Premier Li Keqiang will pay a four-day visit to Thailand from Saturday to attend the 22nd China-ASEAN leaders’ meeting, 22nd ASEAN-China, Japan and Republic of Korea (ASEAN+3) leaders’ meeting and the 14th East Asia Summit. Amid rising nationalism and protectionism, and anti-globalization sentiments, the series of meetings offer an opportunity to East Asian countries, especially the ASEAN +3 countries to discuss regional development and cooperation.
East Asian economies have different political and economic systems, and cultures. Southeast Asian countries formed the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to overcome these differences and resolve their territorial and political disputes through negotiations and without interfering in each other’s internal affairs.
The principles laid out by ASEAN developed into “open regionalism” in the process of ASEAN’s cooperation with China, Japan, the ROK and other economies. Which provided the basis for cooperation among most East Asian economies with ASEAN and facilitated the formation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, the East Asian Community and ASEAN+3.
Despite promoting agreements among different economies, the “open regionalism” mechanism has been criticized for limiting the institutionalization of regional cooperation. This means regional cooperation faces external challenges because of the fast-changing economic relations among different countries, and internal challenges due to development impediments.
Given these facts, what should China do to promote East Asian cooperation?
Considering the complicated East Asian cooperation process, the principle of negotiation to reach a consensus must be adhered to, and established institutions should not aim to achieve high-level regional cooperation alone, as by trying to establish a supranational organization like the European Union, the East Asian economies would only intensify their internal disputes.
Cooperation in East Asia needs to progress in a way that would allow China to promote the economic integration with ASEAN and help upgrade the ASEAN-China free trade zone. Since its establishment in 2010, the free trade zone has not only boosted China-ASEAN trade – which reached $587.8 billion last year – but also helped ASEAN overtake the United States to become China’s second-largest trade partner this year.
The integration of ASEAN and China, too, faces challenges, not least because the transfer of industrial units from China to some Southeast Asian states has affected China-ASEAN trade. So China and ASEAN should deepen cooperation in service trade, cultural exchanges and the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative. They should also push forward negotiations on the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea and expand cooperation on global issues such as combating climate change, terrorism and transnational crimes.
The ASEAN+3 mechanism was initiated in 1997 and institutionalized in 1999 thanks to the cooperation among the East Asian economies following the 1997 Asian financial crisis, which affected Southeast Asian countries in particular.
Given the strong economies of China, Japan and the ROK, and ASEAN’s leading role, ASEAN+3 is the most promising cooperation mechanism for East Asia’s development.
Yet ASEAN+3 has not developed to its full potential, as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and the East Asian Community cover similar areas. For instance, the goal of ASEAN+3 to establish a free trade zone consisting of the four sides has not been realized. And so far, only ASEAN has free trade deals with the other three parties – and China and Japan, and the ROK and Japan are yet to sign a free trade deal.
Which calls for ASEAN+3 to deepen cooperation in the financial, agricultural, political and security sectors so they can establish mechanisms to deal with maritime emergencies, better protect the environment and preempt conflicts in East Asia.
In addition, China, ASEAN and India should finalize the terms of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which is an inclusive mechanism that can balance the interests of developing countries. And the RCEP’s goal should be to develop a high-level free trade zone, instead of seeking high standards for regional trade. But once the RCEP is established, it can offset the negative impacts of unilateralism and protectionism. –The Daily Mail-China Daily News Exchange Items