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2009年11月12日 (木)


--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 11(IHT/Asahi: November 12,2009)
EDITORIAL: East Asian community.

Judging by recent developments in arenas for international diplomacy, the idea of setting up an East Asian community is picking up speed.

Last month, the 4th East Asia Summit in Thailand agreed on the need to continue intergovernmental efforts to advance regional economic cooperation that would eventually take the form of an East Asian community, a concept championed by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.

But specifics of the community Hatoyama has in mind are still vague. Given the differences between China and South Korea and those of other Southeast Asian nations in terms of population size, economic power, political systems and other factors, it verges on wishful thinking to believe this region can be integrated along the lines of the European Union with its common currency and shared political system.

One realistic step toward creating an East Asian community may be to start with transforming the region into a "common market"--essentially a free trade zone resulting from expanded economic cooperation.

The thinking here is that a smooth flow of people, goods and money will promote regional economic growth. But that is easier said than done.

China is a highly competitive exporting nation. South Korea does not want its trade deficit with Japan to grow. Japan wants to keep farm produce imports at bay. Each country has its own reason for hesitating to sign a free trade agreement.

The Hatoyama administration's first challenge is to try to change this situation. China, India and the region's other emerging powers are on their way to achieving greater prosperity. Asia will develop into the world's growth center.

Japan, which is on the decline on account of its shrinking and rapidly graying population, must latch on to the region's potential for growth and each nation's domestic demand in order to secure its own future growth.

Specifically, Japan could try to promote a track record of cooperation that might help encourage other nations to go for a free trade agreement. Such cooperation projects could include the construction of transportation routes vertically across Asia, the establishment of common customs clearance rules and food safety standards, and cooperation on environmental issues--in short, projects that will mutually benefit everyone involved.

It will be a long time before an East Asian community is realized as nations in the region have widely divergent ideas about it.

China envisions a 13-nation entity made up of itself, Japan and South Korea plus the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Japan is proposing a 16-nation framework that includes India, Australia and New Zealand. China and Japan are still nowhere near seeing eye to eye on this matter.

Whether to include the United States is another source of conflict. Washington has voiced its displeasure at the prospect of an East Asian community that excludes the United States. And there is disarray within the Hatoyama administration, too. Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said, "(The proposed community) is not designed to include the United States." But Hatoyama has made comments to the effect of asking the United States to get involved.

Trying to reach a hasty conclusion on the composition of the community will only complicate matters. It would be counterproductive. Japan, which is politically and economically tight with the United States, should concentrate on striving for a free trade agreement with the United States and another with Asian nations at the same time.

We need to thoroughly mull over the community concept while working toward the creation of an East Asian and pan-Pacific common market.


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