The year 2007 is a special year in the process of East Asia cooperation, in which the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) greets its 40th birthday, the ASEAN plus China (10+1) and ASEAN plus China, Japan + the Republic of Korea or ROK (10+3) greet their 10th anniversary. In mid January, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao attended ASEAN-related series of summits and the Second East Asia Summit in the resort city of Cebu, Philippines, and this visit can truly be termed as a "trip for East Asia Harmony."
East Asia cooperation, the leading driving force designed for the creation of a"harmonious East Asia", needs the division of work among its players. After a decade of exploration, the basic framework of East Asia cooperation has gradually become distinct with the positioning of its players also increasingly explicit and clear-cut.
ASEAN will assume as the "driver�� of the "East Asia cooperation" vehicle, who will map out and set the direction of East Asian cooperation, influence the pace of advance and coordinate relationships among the nations in the region. Due to complex ties and contradictions, none of the major nations in East Asia is able to orient the regional cooperation, and the ASEAN alone, "which is not the potential rivalry of any big power," nevertheless, can assume the leading role and be accepted by all major regional powers.
According to a tentative idea of ASEAN, the ASEAN plus China, ASEAN plus Japan, ASEAN plus ROK would be turned into the commonwealth of East Asia, but differences have surfaced in the three (10+1) over the past decade. As a mater of fact, China plus ASEAN has become the most powerful promoter, even can be called a pillar to East Asia cooperation. ROK and Japan, though also working hard, are negatively affecting, to vary extent, the progress of two free trade zones because of their national resolves and their own specific conditions. At the spur of the continuous progress of growing Sino-ASEAN ties, they have, too, stepped up their negotiations with ASEAN on the establishment of free trade areas.
Sino-Japanese-ROK cooperation is crucial for the eventual success for East Asia cooperation. Relatively speaking, what China, Japan and ROK represent is the Northeast Asia cooperation, which now lags far behind the regional cooperation in Southeast Asia in term of mechanism construction, and is so most vulnerable to be restricted by political factors. For instance, the summit between China, Japan and ROK of 2005 was not held simply for the sake of the Japan issue. This year's Chinese-Japanese-ROK summit was made possible thanks to conditions created by both China and Japan for the improvement and development of Sino-Japanese ties in October 2006.
The relatively mature "10+3" mechanism is a substantial, pragmatic platform or a main channel for the potential East-Asia commonwealth. In contrast, the East Asia summit is obviously still in its earliest, exploratory phrase and an important supplement for "10+3" mechanism. With regard to the "10+3" summit of this year, Cui Tiankai, assistant Chinese foreign minister, said "the Chinese side shall propose ideas and propositions to further advance East Asia cooperation in the new situation, stress capitalizing on the 10th anniversary of "10+3�� to make strategic plans for years ahead and reinforce the "leading channel�� status of the "10+3" in the process of boosting the East Asia cooperation and establishing an East Asia commonwealth.
The consensus of East Asia cooperation comprises openness and magnanimousness, or "a sort of open regionalism," and the gut issue involved is still "how to open", "whom it opens to", "what to open." Former Chinese Ambassador the United Nations, Qin Huasun, once acknowledged that the ties between nations in and outside the region is one of the eight relationships affecting cooperation in the Asia region. In case of the United States, it has had a certain sense of being excluded in the East Asia cooperation process, as it is neither a member of the "10+3" mechanism, nor a partaker in the East Asia summit. So President George W. Bush last year set forth ideas for the establishment of the "East Asia Free Trade Zone��. The true purpose of this American move, however, is "to involve itself in economic cooperation in East Asia and create a new order of the Asia-Pacific region with the U.S. at the core," Japanese medial critics acknowledged.
Consequently, the parties concerned in the region should come to recognize that the East Asia cooperation constitutes an inevitable choice, but not the sole choice, in building up a"harmonious Asia�� and a "harmonious Asia-Pacific region". A relatively mature East Asia cooperation should be extended to and connected with the wider Asia-Pacific region, so as to bring about the trans-regional or inter-regional "win-win�� outcome.
By People's Daily Online; the author Zhai Kun, director of the Southeast Asia and Oceania Studies Department affiliated the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations