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UPDATED: August 11, 2015 NO. 15, APRIL 9, 2015
Strengthened Bonds
The Boao Forum for Asia charts a new path for Asian integration
By Ji Jing

The economic growth of ASEAN countries has recorded remarkable progress in the past 10 years or so. Badawi said the association is expected to become the world's fourth largest economy by 2050.

"The ASEAN community set to be established at the end of this year will provide a fresh impetus for the establishment of the China-ASEAN community," said Foreign Minister Wang.

In addition to the proposed "community of common destiny," the broader framework of regional cooperation the East Asia Economic Caucus (EAEC) is also regarded as crucial for building this community in Asia.

The EAEC, a regional free trade area proposed in 1990 by former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, encompasses the 10 ASEAN member states, China, the ROK and Japan. However, the progress made with this initiative has been relatively slow and currently the level of economic cooperation between East Asian countries remains low.

"At present, there are three economic areas worth over $18 trillion globally, namely the EU, North America and East Asia. The total GDP of East Asia accounts for 24.5 percent of the global GDP, which surpasses that of the EU and is slightly lower than that of North America. Among the three areas, East Asia is considered the most advantageous in terms of market potential, room for development and potential growth rate," said Zeng Peiyan, former Chinese Vice Premier and Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of the BFA.

"However, for historical reasons, the level of economic cooperation between East Asian economies lags far behind the other two areas, which not only limits the region's growth potential but is also incompatible with its economic status in the world," Zeng added.

Zeng said the vast number of bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements between East Asian countries, which often overlap with one another, has formed a "spaghetti bowl," which has impeded the formation of a uniform market. Fortunately, according to Zeng, the negotiations on the RCEP are unfolding smoothly. The next step should be including more countries in the RCEP and establishing a uniform trade agreement in the end.

He also cited a convenient and smooth logistics system incorporating transportation, telecommunications and energy across East Asia, better coordination of market rules and regulations between different countries, and a regional financial stability facility as indispensable in fostering regional integration.

Fukuda said that in order to build the EAEC, first, ASEAN should play a significant role given its central position in the Asia-Pacific network. Therefore countries such as China, the ROK and Japan should help ASEAN to develop and boost its internal economic integration, because the prosperity and stability of ASEAN will in turn bring huge benefits to all Asian nations.

Second, as China is expected to be the driver for economic growth in Asia in the future, the country should further open up its economy to better contribute to the building of the EAEC.

He also suggested improving communication between young people of the region, strengthening cooperation with America and enhancing mutual trust between countries in the region.

In a bid to increase connectivity between different countries and realize the spirit of a community in Asia, China has put forward the Belt and Road Initiative (the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road), as well as the construction of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB). These initiatives were the topic of much discussion at the forum.

"The Belt and Road and the AIIB are both open initiatives. We welcome all countries along the routes and in Asia, as well as our friends and partners around the world, to take an active part in these endeavors," said President Xi.

Substantial progress has been made regarding these initiatives, exemplified by the rolling out of an action plan of the Road and Belt Initiative on March 28 by three Chinese ministries. Moreover, as of March 31, the deadline for application, 46 countries around the world had applied for the AIIB founding membership.

"As the center of gravity of the world shifts dramatically from the developed world to the developing world where 85 percent of the world's population lives, we need a new international financing architecture where there are multinational institutions which can express the needs and interests of the developing world. The significance of the AIIB is that it has captured this moment," said Martin Jacques, author of When China Rules the World, and a columnist for The Guardian and New Statesman.

"For us as a potential recipient, where we do have financing gaps or infrastructure needs, we welcome more possibilities to get China's financing for infrastructure under good governance structures," said Mari Pangastu, former Minister of Trade of Indonesia.

Security issues

Aside from economic cooperation, security is seen as another prerequisite for building an Asian community with shared interests.

However, China and Japan's disputes over historical and territorial issues and the overlapping claims of China and some ASEAN nations in parts of the South China Sea are posing threats to regional security.

"Economics and security are the two wings of the community of shared destiny, with the former being the foundation and the latter being the guarantee," said Wang Yingfan, Chinese Foreign Ministry Special Envoy for Asian Affairs.

"Although Asia is regarded as the most dynamic and promising economic region in the world, security cooperation in the region has fallen behind. The Asian security architecture does not cover as many areas as its European counterpart," Wang Yingfan added.

During the fourth summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia held in Shanghai last May, President Xi envisioned a new security mechanism characterized by common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security to cope with the rising security challenges in the region.

Xi reiterated this concept at the opening ceremony and pointed to its significant role in building a common Asian community.

"In order to safeguard regional security, we should build a new security architecture based on the existing ones such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the six-party talks," said Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

"In addition, it is important for China and the United States to form a major-power relationship to ensure security in the Asia-Pacific," said Wang Yi.

Hugh White, a professor with Australian National University, agreed with Wang Yi, stating that a stable major-power relationship will provide the foundation for building an Asian community.

"We are moving into a very new era given the relationship between the major powers because the distribution of wealth and power between them has shifted so far. In the 1970s, China's economy was one 20th the size of America's. Today it's the second largest economy. Therefore, how the United States' and China's roles can be reconciled and accommodated is a very important question and quite urgent," White said.

However, despite major powers, small and medium-sized countries in the region should also play a role in promoting regional security.

"ASEAN considers itself as a very important component of the Asia-Pacific security architecture. We need engagement because the world is different. There needs to be dialogue, consultation and cooperation," said Tan Sri Rastam Mohd Isa, Chairman of the Institute of Strategic and International Studies of Malaysia.

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