An East Asian community?The European Union is closer to becoming a politically integrated whole thanks to the latest endorsement of the Lisbon Treaty by Ireland. The
Irish have made a surprising about-face after having rejected the constitutional reform treaty aimed at streamlining the decision-making process in the 27-nation bloc in June last year. Poland and the Czech Republic are the only countries yet to ratify the treaty, but the thumbs-up from the Irish is likely to encourage other leaders to sign and pave the way for the treaty to take effect in January next year as planned. In the 58 years since European countries carried out their supranational ambitions with the launch of the European Coal and Steel Community, the region has finally reached the final stage before becoming one through political integration.
As the European Union expanded with the membership of Eastern European countries, there was often disarray in decision making due to lack of representation. Many were unsure whom to call when there were urgent issues to discuss with the community. The Lisbon Treaty will solve that problem, creating the first full-time president of the European Council and a foreign policy chief with tenures of 30 months. They will be the European government’s first chief executive and foreign minister. Former British premier Tony Blair is already being named as a candidate for the first EU president.
Europe’s integration in the social, economic, currency and now political sectors raises questions about a similar plan for East Asia. The region lags the farthest behind the global movement toward building regional blocs and communities. South Korea, China and Japan squeezed into the
Association of Southeast Asian Nations only 10 years ago. Regional tension and competitiveness and political and economic interests have so far kept the three nations from growing closer. But talks of an East Asian community were rekindled after Yukio Hatoyama floated the idea both before and after he became Japan’s new prime minister. Still, Hatoyama’s proposal lacks details and the idea of a single currency remains far-fetched.
But Europe also started off with a dream, and it has nearly made it come true. The economic quid pro quo among East Asian countries grows by the day. The exchange of cultural and human resources is also expanding quickly. The changes in the regional order following China’s ascending global status and the security issues involving the Korean Peninsula call for an established framework with which to resolve regional challenges. It will require leadership from China and Japan and mediation from South Korea. The summit between the three countries slated for Saturday in Beijing could be a good opportunity for the leaders to sketch out a roadmap. The three countries share the culture of Confucianism and a closely interwoven trade and economic net. Their cooperation is the key to realization of a regional community.