Study group to propose stepped-up cooperation throughout East Asia

Kyodo

A blue-ribbon study group of 13 East Asian nations is set to propose a package of measures to deepen nascent political, economic and social cooperation in the region, it was learned Sunday.

The East Asia Study Group will present the 50-page final draft report at a meeting in Cambodia’s capital on Nov. 4 and 5. Gathering there will be leaders from the so-called ASEAN Plus Three nations — the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus Japan, South Korea and China.

The internal document was made available to Kyodo News on Sunday.

“East Asians will ultimately live in a region of peace, prosperity and progress in this new millennium, since the successful implementation of the concrete measures recommended by the EASG will trigger the full utilization of the huge potential of East Asia,” the draft says.

The EASG, launched in March 2001, proposed 26 concrete measures, including 17 projects to be implemented in the short term, in its report.

The formation of an East Asian business council is among the 17 short-term recommendations. It would promote trade, investment and industrial activities in the area and provide preferential tariff treatment to Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam — the poorest nations in the region.

Other short-term plans include improving the investment climate for foreign direct investment, establishing an East Asian investment information network, providing greater access to primary health care for the needy and promoting a stronger East Asian identity through studies by cultural and educational institutions.

In addition to the 17 recommendations, the EASG offers one measure for implementation over the medium term, four for the long term and four more requiring further study.

For long-term measures, the EASG has identified such headline-grabbing projects as the formation of an East Asian free-trade area (EAFTA) and expansion of the annual ASEAN Plus Three summit into an East Asian summit, according to the draft.

The EASG calls on the East Asian nations to “consider the establishment of EAFTA as a long-term goal, taking into account the variety of differences in developmental stages and the varied interests of the countries in the region.”

As for an East Asian summit, the group says that while such an idea “will serve to strengthen regional cooperation in East Asia,” the ASEAN Plus Three framework “remains the only credible and realistic vehicle” to expedite regional cooperation.

The project categorized as a medium-term step is based on encouraging intraregional investment by small and medium enterprises (SMEs) through such efforts as the establishment of an ASEAN Plus Three SME network.

The four projects that need more study include two cooperation plans to maintain financial stability in the region. These are the setting up of a regional facility to pump short-term liquidity and the pursuit of a more closely coordinated regional exchange-rate mechanism.

The document notes that the International Monetary Fund cannot fully provide sufficient funding to countries hit by crises as severe as the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The EASG says it is thus “necessary to have supplementary funding available on a permanent and assured basis.”

ASEAN consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.