The East Asia Summit, Kuala Lumpur, 14 December 2005 : issues and outcomes

Current Issues

The East Asia Summit, Kuala Lumpur, 14 December 2005 : issues and outcomes

E-Brief: Online Only issued 17 January 2006

Dr Frank Frost , Analysis and Policy
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Section
Ann Rann , Information and E-links
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Section


The first East Asia Summit was held in Kuala Lumpur on 14 December 2005. The participating countries were the ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations ASEAN (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand.

The East Asia Summit took place during the 11th ASEAN Summit in Kuala Lumpur from 12-14 December. The ASEAN Summit involved a series of meetings among the ten ASEAN members and dialogues with major partners (including the ASEAN Plus Three grouping of the 'ASEAN ten' along with Japan, South Korea and China). The East Asia Summit was held as part of these overall ASEAN meetings.

The East Asia Summit began with a Gala Dinner on 13 December, and concluded with a Leaders' Summit on the morning of 14 December. The Summit was preceded by a Foreign Ministers' working lunch on 10 December and a senior officials' meeting on 8 December.

The Summit is a significant development both for East Asia and for Australia. The 15 other countries taking part in the East Asia Summit together receive over 60 per cent of Australia s exports and Australia is a direct participant from the outset in what may become a very important focus for both political and economic cooperation.

This electronic brief provides a short introduction to the background to and initial outcomes from the Summit, links to major official and analytical sources, and basic statistical data on the Summit participants.

ASEAN since 1967

The East Asia Summit has arisen particularly from the discussions and cooperation pursued by ASEAN and by the ASEAN Plus Three process and it is useful to consider the Summit against this background.

ASEAN has been a key factor in regional cooperation since the mid 1970s. After a tentative beginning in August 1967, ASEAN was stimulated into more concerted action by the end of the wars in Indochina in 1975. At its Bali conference in 1976, ASEAN upgraded its cooperation efforts towards regional stability and also pursued some initial efforts towards economic cooperation. ASEAN s most important single contribution has been to contain conflict and create confidence among its own members and thus to improve greatly the basis for peace and security in Southeast Asia. ASEAN s credibility on this issue was underscored by the eagerness of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to join it, after the end of the Cambodia conflict in 1991-93, which made this possible.

Since the early 1990s, ASEAN has increased its efforts to deepen cooperation among its own members. A primary focus for ASEAN has been development of the ASEAN Free Trade Area. ASEAN, in 2003, adopted the goal of achieving an ASEAN Economic Community by 2020 which is intended to achieve a single market and production base among the ten members.

ASEAN has, in addition, sponsored efforts to improve dialogue on regional security issues, particularly by establishing the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) in 1994. The ARF now has 25 members and is pursuing a gradual three-stage evolution from confidence building, to preventive diplomacy and, in the longer term, approaches to conflict resolution.

Wider East Asia cooperation and the ASEAN Plus Three process

ASEAN members have also been interested in developing wider dialogues on cooperation in East Asia. There was some support within East Asia for an Asia-focused form of cooperation at least from the early 1990s when Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir proposed an 'East Asian Economic Group' which would have an exclusively Asian membership. At this time, however, attention on regional cooperation was focused on the development of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) grouping of Asia-Pacific economies. APEC now has a membership of 21 economies and continues as a major focus for cooperation across the Asia-Pacific region.

However a series of factors from the mid-1990s increased support for an East Asian grouping. These included:

  • The inauguration of the Asia-Europe Meetings (ASEM) in 1996, which explicitly involved dialogue between Europe and an 'Asian side';
  • The traumatic impact on many regional economies of the Asian financial crisis from mid 1997, which prompted many regional states to consider the desirability of greater cooperation to forestall any future crisis and to add greater 'weight' for Asia in relations with international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund;
  • APEC s inability to maintain the momentum towards trade liberalisation it had in the mid 1990s;
  • A continuing sense that the ongoing development of regional groupings in Europe (the EU) and the Americas (the North American Free Trade Agreement) should be accompanied by greater East Asian cooperation; and
  • China s dynamic economic growth which stimulated a rise in the importance of trade among the countries of East Asia.

All these developments contributed to the opening up of 'political space' for an East Asian grouping (Richard Stubbs, ASEAN Plus Three: Emerging East Asian Regionalism? , Asian Survey, v. 42 no. 3, May - June 2002, pp. 440 455).

ASEAN s first major step towards wider cooperation in East Asia was the inauguration of the ASEAN Plus Three process, which stemmed from a meeting of the ASEAN members and China, Japan and South Korea in Kuala Lumpur in 1997 (Sanae Suzuki, 'Chairmanship in ASEAN+3: A Shared Rule of Behavior', Discussion Paper no. 9, Institute of Developing Economies, October 2004). ASEAN Plus Three is not a formalised organisation but is a loose cooperative framework based on conferences and dialogue. The ASEAN Plus Three members have pursued dialogues at several different levels simultaneously: among all thirteen members, among the ASEAN 'ten' and one other member (which has enabled China and Japan, in particular, to maintain and develop their own specific relationships with ASEAN), and among the three Northeast Asian members (China, Japan and South Korea) who held their first trilateral meeting in 1999.

The ASEAN Plus Three process has involved annual meetings of the members' leaders, and many meetings of ministers and senior officials in areas including politics and security, trade, labour, agriculture and forestry, tourism, energy and environment. A significant element in ASEAN Plus Three activities has been the development of regional financial cooperation, which has included the inauguration of Asian Bond Funds (to mobilise capital for investment in the region) and a series of currency swap arrangements designed to help avoid any repetition of the financial crisis which affected much of the region in 1997 (Jennifer Amyx, 'What Motivates Regional Financial Cooperation in East Asia Today?', Asia Pacific Issues, Honolulu, East-West Center, No. 76, February 2005). The ASEAN Plus Three leaders have also commissioned studies and reports to explore bases for further East Asian cooperation which encouraged development of proposals for an 'East Asia Summit'.

The East Asia Summit : key issues

The first meeting of the East Asia Summit in December 2005 is intended to initiate a further development in the 'architecture' of regional cooperation. In the leadup to the Summit however, it was clear that the new grouping faced a series of challenging issues and questions.

One relevant issue is that the character and level of economic development among the Summit participants is very wide (for example, between Japan and Laos) so agreement on cooperation programs could be difficult to reach.

A second issue is that clear central leadership of the Summit is likely to be difficult while relations among key Northeast Asian participants remain politically distant (especially between China and Japan). At the end of November 2005, as the Summit approached, there were indications of continuing sensitivities among the Northeast Asian participants. A senior Chinese official (Cui Tiankai, head of the PRC Foreign Ministry s Asian Affairs Department) said on 30 November that it would be impossible for Premier Wen Jiabao to hold a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at the Summit because of ongoing Chinese opposition to the Prime Minister s visits to the Yasukuni Shrine (where 14 figures classified by the World War Two Allies as war criminals are among those enshrined). South Korea s Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon stated on the same day that South Korea was not considering holding a bilateral meeting between Mr Koizumi and President Roh Moo-hyun during the Summit (Richard McGregor & Anna Fifield, Divisions undermine east Asia summit , Financial Times, 1 December 2005).

A third issue is that the relationship between the new East Asia Summit and existing cooperation dialogues, particularly ASEAN Plus Three, remains to be clarified. It was reported in the lead up to the Summit that this was an issue of contention between China and Japan, with China arguing that it considered that the ASEAN Plus Three dialogue should be the primary venue for discussions about the overall future of East Asian cooperation while Japan considered that such discussions could appropriately be pursued by the new East Asia Summit ('Japan, China clash over E. Asia summit', Yomiuri Shimbun, 25 November 2005). It seems probable that the Summit process at least in its early phase of activity will proceed in parallel with the existing network of ASEAN Plus Three discussions and not as a process which will incorporate those networks. (For a valuable overview of the emerging East Asia Summit concept see Ralph Cossa, Simon Tay and Lee Chung-min, 'The Emerging East Asian Community: Should Washington be Concerned?', Issues and Insights, vol. 5, no. 9, Honolulu, Pacific Forum CSIS, August 2005.)

A fourth issue is membership. ASEAN, as the convenor of the Summit, had made it clear that Summit participants must be signatories of the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation (or be prepared to sign it), needed to be full ASEAN Dialogue Partners, and had to have substantial relations with ASEAN. On those bases, and after a considerable amount of internal debate, it was agreed that India, Australia and New Zealand should be participants in the Summit.

The Summit, however, also attracted interest from some major countries not invited to participate. Russia made an attempt to gain representation. While its request was not agreed to ('Russia not invited to inaugural East Asia Summit', Kyodo News, 3 October 2005), Russia did attend the first Summit as an observer and may be invited to join as a full member in the future.

The United States has also viewed the Summit with interest. Ever since the formation of APEC in 1989, US policymakers have favoured modes of regional cooperation in East Asia in which the US can participate and have been wary about institutional arrangements which might divide the region from the US. Some American observers have expressed concern that the East Asia Summit will be a venue where major East Asia states including China and Japan will be represented but the US will not, and which could be another avenue for China to sponsor dialogues and discussions which define East Asia discussions and cooperation as not needing to include the US ('Locking Uncle Sam out of Asia', Christian Science Monitor, 8 December 2005). The question of how the US reacts to, and is able to interact with, the East Asia Summit will be one of the most significant issues in the early phases of the new grouping s activities.

The First Summit : initial outcomes

The 16 participants in the first East Asia Summit duly met on 14 December 2005. The meeting was relatively short (at three hours) and few specific decisions were made: the emphasis was on developing communication among the members.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Badawi, the chair for the meeting, in his Chairman's Statement described the Summit as a 'leaders-led' gathering that initiated confidence-building among the members as a first step towards more substantial collaboration. The main issues discussed during the Summit included the need for de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, terrorism, avian flu, sustainable development, the need for progress in the Doha round of World Trade Organisation negotiations and the role which the EAS should play as a complement to existing cooperation dialogues (including ASEAN Plus Three) in the process of community building in the region.

The leaders' statement issued by the Summit (the 'Kuala Lumpur Declaration on the East Asia Summit') indicated that it will be a 'forum for dialogue on broad strategic, political and economic issues of common interest and concern, and with the aim of promoting peace, stability and economic prosperity in East Asia'. It affirmed that the EAS is intended to be an 'open, inclusive, transparent and outward-looking forum, in which we strive to strengthen global norms and universally recognised values, with ASEAN as the driving force working in partnership with other participants of the East Asia Summit'. The Summit would be 'convened regularly', would be hosted and chaired by an ASEAN member and would be held 'back to back with the annual ASEAN Summit'.

The Summit participants issued a specific declaration on avian flu, with a commitment to report all outbreaks rapidly and transparently, and to take steps to ensure that the disease does not develop into a form which could be transmitted directly between humans.

Initial reactions to the Summit from observers and analysts have been varied. Sceptical analysts have emphasised the wide differences in character and policy among the members and the very cautions nature of the first meeting. Mohan Malik (Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, Hawaii), for example, commented that,

in the absence of a thaw in Sino-Japanese or Sino-Indian relations or great power cooperation, the EAS is unlikely to take off because multilateralism is a multi-player game At best, the EAS will be a talk shop like the APEC or the ARF where leaders meet, declarations are made, but little community building is achieved.

Other observers argue that the EAS should be viewed as an important further step toward dialogue in a region which does have strong motivations for cooperation, but which will not necessarily follow the type of institution building models pursued by other regions (particularly Europe). Yiyi Lu (Chatham House, London ) and Chris Hughes (University of Warwick) have argued that,

once again, the sceptics have failed to appreciate that the development of regionalism in East Asia is taking a different route from elsewhere. The existence of multiple fora, some of which may even compete with each other, is not necessarily an obstacle and may well turn out to be a positive factor in regional integration.

Barry Desker (Director, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Singapore) has suggested that the 14 December Summit was a meeting which could in time be seen as a major step towards a new era of regional cooperation. He has written that:

The Dec. 14 meeting is significant because it went beyond narrow geographical definitions or ethnic/racial identity in attempting to lay the groundwork for a new regional institution The inclusion of India , Australia , and New Zealand and the presence of Vladimir Putin of Russia demonstrate an outward- looking, inclusive approach to participation in the emerging East Asian regionalism.

In a comment after the Summit, Singapore 's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong stressed the importance which East Asian countries place on the process of dialogue. He said that,

You don't always get spectacular fireworks, big decisions and major changes in policy. But step by step, each time you meet, you are cultivating ground, keeping it fertile, maintaining relationships and dealing with problems before they arise, before they become serious. (Baradan Kuppusamy, 'False dawn in East Asia', Asia Times, 17 December 2005.)

The Summit 's character and role should be clarified as it holds further meetings and its dialogue is consolidated. The second Summit is scheduled to be held during the next ASEAN Summit, in Cebu, The Philippines, on 13 December 2006 .

Australia s interests

Australia s participation in the first East Asia Summit marks another important step in the process of engagement with Asia.

Australia has a longstanding interest in regional cooperation in Asia and is involved in a number of cooperation dialogues simultaneously.

The invitation for Australia to participate in the first East Asia Summit followed a period of consolidation in Australia-ASEAN relations. Australia and New Zealand were invited to attend a special summit meeting with ASEAN in Vientiane in November 2004 to celebrate thirty years of the Australia-ASEAN multilateral relationship. That meeting decided to proceed with negotiations for a multilateral free trade agreement between Australia, New Zealand and the ASEAN ten. Australia in 2005 also decided to sign ASEAN's Treaty of Amity and Cooperation, a step which ASEAN requested all countries interested in participation in the East Asia Summit to take.

In a speech on 1 December 2005, Australia s Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Downer suggested that the character and direction of the East Asia Summit may take some time to become apparent but welcomed the fact that Australia would be an inaugural participant. Mr Downer stated that:

This is just the first meeting and nothing is set in stone. And if there is to be an emergence of an East Asian community, it will not, in my view, be built around one institution or meeting. An East Asian community will emerge for practical reasons, not for ideological reasons. APEC, the ASEAN Regional Forum, ASEAN plus three, and the East Asia Summit will all contribute to an open but increasingly integrated region

The East Asia Summit is only in its very first iteration and will take some time to bed down. But we can say now that we have a regional architecture that serves Australia's interests well. It is open and inclusive. It addresses security and economic issues in a practical way and Australia has a very strong voice in how it develops.

Prime Minister John Howard, in comments in Kuala Lumpur on 14 December 2005, just before the Summit, stated that,

although the meeting is a short one, it's a very important one not only for its symbolism but also for its substance because it will bring together for the first time, 16 countries of the East Asian region. We will have an opportunity to talk necessarily in general terms about the major issues confronting the region.

Mr Howard also indicated that the Australian goverrnment at this time continued to see APEC as the single most important avenue for regional dialogue. He commented that APEC is the 'premier body' which has the 'great advantage...that it does bring the United States to this region...'

Speaking just after the Summit had taken place, Mr Howard expressed his satisfaction with its first meeting. While the leaders had talked necessarily in general terms about various issues, Mr Howard said of the Summit that, 'I regard it as a great success...I would say that the meeting in some respects exceeded my expectations'.

Key links and resources

The official website for the 11th ASEAN Summit.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade site for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

For a detailed overview of issues in relation to the East Asia Summit see Ralph Cossa, Simon Tay and Lee Chung-min, 'The Emerging East Asian Community: Should Washington be Concerned?', Issues and Insights, vol. 5, no. 9, Honolulu, Pacific Forum CSIS, August 2005.

A useful discussion of possible issues which could be taken up by the East Asia Summit agenda is provided by See Seng Tan and Ralf Emmers, (eds), An Agenda for the East Asia Summit: Thirty Recommendations for Regional Cooperation in East Asia, Singapore, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, November 2005.

For a perspective from India on the East Asia Summit see Nagesh Kumar, Towards a Broader East Asian Community: Agenda for the East Asia Summit', Research and Information System for Developing Countries, New Delhi, November 2005.

A valuable analysis of the evolution of Australia-Southeast Asia relations in the lead up to the Summit is provided by Michael Richardson, 'Australia-Southeast Asia relations and the East Asian Summit', Australian Journal of International Affairs, vol. 59, no. 3, September 2005, pp. 351-365.

For assessments of the first East Asia Summit see:

Yiyi Lu and Chris Hughes, 'The East Asia model towards creating a regional community', Straits Times, 24 December 2005.

' EAS is first step on long road towards regional integration', Oxford Analytica, 19 December 2005.

Barry Desker, 'Why the East Asia Summit matters', PacNet, No. 55B, Pacific Forum/CSIS, Honolulu, Hawaii, 19 December 2005.

Ron Huisken, 'The First East Asia Summit', PacNet, No. 55A, Pacific Forum/CSIS, Honolulu, Hawaii, 19 December 2005.

' The First East Asia Summit: Towards a community – or a cul-de-sac?', IISS Strategic Comments, London, International Institute for Strategic Studies, vol. 11, issue 10, December 2005.

Mohan Malik, 'The East Asia Summit: More Discord than Accord', YaleGlobal Online, 20 December 2005.

East Asia Summit Participants : Statistical Information

Exchange Rate
GDP (US $bn):
GDP per capita (US$):
Real GDP growth (% change YOY):


20.2 m (2004)

A$1=US$0.7666 (Jun 2005)





0.4 m (2004)

A$1=B$1.2815 (Jun 2005)




Burma (Myanmar)

50.2 m (2004)

A$1=710.5280 Kyats (2004)





13.8 m (2004)

A$1=3,131.68 Riels (Jun 2005)





1,299.8 m (2004)

A$1=6.3450 Yuan (Jun 2005)





1,080.3 m (2004)

A$1=33.4125 Rupees (Jun 2005)





223.8 m (2004)

A$1=7,384.79 Rupiah (Jun 2005)





127.3 m (2004)

A$1=83.2790 Yen (Jun 2005)




Republic of Korea

48.2 m (2004)

A$1=775.9676 Won (Jun 2005)





5.8 m (2004)

A$1=8,061.24 Kip (Feb 2005)





25.5 m(2004)

A$1=2.9132 Ringgit (Jun 2005)




New Zealand

4.1 m (2004)

A$1=NZ$1.0820 (Jun 2005)





86.2 m (2004)

A$1=42.3019 Pesos (Jun 2005)





4.2 m (2004)

A$1=$1.2815 (Jun 2005)





64.6 m (2004)

A$1=31.3293 Baht (Jun 2005)





82.6 m (2004)

A$1=11,594.08 Dong (2004)




Source: Data from Country Fact Sheets, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. (The data is as compiled by the Market Information and Analysis Section, DFAT, using the latest data from the ABS, the IMF and various international sources. Please note that data listed for GDP statistics and unemployment rates are either IMF or Economist Intelligence Unit forecasts for 2005.)

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