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Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 04:20 | SYDNEY
Saturday 19 Aug 2017 | 04:20 | SYDNEY

Slimming regional architecture

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27 November 2008 10:04

Guest blogger: Peter McCawley is a Visiting Fellow at the Indonesia Project, ANU, and former Dean of the ADB Institute, Tokyo.

Stephen Grenville suggests that Australia should aim for an 'EAS plus G20' grouping to bolster Australia's role in regional diplomacy in the Asian region. This may indeed be the best way to go. However we need to bear in mind that these discussions about 'regional architecture' are very difficult for at least four reasons.

First, there is a formidable array of domestic lobbies in every country bent on trumpeting both their domestic and international importance.  Second, the regional architecture is already byzantine. Third, every country tends to promote its own interests with but limited attention to the common interest. And fourth, there is a wide gap in attitudes and approaches between rich countries and poor countries.

The last issue — the gap in attitudes between rich and poor countries — is something that Australian policy-makers need to consider carefully. A major risk for Australia is that we will be seen as a stalking horse for Anglo-Saxon (read: U.S.) approaches to regional issues. The interests of developing countries in the Asian region diverge from those of rich countries in at least two important ways. First, the agenda of issues that they see as important is very different to those listed on the agenda of rich countries. Second, they are more inclined to rely on multilateral rather than bilateral arrangements in tackling these issues.

For many reasons, developing countries in Asia are wary about signing on to new arrangements in the region. Apart from anything else, they can barely cope with the current alphabet soup of APEC, ASEAN, EAS, SARC, ADB, ESCAP, GMS, BIMP-EAGA, CMI, and so on. Who can blame them? Perhaps we need fewer regional groupings rather than more? If Grenville's 'EAS plus G20' can reduce the number of expensive regional gabfests, then we should certainly welcome the idea.

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