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Japan's East Asia Community

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COMMENTS

25 September 2009 17:03

I am feeling a bit sorry for Prime Minister Rudd. Early on in his reign as Australia's prime minister, he made a speech about an idea for a new 'Asia Pacific Community', making general reference to the European Union and calling for a regional institution that dealt with both economic and security issues. He made this speech before doing the requisite preparatory groundwork, especially in the ASEAN region.

The Rudd speech was quickly pilloried here on The Interpreter, within the wider Australian media and from Singapore. It was criticised for being a speech, not a policy, for catching everyone but the Prime Minister himself on the hop, and (from Singapore critics) for not paying enough deference to ASEAN's self-appointed role as the driving force in regional community building.

Yet the new Japanese Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, seems to have done much the same (actually even more). In his first meeting with Hu Jintao, Hatoyama pushed the idea of an East Asian Community, an idea that appeared in very general terms in the DPJ's electoral manifesto.

While there is much less detail about this community idea then Prime Minister Rudd provided in his first Asia Pacific Community speech, it seems to have some similarities and maybe two huge (for Australia) differences. The similarities:

  • The idea seems to be largely that of Prime Minister Hatoyama himself and some of his key advisers, and announced with little or no groundwork.
  • There is very little detail about what it is and how it differs from Koizumi's East Asia Community idea (though it surely will).

The European Union history seems to play a larger role in Hatoyama's idea, with him drawing a direct parallel between the role of West German-French reconciliation for European regionalism, and the potential for reconciliation between Japan and China. Hatoyama also wants his Community to address both economic and security issues. But his East Asia Community seems very focused on northeast Asia and not on ASEAN's self-appointed driving force role.

Further differences with Rudd's idea:

  • So far there seems to be little backlash from ASEAN circles despite the parallel with the Rudd speech.
  • It looks like Australia may not be included in Hatoyama's definition of East Asia. (Koizumi’s idea did include Australia.)

Hatoyama's new regional community idea at the very least could complicate the Australian Government's promotion of its Asia Pacific community proposal. More worryingly, if Australia is excluded from Hatoyama's definition of East Asia, it could harm Austalia's wider Asian engagement strategy, based as it is on the idea that Australia is a recognised and important country in East Asia.

In 2002, Foreign Minister Downer embraced Koizumi's East Asia Community proposal. I wonder if Foreign Minister Smith or Prime Minister Rudd will be able to do the same with Hatoyama's?

Photo by Flickr user United Nations Photo, used under a Creative Commons license.

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