By Kevin Brown in Hua Hin, Thailand
Yukio Hatoyama, the Japanese prime minister, won wide backing from Asian leaders on Saturday for his vision of an East Asian Community modelled on the European Union, his official spokesman said.
“There is an overall expression of welcome to the prime minister’s initiative,” Kazuo Kodama said after Mr Hatoyama met 11 other heads of government, including Manmohan Singh, his Indian counterpart.
However, Mr Hatoyama failed to dispel confusion over the proposed role of the US in the EAC, saying only that the relationship with Washington was the “foundation” of Japanese security, and that Tokyo would consult closely with the Americans.
Mr Kodama said the proposed community would build on the existing relationship between the 10 member Association of South East Asian Nations, which held a two-day summit in Hua Hin on Friday and Saturday, and the six countries that will join it for the East Asian Summit on Sunday.
That would give membership to Japan, China, India, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand, plus the Asean countries – Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Burma, Brunei, Cambodia and Laos.
In a statement, the Asean leaders welcomed the Japanese prime minister’s attempts to reinvigorate Japan’s relations with other Asian countries, including the long-term vision of an EAC.
However, the Japanese prime minister also said that the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation grouping could be “complementary” to the EAC. Apec, whose leaders meet next month in Singapore, includes the US and other Pacific nations from North and South America.
Such a grouping would be closer to an alternative idea proposed by Kevin Rudd, prime minister of Australia, for an Asia Pacific community that would also include the US and other American countries with a Pacific coastline.
The South East Asian leaders met the leaders of Japan, China and South Korea in a summit known as the Asean + 3 meeting after wrapping up their own summit on Saturday morning with a statement urging Thailand and the Philippines to settle a rice dispute that could derail a regional trade agreement.
The annual series of summits provides an opportunity for Japan, China and India to compete for influence in South East Asia, which has a population of more than 500m and a combined economy bigger than India’s.
Mr Hatoyama’s attempts to build support for an EAC reflect the new Japanese government’s determination to adopt a more proactive approach than its predecessor to engagement with the rest of Asia.
The US has also increased diplomatic efforts in Asia. President Barack Obama will hold the first US summit with Asean leaders on the sidelines of the Apec summit in Singapore. China has said only that it is willing to discuss the idea of an EAC.
The 16 heads of government in Hua Hin are protected by a security clampdown by about 18,000 troops and police that has virtually isolated the seaside town on the Gulf of Thailand to prevent demonstrations by opponents of the Thai government.
The series of summits got under way in Pattaya, Thailand, in April, but had to be abandoned after protesters surged through security checks and invaded the conference hall. An earlier attempt to hold the summits was abandoned in December after protesters shut down Bangkok’s airports.
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