Thursday, June 01, 2006

The Great Game Unrevisited

Last week the Nikkei Shimbun hosted its annual meeting of Asian worthies talking shop about the future of Asia. The featured speakers of the conference's first day were Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi of Malaysia and Nakasone Yasuhiro (88 years old and still on the top of his game--damn!).

Now I was not at the conference but the evening Nikkei of May 25 featured the following graphic as an illustration former prime minister Nakasone's vision for an economic cooperation framework for Asia.

Courtesy: Nikkei Shimbun

According to the view Nakasone presented (I will have to trust the Nikkei on this one) the core of East Asian cooperation is ASEAN. From out of this core, like ever-enlarging rings in the water, are ASEAN+3, ASEAN+6 (the Asian Summit) and a Latin Americapectomied APEC.

The logic of such a framework is compelling. It relies on existing structures, rather than proposing new ones (yes, I am making veiled references to this and this). It relocates the region's great economic powers---Japan, China and India--to the relative periphery, dampening the impact of the budding rivalries between them. It elevates the region's one functioning multi-lateral trade and political union to the apex position in the regional frameworks, pulling the focus of the region southward along the way. It also cuts across the traditional politico-economic structures (the Middle Kingdom tributary system, the U.S.-led alliance of island and peninsular democracies) .

While the Nikkei has assigned Nakasone the authorship of this vision, Shiraishi Takashi presented it in convincing detail in an article in Chuo Koron in January of this year. A translation of the article, Aiming to Build an East Asian Community is printed in February's Japan Echo.

ASEAN has become the hub of the various networks of regional cooperation in East Asia. Neither China nor Japan can replace it. Japan should promote the further growth of these networks and find ways to involve the United States in regional affairs beyond security; in this way it can both engage and deter China. (Chûô Kôron, January 2006)

Unfortunately, Japan Echo has not chosen to make this particular article available on-line. One has to go out and track down the dead tree version.

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