in the region. But if ASEAN and the emerging ASEAN plus three want to achieve both objectives, they will have to develop a willingness to criticize member countries when they misbehave.... They should do it soon, as there is potential for much more embarrassment when Myanmar takes over ASEAN leadership. What kind of message will the world get when the hosts of the region's most important meetings are unelected generals who silence their opposition by throwing them behind locked doors?"
JAPAN: "Japan Needs Comprehensive Strategy Toward East Asian Summit"
Liberal Mainichi said (12/1): "East Asian leaders have agreed to hold an East Asia summit next year. We welcome their move to compete with a global trend toward regional integration. Although Japan has nurtured close relations with ASEAN, Tokyo is cautious about an 'Asian consolidation' due to Washington's concerns that such arrangements would exclude the U.S. To address Washington's concerns, Tokyo needs to employ a comprehensive and long-term diplomatic strategy toward the creation of an 'East Asian community.'"
"Opportunity For Common Prosperity"
Liberal Tokyo Shimbun editorialized (12/1): "An East Asian summit scheduled for next year must serve as a venue for member nations to enhance their economic, political and security cooperation. The summit must not turn into an exclusive event. Participants should instead promote cooperation with the U.S. and other non-member countries. We have learned from the consolidation of European nations that closer economic ties can help strengthen political unity. Liberalization in trade and investment sectors in East Asia is also expected to help solve the current political challenges facing the region. In this context, we urge East Asian nations to accelerate their conclusion of Free Trade Agreements."
"East Asia Summit: Changes In China Are Prerequisite For Integration"
Conservative Sankei insisted (12/1): "ASEAN agreed to hold the East Asian Summit next year while expecting Japan and South Korea will keep China in check, as it has increased its influence on ASEAN. ASEAN made the decision because it judged that if Japan and South Korea join the EAS, it can boost its member countries' economies while reducing China's influence. As expected, China's low-priced products flooded into Southeast Asia and China politically pressed ASEAN not to recognize Taiwan's independence. Recently, Singapore, which worked as a mediator between China and Taiwan, succumbed to China's pressure and was forced to pledge to support a one-China policy.... Unless China changes its arrogant attitude toward other Asian countries, it will be difficult for the EAS to lead to the EAC.... Just like the EU called for respecting Christianity, democracy, and human rights as 'common values' before it was established, Japan should assert that countries participating in the EAS should have 'common values.'"
"East Asian Summit Facing An Uncertain Future"
Top-circulation moderate Yomiuri commented (12/1): "Although the GOJ has welcomed a plan to hold an East Asian summit next year as the first step toward the future creation of an 'East Asia community,' establishing a community like the EU will be difficult because of vast political, economic, cultural and religious differences. While Japan and China are competing for leadership in the region, their vision of an East Asian community does not appear to be the same. While Tokyo is emphasizing the rule of law, human rights and democracy, Beijing's main interest seems to lie in economic benefits. However, despite such differences, the summit should be used to promote candid discussions on regional challenges."
"Creation Of An Open Community In East Asia Needed"
Business-oriented Nihon Keizai stated (12/1): "Although East Asia will unlikely be able to create immediately a community like the EU, the region's step toward establishing a unified community is a significant development. Asian nations share a view that economic integration through FTAs will stimulate the regional economy.... Strengthened ties between nations will also likely benefit Japan's national interests. Tokyo must use economic pacts to accelerate domestic deregulation and to open its market to Asian economies. At the same time, East Asian nations need to ensure the openness of their community by sharing information with the U.S. and other countries."
INDONESIA: "Chinese-ASEAN Trade Pact"
Semarang-based economic-political Suara Merdeka opined (12/1): "A new phase of the relations between...China and ASEAN has just started. Both sides have signed a trade document which will decide the face of Asian economies in the future.... The new powers in Asia have become a strong magnet for investors to enter the region. As if there were no other competitive region now, except Asia. So, with the agreement, the future of this region will indeed be amazing."
"Chinese-ASEAN Free Market Is Conditional"
Leading independent Kompas noted (12/1): "If the agreement between the ASEAN and China in Laos early this week can later be implemented, a giant market will then emerge, a market which is bigger than NAFTA and the EU. As a result, China will undoubtedly become a powerhouse for ASEAN economic growth moved by exports."
"Honour Of Asia"
Bandung-based economic-political Pikiran Rakyat stated (12/1): "With more than two billion people, East Asia is the biggest world market which the United States and Europe cannot ignore. This big power will pressure Europe and the US to make compatibility and standardization which is in accordance with Asian values. Similarly when dealing with security issues, it must not be only the US acting as the decision-maker... Therefore, we expect the East Asian summit will indeed become a forum to uphold the self-reliance of the countries in this region."
Surabaya-based independent Jawa Pos declared (12/1): "This cooperation agreement is a step forward that will make ASEAN plus China become a strong world economic power.... The potential economic power of this organization brings hope to the development of the ASEAN countries."
The independent, English-language Jakarta Post editorialized (12/1): "The walls of division which separate the people's of South, Southeast and East Asia came down earlier this week for a brief moment as leaders of 14 Asian countries gathered in Vientiane as equals and colleagues.... Ten years ago such a gathering would have been bogged in suspicion and diplomatic entanglement. A decade before that, a meeting of such magnitude could only have been part of pact to end war or negotiations for peace.... Lingering suspicions persist, and outstanding disputes remain unresolved. But the presence of these leaders in a single venue, smiling and embracing one another, is a sign of the positive times the region is experiencing.... No small thanks should be directed toward the work of ASEAN. The regional grouping has effectively made open conflict between the 10 Southeast Asian states increasingly obsolete. Its work in engaging powerful east Asian neighbor--China, Japan and South Korea--is also beginning to bear fruit.... In that respect there is confidence that ASEAN's continued engagement with Asian giants will yield similar peaceful results.... Whether we are Thai or Filipino, Indonesian or Japanese, each have innate values common to any human being.... If these values and rights are not respected, or even suppressed, the common peace sought by leaders will never be sincerely realized.... Peace begins at home. A state of amity between nations may exist. Nevertheless without domestic stability--brought about by political and economic development--in all countries the region can only sense anxious peace devoid of peace of mind."
"Demand For Democratization"
Leading independent Kompas editorialized (11/29): "Certainly, in ASEAN itself there are still some problems which need to be solved wisely. For example, how must ASEAN respond to the demand of democratization when it still faces the fact that the democratic Burmese leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, continues to be detained?"
"Silence Over Pattani"
Surabaya-based independent Jawa Pos commented (11/29): "Even though the ASEAN summit has no special agenda to discuss the violence in Pattani, it is difficult to silence ASEAN leaders about the violation of human rights there. Thaksin ought to make the summit a forum to inform others about the real circumstances of the incident."
MALAYSIA: "Canberra's Stance Disappoints ASEAN"
Government-influenced Malaysian-language Berita Harian declared (12/2): "After hurting ASEAN member countries with various bizarre moves, including statements about its strong intention to 'control' countries in this region and its readiness to launch pre-emptive attacks on neighbouring countries to fight against terrorism, Australia continued practising anti-ASEAN foreign policies when it refused to sign the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation [TAC] at the 10th ASEAN summit in Laos, which ended yesterday.... What is clear is that Australian PM Howard seems to have the same mentality as U.S. President George W Bush, who prefers to bully weak countries."
"Canberra's Stance Raises Suspicion"
Government-influenced Malaysian-language Utusan Malaysia averred (12/2): "The reluctance of Australia to sign the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation at the summit in Vientiane, Laos, has only lowered the country's image in the eyes of the people in this region. This implies that Canberra has intentions to carry out its policies to attack whichever country in Southeast Asia for the sake of eliminating any threat to Australia.... Even though Australia regards such policies as attempts to protect itself from terrorist attacks, many people think that the country's stance is a threat to Muslims in Southeast Asia."
"East Asian Summit [EAS] Stems From Malaysia's Wise Move"
Wan Hazmir Bakar concluded in government-influenced Malaysian-language Berita Harian (12/2): "Malaysia has finally succeeded in getting the approval of ASEAN countries to hold the East Asian Summit next year.... In fact, Malaysia's views about a secure and prosperous world have once again shocked the West, which has so far blocked such an idea in order to maintain its domination of the world economy. But in Vientiane, a new hope which may change the situation has emerged."
"Importance Of An East Asian Summit"
Government-influenced Malaysian-language Utusan Malaysia declared (12/1): "We are touched by the consensus reached by the ASEAN member countries on the East Asian Summit, which will be hosted by Kuala Lumpur next year. The reason is not only that the East Asian economic concept was initiated by Malaysia, but more importantly, it is an initial step that we believe will bring great benefits to the people of Malaysia, as well as to the residents of ASEAN and East Asia as a whole.... The regional concept is a normal practice in modern international politics because before this, there was the European Economic Community, which is now identified as the EU.... Although the East Asian economic concept is not going to be as extensive as to form an entity like the EU or EEC, we do aim to achieve economic development and progress like that of the advanced countries.... Due to the reality of the current international politics, it has become more appropriate for the ASEAN to make the first move. We are aware that the U.S. is a major power, which opposes a motion on the EAEG, so that other countries become less interested.... But the U.S. apprehension that the East Asian economic concept will become an exclusive bloc, which will boycott Washington, is only a belief and not reality. In the past, the EEC as an economic bloc never boycotted the U.S., why should the East Asian economic concept become a cause for worry?.... The U.S. opposition is seen as interference in the affairs of this region and it is an undemocratic attitude."
Chai Yuen Ping wrote in Chinese-language government-influenced Nanyang Siang Pau (12/1): "Even though the 10 ASEAN countries vary greatly in size and in economic achievement, as a group, ASEAN is important strategically. Our nearby economic giants such as China, Japan, and South Korea all have the need to use the common ASEAN waterway.... When ASEAN is without a strong leader, ASEAN as a group has no choice but to partner China and Japan to form a stronger regional bloc good enough to stand up to the challenge from Europe and the U.S.... At the ASEAN summit held in Vientiane, it is clear that China has become a key mover and leader in the future of East Asian economic development. However, we believe Japan would want to catch up with China very soon in order to share the ASEAN market. In any case, we are glad to note that with the formation of EAS mooted by Malaysia, we can at least retain our regional characteristics and colors without the interference of a superpower like the U.S."
"East Asia Summit Strives To Strengthen Regional Economic Integration"
Chinese-language government-influenced Nanyang Siang Pau said (12/1): "The initiative to form an East Asia Summit [EAS]...was strongly objected to by the U.S., which feared it could be left out of the regional economic grouping. But today, we are glad that all ASEAN countries, together with China, Japan and South Korea have agreed to the formation of the East Asia Summit. The EAS is the first step for the region to move forward to broader regional economic integration. Not only can EAS member countries strengthen strategic partnerships and interdependence, EAS can also face challenges from the EU and NAFTA.... At the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting held in Vientiane, China has indeed taken a leading role in pushing through the 'ASEAN plus China' free trade agreement. Its ripple effect has made Japan and South Korea want to follow through keenly so as not to miss the economic train.... Moreover, out of the East Asian region, India has also expressed interest in establishing trade links with ASEAN. With such considerations in mind, perhaps the EAS Summit to be held in Kuala Lumpur next year could also include more countries from the region so that a strong Asian-based economic entity with a broad vision could be formed earlier than anticipated."
The government-influenced, English-language New Straits Times editorialized (11/29): "ASEAN's founding principle of non-interference goes through the burner again this week when its leaders meet amidst strong feelings in the region over what is going on in Myanmar [Burma] and southern Thailand."
Government-influenced, Chinese-language Nanyang Siang Pau remarked (11/29): "Looking at the series of agreements signed at the summit, ASEAN's trade and strategic partnership with China has been boosted once more, and was precisely the main axis of this summit. The agreement signed between ASEAN and China will make this region's entire population of two billion completely eliminate commodity tariff barriers and build the world's biggest free trade area by 2010."
"Death Of Thai Protestors Needs Clarification"
Government-influenced Malaysian-language Utusan Malaysia held (11/29): "Malaysia's concerns about the death of 85 protesters in Takbai should not be seen as interference in Thai internal affairs. What Malaysia wants to do at the ASEAN summit in Laos in connection with the issue is to ask Bangkok to clarify what happened."
"Thai Government Must Be Honest"
Government-influenced, Malaysian-language Berita Harian had this to say (11/29): "Thaksin need not be afraid of clarifying the incidents of bloodshed in southern Thailand.... The Thai government must be honest about what happened and should create peace in southern Thailand for the sake of ASEAN solidarity."
"Canberra Is Not Sincere Toward ASEAN"
Government-influenced Malaysian-language Utusan Malaysia noted (11/27): "What is the most accurate judgement or nickname to describe Australia, which has refused to sign the ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation? Australia wants to foster cooperation with the regional grouping and for years it has been trying to get close to ASEAN.... But...Australia...suddenly refused to sign the Treaty. Australia's stubbornness and arrogance clearly show that it is still unaware of its moves and actions thus far. Australia has not changed. It is proud of its role as the deputy sheriff of the world's policeman--the U.S. When the U.S. declared that it would adhere to the policy of pre-emptive strike in its war against terrorism in 2002, Canberra also announced that it would attack its neighbors if terrorists in any of those countries were planning to attack Australia.... Perhaps, it is Canberra's arrogance that causes ASEAN member countries to reject it. Canberra has for a long time been wishing to establish relations with ASEAN but previous ASEAN leaders rejected its request.... Canberra's refusal to sign the TAC proves that it is not sincere about establishing close ties with ASEAN and that it has a certain agenda. It is just proper that Australia should not be invited to future ASEAN summits."
NEW ZEALAND: "Signalling Asia"
The moderate Press declared (11/30): "PMs John Howard and Helen Clark are divided over a regional non-aggression pact--a division that emphasises Tasman disunity to a powerful audience.... The Tasman countries are not ASEAN members but are closely associated with it.... The lack of formal membership is due to the view...that Australia and New Zealand are fundamentally different from their Asian neighbours. This perception focuses not on geography as much as on our deep entanglements with the U.S. and Europe. In this context, New Zealand should not be squeamish about supporting the non-aggression pact in the face of Australian opposition. This stand not only helps delineate our independence to a sceptical Asian audience, the pact is also in our national interest. And little is to be gained by being associated with Australia's slavish following of U.S. policies. In the instance of the Asian non-aggression pact, agreement to sign...also squares with the reality that New Zealand has no aggressive intentions or capacity.... Other things support the perception of an activist Australian stance. It is among the closest nations to the U.S. in the war on terror; it is buying in to the American missile shield programme; and it is increasing the strike capacity of its armed forces.... This forward posture is registering with its Asian neighbours. Helen Clark must welcome the opportunity that the ASEAN non-aggression pact gives her to distance New Zealand from Australia on these issues.... The aim of the gathering is to get free trade talks under way in the region, a process that promises golden gains for New Zealand. Trade has always been on ASEAN's agenda.... Given the existing commercial links...with Asia and the potential for growth, exclusion would have been damaging.... The difficulties remaining in latching Australia and New Zealand into the trade talks, due to begin next year, are thought to be minor and are likely to be overcome whatever Howard's attitude to the non-aggression pact."
PHILIPPINES: "Why Bush Should Monitor The Laos Talks"
JCM Romero 3rd opined in the independent Manila Times (12/1): "The real challenge for the U.S...how to deal with an East Asia that is increasingly going under China’s political sway.... China’s phenomenal rise should be handled not only as a single diplomatic case study, but also as an important policy question.... How China dominates the Vientiane meet can be disturbing for Washington. If global security and political problems are tackled regionally and multilaterally, the US should give serious attention to China’s increasing tendency to leverage its economic influence especially in Southeast Asia. Traditional allies in the region are beginning to sense that the new big brother in the neighborhood is China, while the U.S. remains engrossed with the war on terror. Never mind ASEAN's daydream of having a European-style economic integration.... What should worry Washington is the political substance of ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation.... The original ASEAN members--Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia--are encouraging Australia and New Zealand to accede to TAC.... If Howard uses the ASEAN theater to project himself as a useful and reliable flunky for Washington, his voice would be good music to the ears of Bush.... That is beyond sycophancy in the face of global security threat—and Howard is out to upstage known close U.S. allies whose loyalty consequently becomes questionable."
SINGAPORE: "ASEAN, China In Tandem"
The pro-government English-language Straits Times opined (11/30): "ASEAN is not noted for the pace at which it gets substantive things done.... But yesterday's signing at the leaders' summit in Vientiane of a trade accord with China shows what can be accomplished if the need is pressing--and interests such as mutual market opening coincide.... It was plain when Mr Zhu raised the matter that this was part of a Chinese strategic plan to project its influence in Asia to outflank Japan and match the presence of the U.S. But who minds? ASEAN as a collective unit is pragmatic about China's multi-faceted clout and its ability to stimulate growth in its disparate economies, better than the U.S. is currently able to. Conversely, some member nations have reservations about excessive American reach. Quite a few are not impressed by Japan's disinterest in the region in the 1990s when its economic power waned. With China doing the running now, ASEAN can expect to benefit from slipstream moves by Japanese investors to catch the Chinese.... But two caveats should be borne in mind. Firstly, Asean's role as commodities supplier to China--an important part of the process--should not develop into the nature of a client relationship. Indonesia is particularly sensitive, to the extent that it favours the idea of an Asean-Oceania bloc that incorporates India and Australia-New Zealand as a counter-weight to China. Secondly, ASEAN has to be alive to the remote probability of China's growth crashing due to internal upheaval or hostilities over Taiwan. But the prognosis is good, with ASEAN riding on the momentum to eventually add on similar pacts with India, Japan, South Korea and the Oceania duo to form a super-region."
SOUTH KOREA: "Progress Towards East Asian Integration"
Left-leaning nationalist Hankyoreh Shinmun editorialized (12/1): "The attempt to integrate Northeast and Southeast Asia into one East Asian unit is gradually bearing fruit. The results of the ASEAN...meeting in Laos are truly dazzling.... Efforts at integration among ASEAN nations has made enough progress that a joint action plan was adopted as well, in which an 'ASEAN Community' similar to the EU would be established by 2020. China and ASEAN have agreed to establish a free trade zone by 2010. A meeting of East Asian leaders has been established and the first gathering will take place next year.... Differences in economic development, unanswered issue of past history, territorial disputes, and the competition between China and Japan for regional hegemony have all been noted as factors of conflict that would make integration difficult. Recently those suggestions are losing weight, however, and work towards integration is actually contributing to lessened discord. Naturally, the expansion of the EU and efforts among countries in the Americas towards similar goals have encouraged that. Korea would be well suited to play a central role in the endeavor to achieve East Asian integration. Its economic strength matches that of the whole of ASEAN.... Pondering the advantages and disadvantages of pursuing FTA is important enough, but these are also reasons why the formation of an East Asian community needs clearer vision and plans for making it happen."
"Formation Of East Asian Community Modeled After EU Comes One Step Closer"
Won-Jae Park asserted in independent Dong-A Ilbo (12/1): "The creation of an East Asian union has gained more support after the leaders of 13 countries in East Asia agreed to hold an East Asian Summit conference next year at the 8th ASEAN...conference.... The concept of East Asian community rose to the surface after calls for a unified entity such as the EU or NAFTA for the collective economic betterment in the Asian region were voiced.... Malaysia was the most enthusiastic about forming an 'East Asia Summit.' However, Indonesia and Vietnam held a negative view, saying that ASEAN countries would have less say under the shadow of China and Japan.... East Asia should not fall behind the international trend of regionalization. Also, as South Korea, China, and Japan were in competition in signing free trade agreements with ASEAN countries, a drive towards economic integration gained more power.... Japan, which acquired a co-chairmanship for the next summit conference, plans to catch up with China on diplomatic relationships with ASEAN members. ASEAN countries, feeling at unease about the growing influence of China, are likely to strengthen ties with Korea and Japan to put a check on China."
THAILAND: "ASEAN Muddles Through Again"
The independent English-language Nation held (12/1): "Thanks to Prime Minister Thaksin’s shoddy behaviour, the just-ended ASEAN summit in Vientiane contained real moments of excitement and unpredictability. Thaksin’s quick mouth almost threw the three-decade long process of constructing the ASEAN Way into a tailspin. He created history by becoming the first ASEAN leader to threaten to walk out on a summit if certain issues were raised, in this case the deadly Tak Bai crackdown.... Thaksin’s crassness served Burma very well because it removed the spotlight that has been fixed on the political situation in Burma...and fixed it on the South of Thailand. It is obvious that ASESAN summits are no longer the main event on the calendar for many ASEAN members, the ASEAN-China meeting having taken its place as the region’s pre-eminent diplomatic event. In fact, this is what the most recent ASEAN summit was all about: the framework agreement that both sides signed to create a free trade agreement was the high point.... In the foreseeable future, China will remain the leader in East Asia when it comes to strengthening ties with ASEAN. In Vientiane, ASEAN leaders agreed to hold the first East Asian Summit.... Of course, the first East Asian Summit will proceed cautiously for fear of upsetting the Western world, especially the U.S., which is rather anxious at the moment over its potential.... Like it or not, the situation in southern Thailand hinges on the attitudes of Malaysia and Indonesia, whose goodwill will go a long way towards neutralising the international Muslim community. By all accounts, Thaksin made a fool of himself by rejecting the goodwill of ASEAN.... As a country, we have all suffered. Since ASEAN was first mentioned as a main pillar of Thailand’s foreign policy in 1975, the Kingdom has built up its credibility and become an important force to move Asean forward. Thaksin has squandered all of this."
"ASEAN Summit Mumbo Jumbo"
Kanjana Spindler wrote in the moderately conservative, English-language Bangkok Post (12/1): "It's a great opportunity for a dirt-poor country like Laos to spend a chunk of money on a spring cleaning job.... Don't forget to seal your borders so no undesirable critics can sneak in to protest against all the undesirable activities, the rights abuses, the democratic farces that characterise all 10 member countries of this weird and not so wonderful regional pantomime called ASEAN.... The only thing that holds this wildly disparate grouping together today is a tacit agreement, often elevated to a principle, not to interfere in, or comment upon, each other's sovereign affairs. This warped 'principle' allows Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to attempt to avoid criticism of the Thai military's manslaughter of 85 Thais at Tak Bai by Malaysia and Indonesia. It also allows a harshly repressive military dictatorship in Burma to continue to hold Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest and to deny the people of Burma their democratic rights. Indeed, each member of ASEAN hides dirty linen under the non-interference blanket.... How on earth, one might ask, can these 10 countries think they have anything in common upon which to build a EU-type future?.... In a world where economic groupings appear to be necessary for survival, I favour the existence of ASEAN, and, indeed, of its accelerated political development. But we have to get the foundations straightened out first. ASEAN today is a caricature of regional unity.... Not discussing our problems is a sure recipe for ASEAN's continuing irrelevance."
"Typical Of ASEAN Leaders"
The moderately conservative, English-language Bangkok Post commented (11/29): "Last week's public outburst by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to abandon the summit if any colleague raises the issue of violence in the south was, unfortunately, rather typical of ASEAN leaders. Security threats are still widely considered the exclusive responsibility of not just the country where they originate but even of a single security force."
The independent English-language Nation took this view (11/29): "Such problems as terrorism in Indonesia, violence in southern Thailand and political deadlock in Burma cry out to be addressed by ASEAN members in a spirit of solidarity, cooperation and consensus-building."
INDIA: "Chinks And Links"
The centrist Indian Express opined (12/2): "By unanimously seeking India's help for training their forces in dealing with terrorism, the 10 ASEAN nations have indicated the confidence they have in India's capabilities and willingness to assist with what is now clearly a global phenomenon.... The steady progress toward closer co-operation between ASEAN, both as a grouping as well as individual countries of the group, has predictably led to a landmark agreement to co-operate on a range of issues beyond trade and the consultative process embedded in the ARF system. This is indeed a long way from the situation a decade ago when the ASEAN elites were refusing to even acknowledge such a problem existed!.... Recently, Myanmar and India had carried out joint operations to flush out Indian terrorist groups and destroy the sanctuaries used by them inside Myanmar territory. But so far the security relationship between ASEAN and India has not included active training on counter-terrorism. ASEAN leaders at Vientiane concluded that terrorism was a profound threat to international peace and security and a direct challenge to the attainment of peace and prosperity, the goals embedded in the ASEAN-India partnership agreement. The 11 countries would now be embarking on a new partnership by 'building institutional linkages' for intelligence and information sharing and anti-terrorism co-operation measures, which has the potential of becoming a model for other regional organizations."
"Easterly Wind Blowing"
The nationalist Hindustan Times noted (12/2): "Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must have derived special pleasure at the successful conclusion of his visit to Vientiane for the ASEAN summit.... There are no doubts in New Delhi's mind that it sees itself as part of this wider process towards an Asian economic and political togetherness. The ties with ASEAN are important since it has played the pioneering role in promoting regional cooperation in trade and security in Asia. India has been a member of the Asean Regional Forum, a grouping set up to conduct a dialogue on wider security issues in Asia. With the new pact, which has both an economic and a security component, the two sides have set the stage for even denser engagement."
The pro-BJP right-of-center Pioneer stated (12/2): "For India, the two most important features of the recent ASEAN summit at Vientiene is clearly Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's 40-minute-long meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, and the signing of the historic ASEAN-India partnership agreement for peace, progress and shared prosperity with the 10 ASEAN countries.... An important factor in all this has been India's emergence as an economic powerhouse to be courted for access to its huge and booming market. It is, therefore, not surprising that Wen Jiabao told Singh that his visit to India...'was the most important event" on his agenda for the next year, and that his handshake with his Indian counterpart would 'catch the attention of the world.' Also, in respect of both China's and ASEAN's relations with India, fundamentalist Islamist terrorism has emerged as a major factor.... Significantly, the India-ASEAN agreement signed in Vientiene not only outlines measures to boost trade, investment, tourism, cultural relations, sports and people-to-people contact between India and the ASEAN countries but also seeks to intensify efforts to combat terrorism and transnational crimes.... Clearly, both India and ASEAN countries have displayed a remarkable ability to recognize their common concerns and act together, something which holds out a lesson for the SAARC countries."
The nationalist Hindustan Times maintained (12/1): "One of the more significant fallouts of the Asean summit in Vientiane has been the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Sigh and his Japanese counterpart Junichiro Koizumi. The primary outcome has been the decision to set up a multi-disciplinary group to enhance economic ties and the possibility of a visit by Mr. Koizumi to India. One of the bigger mysteries of diplomacy is the relatively modest diplomatic footprint of Japan in India.... Japan's presence and interest in India remain modest. This is most surprising since Tokyo has by far been the largest bilateral aid donor to India since 1986.... Unfortunately, as of now, Japanese private companies remain shy of investing in India, barring the historic case of Suzuki. But India's growth is changing things and Koizumi's visit could be the necessary catalyst to accelerate the process."
"India's Expectations From ASEAN"
Pro-Congress Hindi-language New Delhi Hindustan concluded (11/30): "The EU and ASEAN are two such regional organizations in the world, the member countries of which have made tremendous progress through regional cooperation.... This is perhaps the main reason why India is paying greater attention to building closer ties with these countries.... India is being invited to ASEAN summits as a dialogue partner and cooperation in some sectors is growing. But still we are far behind in comparison to China's success...despite the fact that ASEAN countries have always been apprehensive of China's growing military prowess and its domineering attitude.... But the main issue here is of rapidly increasing cooperation with these countries. Although some ugly faces of liberal economic policies have come to the fore in this current age of globalization, it has also produced several opportunities of profitable trade.... India is the second fastest growing economy in the world after China. In view of this, ASEAN nations are also expecting to increase cooperation with India but unfortunately, the circle of relations has not been very extensive because in the present era of growing trade competition, we have been proved ineffective in the kind of aggressive marketing that is needed.... Therefore, the situation for India is definitely challenging, but it is not impossible to turn these challenges into opportunities."
The pro-economic-reforms Economic Times contended (11/30): "At a time when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is in Laos to deepen India's engagement with ASEAN, there are indications that further delays are in prospect for our FTA with Thailand and Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) with Singapore.... Such delays stem largely from fears of sections of India Inc. that such agreements with Thailand and Singapore will be misused by foreigners as a staging ground for cheaper exports to India.... A sense of urgency is needed for ironing out the various difficulties with these FTA and FTA-plus pacts and getting them operational as early as possible. The success with which we do so will have a major bearing on our engagement with ASEAN."
PAKISTAN: "Significant Decisions"
The centrist national News contended (12/1): "In Islamabad, the heads of Asian parliaments have decided to set up an Asian parliament on the pattern of European parliament. In Vientiane, China and the Southeast Asian countries have signed a historic trade agreement...to pave the way for the world's biggest free trade zone.... The agreement between China and ASEAN has provided room for the inclusion of all the North Eastern Asian nations and India.... The need is to find a way to protect and promote the interests of all the member countries enabling them to progress together and to make the regional organisations become as strong as the EU. The usefulness of these agreements cannot be denied. They should help in alleviating poverty, reducing unemployment and overcoming the day-to-day problems of the people in addition to forging closer cooperation among the member countries. In Asia, the number of under-developed countries is not only large but their economies are also quite weak. Lifting them all and bringing them at par, providing equal opportunities for progress and enabling them to benefit from these agreements, is the joint responsibility of ASEAN as well as all of its big and developed member countries."
BRITAIN: "No Way To Be A Hub"
The independent Financial Times editorialized (11/30): "At [the ASEAN] summit...the South Korean government has been trumpeting the merits of its 'business-friendly economy.' boasting to investors about market reforms and distributing glossy brochures about its push to become a technological and financial hub for northeast Asia. Back home in Seoul, the talk is more nationalist and protectionist. Instead of luring foreign investors in, a growing number of officials and business leaders are looking for ways to keep them out--or at least restrict their room for maneuver. The economic liberalization drive sparked by the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98 seems to be running out of steam.... [No one] can anyone challenge the extraordinary success of the export-oriented Japanese, South Korean and southeast Asian economies that managed the early stages of their postwar development behind tariff walls. South Korea today, however, has already moved beyond that stage and has rightly decided to focus its efforts on research and development, high- technology industries and services, all of which benefit from the free flow of capital and information. With South Korean growth slowing sharply, it is perhaps not surprising that the hunt is on for a scapegoat. Yet foreign investors, especially in South Korea's historically protected service industries, can bring in exactly the kind of management skills, productivity improvements and technology applications that businesses need. If South Korea is serious about becoming a services hub, this is not the time to condemn business to another period of protection or even partial isolation."
GERMANY: "The Asian House"
Jochen Buchsteiner wrote in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (12/2): "Over recent years, ASEAN has become a model. Its aim to create a community by 2020 and the willingness to include others has turned the alliance into an Asian breeding ground. China, Japan and South Korea are regular participants of ASEAN conferences. India is also associated by now and, for the first time this year, the Australian Prime Minister attended. A frail feeling of unity is growing in the region. These countries aim at leaving their secondary status behind them and surpass the West…. There is also disagreement, which indicates that it will take Asia some time to come together, but the anarchy of the process cannot conceal that an idea of continental identity is in the air. Strengthened by the feeling that the future is not far, the construction of the Asian house has begun."
Peter Sturm noted in center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine (11/30): "Only together can the Southeast Asian nations move something. This simple understanding has now also gained the upper hand in ASEAN, but, like always in such cases, it was a reaction to external pressure. China has turned into a competitor, for instance for international investments. That is why the ASEAN countries are now trying to set up a free trade zone together with China.... Time will tell to what extent the economic interests will be a common basis when existing economic conflicts come to the fore again. As usual, agreements like the one from Vientiane emphasize excellent opportunities. But apart from the fact that it is one matter for the Southeast Asian counties to improve cooperation, it will be a different matter if they have a heavyweight like China aboard. But it is worthwhile mentioning one potential victim of such a free trade zone. We have heard nothing about Taiwan in the extension plans. China wants to incorporate Taiwan at some day in the future, but it would have befitted ASEAN to say at least a word about it."
UAE: "ASEAN Means Business"
The English-language, expatriate-oriented Khaleej Times observed (11/30): "It was business as usual at the ASEAN summit in Vientiane.... The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, representing half of the world’s population, has taken a leap forward by signing a landmark agreement with China aimed at creating the world’s biggest free trade area by removing tariffs for their 2 billion people by decade’s end. The accord is a key step in ASEAN’s vision of a free trade bloc and is set to transform global economic and political equations. By joining hands with the giants, China and India, ASEAN could emerge as the world’s biggest trade bloc challenging the supremacy of Europe and North America by the end of this decade. ASEAN leaders have also agreed on creating an ASEAN Community along the lines of a unified Europe by 2020. It will have common economic and security goals. Of course, this is an ambitious vision. But it could become a reality if the Asian nations remain steadfast in their commitment to ASEAN ideals. The Vientiane summit has not been without its share of problems. Issues like Thailand’s inept and uncivilized handling of its Muslim minority and travails of democrats in Myanmar cast their shadow over the summit. Ideally, political issues should be kept out of economic conclaves. But issues like Thailand and Myanmar not only affect the region, they generate strong passions around the world. ASEAN leaders would do well to discuss and deal with these issues before they assume alarming proportions."
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