Asia looks to 'lead world' with EU-style bloc
By Danny Kemp, AFP
October 25, 2009, 10:58 am TWN
HUA HIN, Thailand -- Asian leaders discussed plans at a summit Saturday to "lead the world" by forming an EU-style community, as regional giants China and India tried to cool a simmering border spat.
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama pressed his regional counterparts to move towards the creation of an East Asian bloc and to take advantage of the region's more rapid recovery from the global recession compared to the West.
"It would be meaningful for us to have the aspiration that East Asia is going to lead the world," Hatoyama, who outlined proposals for the bloc after taking office last month, told the Bangkok Post newspaper.
The community would involve the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) with regional partners China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand, Japanese officials have said.
But as the Japanese premier outlined his proposals, there was debate at the summit in the Thai beach resort of Hua Hin over whether the grouping would also include the United States.
Hatoyama said Tokyo's alliance with Washington was the "cornerstone" of Japanese policy but urged the region to "try to reduce as much as possible the gaps, the disparities that exist amongst the Asian countries".
East Asian nations would carry out a feasibility study for a huge free trade zone covering ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea and also for a larger, looser grouping also involving India, Australia and New Zealand, officials said.
ASEAN leaders have been discussing plans to create their own political and economic community for Southeast Asia by 2015. They also launched the region's first ever human rights watchdog on Friday.
Increased integration has been a recurring theme of the meetings in Thailand, but rancorous rows over borders and human rights have dogged the summit.
Chinese premier Wen Jiabao agreed with his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh during talks on the sidelines of the summit Saturday to work towards narrowing differences on a long-simmering border dispute, Chinese state media reported.
Beijing has voiced its opposition to a recent visit by Singh to Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian border state at the core of the dispute, and to a planned visit there next month by the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.
India and China clashed in 1962 in the area.
"The two sides agreed to continue talks, with the aim of incrementally removing the barriers to a solution that was fair and acceptable to both sides," the official Xinhua news agency said.
Indian officials would not confirm an agreement, but the country's external affairs ministry website said Singh "stressed that neither side should let our differences act as impediment to the growth of functional cooperation".
Host nation Thailand and neighbouring Cambodia however remained at loggerheads over the fate of fugitive former Thai leader Thaksin Shinawatra, after Cambodian premier Hun Sen offered him a job as his economic adviser.
Meanwhile, ASEAN leaders in a statement on Saturday urged military-ruled member state Myanmar to hold free and fair elections in 2010 but made no mention of detained pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.
The group has faced international criticism in the past for failing to press Myanmar's junta to free Suu Kyi. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was sentenced to a further 18 months under house arrest in August.
The statement also said that communist North Korea should "comply fully with its obligations" under UN Security Council resolutions on its nuclear programme and urged it to return to multi-nation disarmament talks.
Around 18,000 troops and dozens of armoured vehicles have been deployed in Hua Hin after the Asian summit was twice postponed by anti-government protests, with another 18,000 on standby or on duty in Bangkok.