|@East Asia: An ideal community
Divided yet booming, East Asia is experiencing an epic reconfiguration. Increasingly, a new organization of East Asian countries is seen as the best way to manage the profound social and economic changes sweeping the region.
To its proponents, an East Asian Community, created in the mold of the European Union, promises a great uplift of the region -- a strong mechanism for stability and for constraining and transforming China. By promoting an East Asian identity, an EAC would help to shift paradigms, heal old wounds and resolve explosive disputes like the Taiwan issue and the Korean division.
Championed by many in Japan, South Korea and especially the 40 year-old Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the EAC idea has begun to arouse significant enthusiasm in China and even Australia and India. It commonly refers to an entity with varying degrees of economic, cultural, political and security cooperation among East and Southeast Asian nations and perhaps Oceania too.
An EAC is both desirable and feasible for many reasons. The people of East Asia share much in common: a cultural heritage featuring Confucian ideology and a legalist political tradition; the use of Chinese characters; and the belief in Chinese medicine and feng shui.
Furthermore, the whole region has had record-shattering economic booms and stronger economic ties have resulted. Today, a ''Made in East Asia'' label would better describe the true origin and contents of most ''Made in China'' goods.
Yet an East Asia Community is still an ideal without a road map. The@goal is complicated by the great differences between nations of the@region: We see some of the richest, most open and highly-advanced
democracies coexisting with some of the poorest, most isolated and most backward societies.
Disagreements about the nature and scope of an EAC also exist. Tokyo, which often considers itself more Western than Asian, has been mainly interested in economic cooperation, while many in Seoul are justifiably more concerned about security and peace. Many in Beijing tend to view an EAC as a useful way to fend off America's hegemonic power. Support from the United States for an EAC is at best uncertain.
And unlike Western Europeans in the 1950s, the East Asians have no common enemy, nor a common ally, to bind them. There is no common arrangement, like NATO, to address the complex security problems in the region. While the Western Europeans had a dwindled sense of nationalism 50 years ago, after the devastation of two world wars, East Asians in all corners are experiencing a rapid surge in conflicting nationalisms. There seems to be a strong desire for settling scores.
Lack of leadership is another critical problem. Asean lacks the
necessary weight and internal cohesion. A united East Asia led by Japan, the most developed nation in the region, often automatically rekindles the terrible memory of Imperial Japan's brutal effort to create a Greater East Asia 60 years ago. Japan's frustrating experience of seeking a permanent seat on the UN Security Council shows how hard it is for Tokyo to assume real political leadership without a sea change in Japan to shed its unrepentant, macho mask. Chinese leadership, given Beijing's political system and the great uncertainty about its stability and intentions, is simply too frightening for too many. The chance for the two giants, China and Japan, to join hands for the founding of an EAC seems slimmer every day.
But concerted efforts could still make a difference. The similarly
endowed East Asian Tigers -- South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan -- could first form a union starting with narrow cooperation and integration in areas like energy or technology, to serve as the core of a possible EAC snowball, much like the 1948 Benelux Union by Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (assuming, of course, Beijing somehow miraculously allows such
a union). In just four years, the Benelux Union grew into the European Coal and Steel Community that brought France and West Germany together. The rest is EU history.
It took 50 years for the EU to expand so much that it now seems to be suffering serious indigestion. East Asians may take a longer time to just bring their region peacefully together as equal partners. An East Asian ''Four Tigers Union,'' small and however unlikely it may seem, may help to create an EAC and rewrite the history of East Asia and beyond.
Saturday, November 5, 2005
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