The Pencil Guy: Hourann's illogical blog

EAS, round 2: energy deals grab broader attention

Saturday 20 January 2007 at 10:47 am

(Admittedly, this post is several days late; I blame family.)

Leaders at the second East Asia Summit, Cebu, Philippines. Creative Commons licence does not apply to this image.

So the East Asia Summit for 2006 (er, 2007? 06-07? or something?) has drawn to a close, and although the institution is still new and finding its feet, this year has presented a few good signs that the Summit will have a successful future in encouraging regional cooperation.

Aside from several measures to promote regional trade, the big announcement was a declaration that promises cooperation on “energy security”, which is to say there’ll be a big push for investment in transmission and generation infrastructure. Assuming the declaration is followed through, there’ll also be a few token measures towards bio-fuels and renewable energy (though admittedly that’s better than nothing).

I think it’s illustrative that our local daily gave a big chunk of space on the business pages to an AP story about the energy pact, which seems to mirror several other news services I’ve checked. In other words, talk of energy deals makes business leaders (or at least business press editors) stand up and take notice — which, if nothing else, has the benefit of giving the Summit some more widespread attention than it’d otherwise earn. On that front, the EAS has already done better than APEC meetings of recent years, none of which have produced anything quite as noteworthy.

Within that context, the Japanese government has already stepped forward with a donation of US$2b for energy research, yet another component in its long-term programme of being the region’s aid financier. Similarly, the AusAID announcement earlier in the week of $5m to combat bird flu was soundly trounced by a Japanese pledge of an additional US$67m. These donations are important in the sense that they’re giving substance to the decisions being made at the EAS — which suggests that to some extent, the EAS is already getting things done. (On the other hand, though, Japan was donating money for disease prevention long before 2005.)

Speaking of Japan, simmering resentment between it and China earned barely a mention in most media coverage of the second Summit — unlike last time — and this is pretty much entirely due to Shinzo Abe taking over from Junichiro Koizumi as PM. Abe has made little in the way of significant changes to Japan’s dealings with China, but simply by not visiting the Yasukuni Shrine (as PM) he has defused tensions enough that an entire section of my thesis is rendered obsolete. But that’s a good thing, because I argued that a rift between the region’s largest economies was the single biggest issue in the way of a successful EAS.

Interestingly, Russia wasn’t at the table this time around, even though its presence would have actually been relevant on the question of oil supply (so I suppose that ends the speculation from 2005 about whether it’d become a fully-fledged member!).

The broader ASEAN Summit (of which the EAS was one part) earned headlines for a declaration about terrorism and progress towards an ASEAN Charter, but otherwise there was little reaction to the events of the last 12 months. It is the ASEAN Way to not criticise any country’s domestic affairs in public, so there was nary a whimper about the fact that Thailand was represented by a military general. North Korea and Myanmar were both told off, the former about the 6-party talks and the latter for lacking democracy, but these announcements have become yearly stalwarts. Beyond that, the only announcement that struck me as interesting was the plan for new university courses as part of the cultural component of the forthcoming ASEAN Community.

As a final note, the most prominent mention that the Summit got in Australia was John Howard’s stopover in Broome on the way back. Frankly, were I in his shoes, I’d probably do the same — although I’d have covered my back for the inevitable “who paid for this?” squabbles ;-)

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ASEAN hands Timor-Leste an invite

Tuesday 25 July 2006 at 11:29 am

As part of this week’s ASEAN Ministerial Meeting, and in the leadup to Friday’s ASEAN Regional Forum, it was reported today that Timor-Leste intends to join ASEAN.

Considering how little I can find in (the shiny and new!) Technorati, I suspect few people are interested by this. So I’ll comment about it, particularly because I’m fascinated :-)
(hey, it brings together something I’ve been blogging about with something I’m studying!)

First up, it should be noted that this isn’t really a sign of improved stability in Timor-Leste; the old government had been in negotiations to get down with the ASEAN kids for months before the current unrest. Mr Ramos-Horta was at last year’s ASEAN Regional Forum, and there was even talk of him attending the next East Asia Summit.

The announcement does, however, cast some doubt over the old hopes of ASEAN leaders for a nicely rounded clique of ten (which they finally got in 1999). When Timor-Leste first won its independence, some folk in the region said it was more Melanesian than Southeast Asian, and thus didn’t belong in ASEAN. That sentiment has since been overridden by the more widespread belief (particularly strong among the Singaporeans) that ASEAN and its spawn should be inclusive and welcoming to anyone who’s entitled to join.

I doubt that joining ASEAN (if and when it happens, since this announcement is just a statement of intent) will have much impact on the Timorese themselves, except perhaps to help legitimate their government overseas. Whether that’s a good thing is unclear — the last person to have been in the region whom I’ve spoken to was convinced the new leadership is far from clean.

I am vaguely concerned about the effect of continued expansion on ASEAN. Then again, the late-90s naysayers were wrong to claim that picking up Burma and Cambodia would ruin the group, so maybe there’s nothing to be worried about. Actually, it’s quite likely ASEAN will just keep plodding along like it always has, talking lots while making steady (but glacially slow!) progress towards integration.

Timor-Leste, meanwhile, will plod along in poverty, still short of stability or much-needed economic growth …

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