East Asia Summit (EAS): Issues for Congress
CRS Report for Congress
East Asia Summit (EAS):
Issues for Congress
January 11, 2006
Analyst in Southeast and South Asian Affairs
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
East Asia Summit: Issues for Congress
The first East Asia Summit (EAS) met on December 14, 2005, in Kuala
Lumpur, Malaysia. It brought together the ten Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN), [Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia,
Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam] as well as the “plus three” states
[China, South Korea, and Japan] and Australia, New Zealand, and India, to discuss
issues of common concern. Japanese officials have described the EAS as an “historic
summit meeting to be held with a view to establishing a future East Asia1
Community.” Such a group could potentially replace Asia Pacific Economic
Cooperation (APEC) as the main multilateral forum in Asia on trade and investment
liberalization and economic integration. Russia was invited to attend the EAS as a
special guest.2 Some in the United States are concerned that the East Asia Summit
marks a rise in Asian regionalism in which the United States is not playing a leading
role. There is also concern that China may use the East Asia Summit to consolidate
a leading role in Asia. A key outcome of the first East Asia Summit is that ASEAN
appears to have retained a central role in the process. This report will be updated as
1 Embassy of Japan, “General Information on the East Asia Summit,” December 7, 2005.
2 “ASEAN to Invite Russia as “Special Guest” to EAS,” Jiji Press, November 29, 2005.
The East Asia Summit: Background and Context.........................1
The United States’ Position......................................3
Southeast Asian Perspectives.....................................5
Key Outcomes of the First East Asia Summit............................6
Implications for U.S. Policy..........................................7
East Asia Summit: Issues for Congress
Fundamental shifts underway in Asia could constrain the U.S. role in the
multilateral affairs of Asia. The centrality of the United States is now being
challenged by renewed regionalism in Asia and by China’s rising influence. While
the United States traditionally has played a central role in setting the agenda and
shaping the goals for multilateral cooperation in the region, including the Asia Pacific
Economic Cooperation (APEC) group, there is the potential that the East Asia
Summit (EAS), to which the United States was not invited, could lead to a new
regional forum led by China that would exclude the United States and increasingly
displace APEC, and other more inclusive fora, as the leading multilateral grouping
of Asia. Although there are a number of obstacles to the realization of an East Asian
bloc that would limit American influence in the region, some observers are of the
opinion that the United States should take further steps to reinforce its own regional
role and revitalize ties with allies, friendly countries, and others to deter that
possibility. While China sought a leading role in the EAS, ASEAN appears to have
retained a central role in the EAS process. China’s tensions with Japan also appear
to be a key limiting factor to Asian unity under the EAS.
The East Asia Summit: Background and Context
Kishore Mahbubani, formerly a senior official in Singapore’s Ministry of
Foreign Affairs and Trade, stated that history will view the EAS as the real beginning
of the Pacific century.3 The EAS is viewed as important not only because of its
implications for regional trade but more importantly for its potential importance as
an indicator of China’s rising geopolitical importance. It is also of importance
because the positions of regional states relative to China and the United States were
brought into perspective as the diplomacy surrounding the summit unfolded. The
EAS is viewed as potentially of strategic importance because many believe that it
could form the basis of a future East Asian Community, which might make collective
agreements on trade or even security affairs without U.S. input. As such, regional
states have sought to be included in the summit so that they will not be excluded
from any future East Asian Community.
The United States has not played a role in the EAS process nor was it invited to
attend. What is of concern to some analysts is that this appears to be a potential
challenge to American involvement in the region. Some fear that by shifting
emphasis from APEC, an organization in which the United States has played a
leading role and which encompasses the broader Pacific Rim, to an annual East Asia
Summit, in which the United States is not a participant, America’s overall position
3 “Rising Unity in East Test for Global Trade,” New Zealand Herald, Nov. 19, 2005.
could become relatively less influential and the United States could potentially be
excluded from preferential trade agreements. Though President Bush attended the
APEC gathering in Busan, South Korea in November 2005, that gathering is being
viewed by some as “trumped” by the December 2005 EAS meeting.4 APEC,
however, is primarily a trade and economic organization. A major strategic
consideration is that APEC includes Taiwan whereas the EAS does not.5
Some view the inclusion of India, Australia, and New Zealand as a partial
balancer to the geopolitical weight of China within the grouping.6 This is thought to
be the perspective of countries such as Singapore, Japan, Vietnam, and Indonesia,
though other states are thought to be relatively comfortable with China’s role and an
4 Jeffery Garten, “Battle of the Summits; Asian States Want to Hedge Against Protectionism
in the U.S. and EU with Stronger Regional Trade Strategies,” Newsweek, Nov. 21, 2005.
5 See CRS Report RL31038, Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, Free Trade, and the 2005
Summit in Busan, Korea, by Emma Chanlett-Avery.
6 Clarissa Oon, “West is Welcome in ASEAN plus 3,” Straits Times, Nov. 1, 2005.
ASEAN Plus Three format.7 Some observers believe that despite its acceptance of
the current membership of the EAS, China actually favors a future East Asian
Community based on the more restricted membership of the ASEAN Plus Three
states. This would exclude Australia and New Zealand, which are more closely
aligned with the United States, as well as India. India is China’s traditional rival in
Asia and is in the process of developing closer ties with the United States. This issue
came to light as China reportedly favored a draft joint declaration for the summit
which portrayed ASEAN Plus Three states as having a dialogue with India, Australia
and New Zealand at the summit. Japan reportedly opposed such a definition of the
grouping. India reportedly opposed any joint declaration that did not imply that the
EAS would form the basis of a future East Asian Community.8
To some, the EAS is an extension of the East Asian Economic Caucus (EAEC)
concept put forward by former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed of Malaysia.
The EAEC was a revised version of Mahathir’s 1990 East Asian Economic Group
(EAEG) concept.9 The EAEC was to exclude non-Asian states, such as the United
States, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. The United States was opposed to such
an exclusive East Asian grouping, and Japan reportedly worked to thwart it while
Australia promoted the APEC grouping which includes all states concerned.10 The
evolution of the East Asian Community concept, of which the EAS is the latest
manifestation, evolved further when ASEAN joined with China, Japan, and Korea
in 1997/1998 to form the ASEAN Plus Three grouping.11
The United States’ Position
Singaporean Foreign Minister George Yeo stated after a meeting with Secretary
of State Rice in February 2005 that the United States “has some concerns that the
East Asia Summit will be inward looking and exclusive.”12 The United States has
been criticized by regional states for not paying enough attention to Southeast Asia.
This was highlighted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s decision to break with
tradition and not to attend the July 24-29, 2005 ASEAN Ministerial meeting in
Vientiane, Laos. Secretary of State Rice also canceled a planned visit to Indonesia in
January 2006 reportedly due to developments in the Middle East.13 Some interpreted
7 “China’s Power Play,” Asian Wall Street Journal, Aug. 1, 2005, and “US Tries to Unravel
East Asia Summit Puzzle,” Agence France Presse, Oct. 23, 2005.
8 “Japan, China Clash Over East Asian Summit,” The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 25, 2005.
9 M. Leifer, Dictionary of the Modern Politics of Southeast Asia, (New York: Routledge,
10 F. Fukayama, “All Quiet on the Eastern Front?” Wall Street Journal, Mar. 1, 2005, F.
Fukayama, “America’s Challenge in Asia,” Asian Wall Street Journal, Mar. 2, 2005, and
“US Concerned Over ‘Exclusive’ Nature of Upcoming EAS,” Agence France Presse, Feb.
11 “Ushering in a New Era of Regional Cooperation,” New Straits Times, Nov. 20, 2005.
12 “US Concerned Over Exclusive Nature of EAS,” Agence France Presse, Feb. 25, 2005.
13 “RI Embassy Receives Info on Cancellation of Rice’s Visit,” Antara Morning News
this move as “a sign that the United States was ceding the region to China.”14 The
Administration has indicated that the EAS agenda is not clear and that it continues
to support APEC as “by far the most robust, multilateral grouping in Asia.”15 Despite
the perceived lack of attention by the U.S., the United States and ASEAN announced
a Joint Vision Statement on the ASEAN-U.S. Enhanced Partnership just prior to
President Bush’s meeting with ASEAN leaders on the sidelines of the November
2005 APEC meeting in South Korea.16 A Singaporean Foreign Affairs spokesman
greeted the Joint Vision Statement by stating that “The enhanced partnership ... will
substantially broaden the United States’ engagement with ASEAN ... and will better
position both sides to meet the challenges ahead.”17
China’s approach to multilateral institutions which involve ASEAN has
undergone a transformation as have Southeast Asian states’ perceptions of China.
China has evolved from viewing multilateral institutions in Southeast Asia as
potentially constraining to viewing them as useful for promoting China’s foreign
policy objectives.18 Southeast Asian states’ views of China have evolved as China
has abandoned its support of communist insurgencies in the region, been less
assertive in the South China Sea, and has embarked on diplomatic and trade
initiatives. Since taking office in March of 2003, President Hu Jintao has traveled
extensively in the region.19 Some view the current drive for the creation of an East
Asian Community as having roots in the perceived failure of the United States to
effectively respond to the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis.20 At that time, China gained
much favor by not devaluing its currency and by providing a reported $US 4 billion
in aid to affected countries at a time when the United States’ response was not
viewed positively by regional states. China is also developing defense cooperation
with Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. China views the region as key for its
energy security both as a region through which its energy flows (some 80% of
Digest, January 9, 2006.
14 G. Kessler, “Rice is Criticized for Plan to Skip Summit,” The Washington Post, July 12,
15 Senior Administration Official, Foreign Press Center, Department of State, Nov. 10, 2005.
16 “US, ASEAN Agree on Enhanced Partnership,” Dow Jones News, Nov. 17, 2005.
17 Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Singapore, “Press Statement, Joint Vision Statement on the
ASEAN-US Enhanced Partnership,” November 17, 2005.
18 Kuik Cheng-Chwee, “Multilateralism in China’s ASEAN Policy: Its Evolution,
Characteristics, and Aspirations,” Contemporary Southeast Asia, April 2005.
19 “Here’s Hu,” The Economist, Nov. 5, 2005.
20 Daniel Sneider, “Asian Powers Outgrowing American Leadership,” San Jose Mercury,
Nov. 11, 2005.
China’s oil imports flow through the straits of Malacca) as well as a region from
which China can derive energy resources.21
China-ASEAN trade exceeded $100 billion in 2004, a 30% increase over 2003
levels.22 The rapid growth in trade between China and regional states provides the
economic ballast for a broader relationship that may increasingly encompass political
and security linkages as well. China and ASEAN have signed a Free Trade
Agreement and are negotiating to reduce tariffs to between zero and 5% on certain
goods by 2010 and by 2015 for poorer members of ASEAN.23 The combined gross
domestic product (GDP) of Asian countries is approximately 22% of the world total
while the United States and Europe account for approximately 28% and 30%
respectively.24 Asia has experienced much higher rates of growth than the United
States and Europe in recent years, and this trend is widely expected to continue.
Southeast Asian Perspectives
There are a range of perspectives within ASEAN on the EAS and China’s
evolving role in a potential East Asian Community. While all invitees to the EAS see
value in developing diplomatic and trade relations with China, some are more
concerned than others that China’s potentially preponderant influence should be
balanced. Singapore has taken a leading role in articulating the benefits of an open
regional framework for Southeast Asia. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has stated
“ASEAN does not want to be exclusively dependent on China and does not want to
be forced to choose sides between China and the United States or China and Japan.”
He also reportedly stated “if the world is split up into closed blocs or exclusive
spheres of influence, rivalry, antagonism and conflict are inevitable.”25 Singapore has
supported India’s inclusion in both the East Asia Summit and India’s bid for a
permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.26 Singapore also seeks
continued U.S. engagement in the region. Burma and Laos are viewed as already
significantly under China’s sphere of influence in Southeast Asia.27
21 “China Makes its Presence Felt,” Oxford Analytica, Sept. 16, 2005. For further
information see CRS Report RL32882, The Rise of China and Its Effect on Taiwan, Japan,
and South Korea: U.S. Policy Choices, by Dick Nanto and Emma Chanlett-Avery, and CRS
Report RL32688, China — Southeast Asia Relations: Trends, Issues, and Implications for
the United States, by Bruce Vaughn.
22 Lindsay Beck, “China Looks to Extend Reach South,” Reuters, July 25, 2005.
23 “ASEAN Trade Talks with Region Hit Snag,” Agence France Presse, Dec. 8, 2005.
24 “As the Year Ends so too Does a Season of East Asian Diplomacy,”Asahi Shimbun, Nov.
25 Tor Ching Li, “China Can Transform Asian Landscape: PM,” Today (Singapore), Oct 26,
26 P.S. Suryanarayana, “Singapore Sees India, China as Pace Setters for Economic Growth
of Other Asian Countries,” The Hindu, Oct. 26, 2005.
27 Ross Terrill, “What Does China Want?” Wilson Quarterly, Autumn, 2005.
It is not only Southeast Asian states that are feeling the pull of China’s
diplomatic initiatives; “loyal allies of the United States, such as Japan, South Korea,
and Australia, already feel the magnetic force of a new geopolitical pole.”28 Australia
reversed its previous policy on the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and
signed the treaty which enabled it to attend the East Asia Summit. It is unclear to
what extent current tensions between Japan and China will hinder the future
development of the EAS. China has reportedly postponed discussions involving
Japan which were to take place on the sidelines of the EAS.29 This conflict, and
Japan’s perceived declining regional influence, may have contributed to enthusiasm
among others to include India, Australia, and New Zealand in the group. Some view
recent developments in America’s bilateral relationship with India as in part inspired
by a desire to build ties with another regional state which may not be comfortable
with a rapidly expanded Chinese position.30 China was recently able to gain observer
status to the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation, the main multilateral
grouping in South Asia.31
Key Outcomes of the First East Asia Summit
The Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the East Asia Summit, of December 14,
!“... we have established the East Asia Summit as a forum for
dialogue on broad strategic, political and economic issues of
common interest and concern with the aim of promoting peace,
stability and prosperity in East Asia.”
!“... the efforts of the East Asia Summit to promote community
building in this region will be consistent with and reinforce the
realization of the ASEAN Community, and will form an integral part
of the evolving regional architecture.”
!“... the East Asia Summit will be an open inclusive, transparent and
outward looking forum ... with ASEAN as the driving force ...”
!The EAS will focus on “fostering strategic dialogue and promoting
cooperation in political and security issues ... promoting
development, financial stability, energy security, economic
28 “Meeting the Superpower: George Bush Should Treat Meeting China as an Opportunity,
Not Just a Threat,” The Economist, Nov. 19, 2005.
29 “China Postpones Summit with Japan, South Korea,” Press Trust of India, Dec. 4, 2005.
30 “Bush Adopts New Strategy on China,” Oxford Analytica, Nov. 18, 2005.
31 “Summit or Trough?” The Economist, Nov. 19, 2005.
integration and growth eradicating poverty and narrowing the
development gap in East Asia ...”32
The summit has highlighted a number of evolving geopolitical dynamics in the
region. It has been observed that key outcomes of the summit are that ASEAN
“successfully projected its political centrality in a wider region fast becoming a
function of the economic weight of China and India,” and those within ASEAN Plus
Three who advocated a more inclusive membership were able to bring India,
Australia, and New Zealand into the group.33 It has been reported that Japan,
Singapore, and Indonesia worked to broaden membership to include India, Australia,
and New Zealand.34 Such additions are thought to partially offset the influence of
China within the group. It was also observed that while the United States did not
participate, “its influence remains directly and via regional allies.” While media
reports did focus on the EAS as a new Asian bloc they also pointed to conflicts
within the region, particularly the Sino-Japanese conflict, that may limit future
regional cooperation.35 Some analysts have observed that rather than bringing Asia
together under Chinese leadership the EAS may have more clearly defined Asian
rivalry and regional geostrategic divisions.36 Russia, which had observer status at the
EAS, also is reportedly seeking to become a full member at the next EAS meeting.37
The group plans to hold its second summit in the Philippines in 2006.38
Implications for U.S. Policy
Some have asked why the United States should be concerned with an EAS that
has yet to demonstrate that it will be a threat to American influence in Asia. Others
argue that it will lead to a reduction in influence that would limit America’s ability
to promote its values or look after its interests whether they be economic or strategic.
To some, America’s preoccupation with Iraq has been a distraction that has led it to
underestimate the importance of evolving geopolitical dynamics in Asia including39
32 “Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the East Asia Summit,” Kuala Lumpur, December 14,
33 Michael Vatikiotis, “EAS Offers Bullish View of Asian Regionalism,” New Straits Times,
December 19, 2005.
34 Edward Cody, “East Asian Summit Marked by Discord,” Washington Post, December 14,
35 Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Department of State, Foreign Media Reaction Issue
Focus, “East Asia Summit & ASEAN: Creating a New Regional Architecture,” December
36 Eric Teo and Chu Cheow, “Geostrategic Imperatives of the East Asia Summit,” PacNet
Newsletter, January 3, 2006.
37 Frank Ching, “The East Asian Cloud at the Summit,” New Straits Times, December 22,
38 “East Asia Stages Inaugural Summit,” BBC News, December 14, 2005.
39 Hugh de Santis, “The Dragon and the Tigers: China and Asian Regionalism,” World
The focus on the EAS comes at a time when APEC is generally perceived to
have lost momentum. There is an increasing perception that APEC, which has 21
members and was established in 1989, is disintegrating into regional and bilateral
blocs and that it does not have the leadership necessary to meet future challenges.
Some feel that a return to APEC core issues of trade liberalization and the reduction
of trade barriers is the best way for APEC to regain its momentum.40 Australia, which
played a key role in the development of APEC, will be the 2007 Chair of APEC. A
question is whether the United States should take additional measures to strengthen
APEC. Some suggest this would also keep Taiwan from becoming increasingly
To some, the key question concerning the EAS is whether China’s leadership
“will be benign or will it be aimed — or be perceived by the U.S. as being aimed —
at limiting or replacing Washington’s (and Tokyo’s) influence in the region.”41
China’s actions through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which
includes China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, and Kyrgyzstan, are
viewed by some as challenging America’s regional presence.42 The SCO asked in
July 2005 for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. coalition forces in Central Asia.43
China’s potential opposition to America presence in a region that it may increasingly
see as within its sphere of influence may portend future negative postures relative to
American forces elsewhere in Asia.
Developing a constructive relationship with China is generally viewed as the
most significant foreign policy challenge for the United States in Asia, and possibly
the world, in the years ahead. How the United States reacts to China’s bid to position
itself more centrally in Asia, as demonstrated by the EAS, is an important component
of this challenge. A policy approach that seeks to continue to foster the peaceful rise
of China appeals to many.44 Some feel that it is important that American policy on
the East Asia Summit, or a potential future East Asian Community, not be interpreted
by China as an effort to contain China but rather as a policy initiative to demonstrate
that America seeks to remain an active and constructive actor in Asian multilateral
affairs and that it supports the constructive integration of China into regional and
Policy Journal, Summer 2005.
40 “APEC Must Streamline and Focus to Survive: Lowey Institute,” Australian Associated
Press, October 17, 2005 and Geoffrey Barker, “Altogether Now, Asia Shapes its Future,”
Australian Financial Review, Oct. 1, 2005.
41 Ralph Cossa, Simon Tay, and Lee Chung-min, “The Emerging East Asian Community:
Should Washington Be Concerned?” Pacific Forum, (CSIS) August 2005.
42 “Aphorisms and Suspicions: Special Report on China’s World Order,” The Economist,
Nov. 19, 2005.
43 Craig Simons and Dan Chapman, “Diplomacy Underlines U.S. Bid to Reel in China,” The
Atlanta Journal, Nov. 20, 2005.
44 “Climbing the Great Wall,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 20, 2005.