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U.S. Joins East Asia Summit: Highlighted Publications

By Allen Wagner
November 14, 2011

Right on the heels of the G-20 Summit in France, the APEC summit in Honolulu, and the ASEAN Summit in Bali, Indonesia, the November 18–19 East Asia Summit (EAS)—also in Bali—will gather the leaders of eighteen nations in and around the region to discuss a wide range of issues, including trade and economic challenges, regional cooperation, and energy and maritime security.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations continues to play a central role in the framework, but with the addition of the United States and Russia as new members this year, and the expected attendance of President Barack Obama, could shift debate to the major powers in the discussion, including China and India. The EAS is also an opportunity for the United States to show it is engaged in Asia and further enhance its presence in the Pacific.

NBR follows closely developments in U.S. relations with ASEAN and other EAS members. Recent NBR publications highlight these relations and some of the critical issues likely to arise at the summit as well as draw implications for U.S. policy in the region.

U.S.-Southeast Asia Relations

Complex Patchworks: U.S. Alliances as Part of Asia’s Regional Architecture by National Asia Research Associate Victor D. Cha, which appears in Asia Policy 11 (January 2011), takes a look at the importance of the United States' bilateral alliances for Asia's growing regional architecture, including institutions like ASEAN and the EAS. In addition, a roundtable on U.S. Re-engagement in Asia, which can be read in Asia Policy 12 (July 2011), details how the United States is intensifying its involvement in Asia-Pacific affairs and discusses Washington's strategic and economic options.

In one of NBR's more recent publications, The United States-Thailand Alliance: Issues for a New Dialogue (October 2011), Catharin Dalpino looks at the alliance with Thailand under changing circumstances and dynamics in Asia, including increasing integration among Southeast Asian nations as China rises. And with the recent floods in Thailand, disaster prevention and relief could be one area in which the United States can boost its image in the region.

Challenges as China, India Rise

For the ASEAN nations, one major concern is the rise of China and India and how the two play their increasing economic and political influence in the region.

In The Rise of China and India: Challenging or Reinforcing Southeast Asia's Autonomy, which appears in Strategic Asia 2011–12 (September 2011), Carlyle A. Thayer sees ASEAN as a mechanism for Southeast Asian nations to promote regional autonomy while simultaneously benefiting from economic engagement with China and India. The United States could go a long way toward promoting Southeast Asian autonomy by demonstrating it "retains sufficient military power to deter Chinese assertiveness."

And in an interview with NBR in July on Asia's Rise and U.S. Grand Strategy, Ashley J. Tellis adds that as China and India grow, the United States would benefit from a "grand strategy" to face a complex international environment. APEC and EAS can provide President Obama with an opportunity to present his vision for the future of U.S. relations with Asia, especially with regards to China and India.

A Brief History of the EAS

The East Asia Summit grew out of a desire on ASEAN's part to expand dialogue and work toward creating a more cohesive community in the region. An East Asia dialogue was first formally suggested by the ASEAN Plus Three countries in a 2002 report by the East Asia Study Group. Following the ASEAN +3 Ministerial Meeting that year, the report noted that the ten ASEAN nations, plus China, Japan and South Korea, hoped to keep pace with other major regions of the world in terms of regional community-building and acknowledged that "East Asian cooperation is both inevitable and necessary."

In 2005, ASEAN's short-term goal of creating such a grouping was realized when the first East Asia Summit convened in Kuala Lumpur, with Australia, India and New Zealand joining the original thirteen countries.

The meeting is now in its sixth round, and has traditionally taken place at the tail end of the ASEAN Summit each year. Depending on the regional or international situation at the time, issues of mutual concern over the years have included trade, regional security, energy and resources, environmental protection, and disaster relief and prevention.

This year, the United States will be joining the summit, along with Russia, and recent NBR publications highlight the importance of U.S. alliances in and around Southeast Asia and provide context into how the United States might operate in the EAS framework in terms of its larger goals in Asia.

Maritime Security

One of the main issues likely to be discussed at the East Asia Summit is increased tension in areas of overlapping claims in the East and South China seas as nations struggle to gain or maintain access to crucial ocean resources. This does not sit well with Japan and ASEAN, who have butted heads with Beijing over the issue. "Long-standing disputes over maritime jurisdictional claims...threaten the long-term stability and prosperity of states in East and Southeast Asia," say the authors of From Disputed Waters to Seas of Opportunity: Overcoming Barriers to Maritime Cooperation in East and Southeast Asia (July 2011). The report provides policy implications and suggestions to ease the situation.

China and ASEAN signed the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea in 2001 to better manage tensions arising from maritime disputes, but in a Q&A with Ian Storey in June 2011 titled Rising Tensions in the South China Sea, the Southeast Asia expert said that while there is no immediate danger of a full-blown conflict in the South China Sea, the two parties "have struggled to agree on a set of guidelines to implement cooperative confidence-building measures" on the issue.

Similarly, James Manicom, in a July interview on Disputed Claims in the East China Sea, said that wrangling over the terms of a potential deal to co-develop a gas field in disputed waters, as well as an incident involving a Chinese fishing boat and the Japanese Coast Guard, ruined the immediate prospects for cooperation between China and Japan on maritime security.

Trade and Energy Security

Other main issues expected to be discussed at the summit include economic and trade concerns in a post-crisis world economy, and energy and resource nationalism in the region.

With concerns in Asia about a potential "double-dip" recession in the United States, and as countries in the region continue to outgrow the West economically, the United States, in order to “help keep Asian cooperation outward-looking," needs to deepen trans-Pacific linkages, says expert Peter A. Petri in Asia and the World Economy in 2030: Growth, Integration, and Governance (Strategic Asia 2010–11). President Obama made trade and economic negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership his key focus at the APEC summit this week—partially in the hopes that further ties with Asia will turn around the economy in the United States—and with further discussions at the EAS, the United States is positioned to benefit from Asia’s integration into the global economy.

Energy and resource nationalism is connected in many ways to maritime security as was discussed on camera at the 2011 Energy Security Report Launch Event. As countries in the region fight to control shipping lanes, make agreements with resource-rich nations, and secure their near- and long-term energy futures, conflicts can arise. The issue, likely to be discussed at the EAS, is highlighted in the NBR reports Resource Nationalism in the Asia-Pacific: Why Does It Matter? co-authored by Llewelyn Hughes, and Energy Nationalism Goes to Sea in Asia by Gabe Collins and Andrew S. Erickson.

Allen Wagner is an Intern at NBR.

NBR hosted a book launch for Strategic Asia 2011–12 at Johns Hopkins University-SAIS in Washington, D.C., Sept. 28. Robert O. Blake, assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, gave the keynote address, and four authors participated in a panel discussion. Access event video and audio.

The 2011 Energy Security Report Launch on September 22 featured discussion among Asia energy specialists and senior policy and industry leaders of the major risks emanating from Asia’s growing energy insecurity and opportunities to strengthen regional collaboration. Access event video.