Recently, the 11th ASEAN-China Summit, the 11th ASEAN 10+3 Summit (ASEAN plus China, Japan and South Korea) and the 8th meeting of Chinese, Japanese and South Korean leaders, were held in Singapore. For East Asian countries, these meetings are crucial for deepening mutual understanding, strengthening mutual trust, and promoting cooperation in various fields including the economy, trade, science and technology, energy, environment, finance, culture, education, and tourism.
Despite problems and conflicts in East Asia, all countries share the common interest of building a "harmonious East Asia" and promoting peace and development. In fact, this emerged as a new trend in East Asia in the early 21st Century. This "harmonious East Asia" refers to a region existing in harmony, cooperation between countries, and coordination of the ecological environment and economic development. Through bilateral and multilateral dialogues and cooperation, a "harmonious East Asia" can sustain regional development and security.
Building a "harmonious East Asia" and promoting peace and development lead to the improvement of East Asia's international economic status. Since the establishment of the ASEAN 10+3 (ASEAN plus China, Japan and South Korea) Summit, East Asia has withstood the challenges of the Asian financial crisis, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and the Indian Ocean tsunami; and has experienced fairly rapid economic growth. From 1996 to 2005, China's annual economic growth rate remained at 9.1%. The annual growth rate of Northeast Asia stood at 7.4%. Southeast Asia's economy grew 3.6% annually. All exceeded the average annual economic growth rates of North America (3.3%) and Europe (2.2%). The proportion of East Asia's economy within the world's economy rose from 14.4% in 1980, to 21% in 2002. Exports accounted for 10.4% of the world's total in 1980, and then up to 23.6% in 2002.
Building a "harmonious East Asia" and promoting peace and development are two natural choices for countries in this region as their interdependence deepens. With the development of trade and investment liberalization, intra-regional trade and direct investment within East Asia has progressed. From 1980 to 2003, the proportion of exports within East Asia, of the total exports from the entire region, rose from 33.9% to 50.5%; the proportion of imports also surged from 34.8% to 59.7%. Over the same period, direct investment within East Asia increased 25 times. Such geo-economic interests and interdependence determine that East Asian countries must live in harmony.
However, East Asia still faces many challenges to building a "harmonious East Asia" and promoting peace and development. First, the political situation in some countries remains unstable, and is being aggravated by external forces. Second, some countries still need to seek commonly accepted solutions to disputes on territorial boundaries and maritime rights. Third, there is an increasing negative impact from price hikes on international energy and resources on East Asia. Fourth, governments are becoming increasingly aware of the risks in the financial market. Fifth, national separatism, international terrorism and religious extremism are threatening the security of the region. Sixth, sustainable development issues related to ecology and the environment have become increasingly prominent. Seventh, stronger collaboration in preventing piracy, smuggling, and drug trafficking in non-traditional security areas is needed. Eighth, there are still many difficulties and uncertainties in the developing models of the East Asian community as various social systems and development patterns exist. Perhaps this is why building a "harmonious East Asia" and promoting peace and development are topics worth discussing at East Asian summits.
(The author Su Jingxiang is deputy director and professor of the Institute of International Studies of Tsinghua University)