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Cover Stories Series 2012> All Points East> Archive
UPDATED: November 28, 2011 NO. 48 DECEMBER 1, 2011
Eastern Focus
A series of high-profile summits shift global attention from West to East

STATE VISIT: Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao attends a welcoming ceremony in Bandar Seri Begawan on November 20 during a state visit to Brunei after attending the East Asia Summit (XIE HUANCHI)

Getting involved

The presence of U.S. President Barack Obama drew huge attention to the East Asia Summit on November 19. The U.S. debut at the summit reflected Washington's eagerness to assert itself in the Asia-Pacific region, Lu said.

When the East Asia Summit was inaugurated six years ago, the United States didn't take interest in it. But with the development of this annual mechanism, its regional and global influence surged. Thus participating in the summit became an important channel for the United States to "return to the Asia Pacific," Lu said.

Over the past years, the East Asia Summit has served as a forum for dialogue on issues of common concern with the aim of promoting peace, stability and economic prosperity in East Asia.

Faced with a sluggish economy accompanied with a high unemployment rate, the United States expects to get a larger part in East Asian markets, especially the markets of emerging economies including China, Lu said.

Disharmony, however, emerged with U.S. participation. The United States intended to play up the South China Sea issue at the East Asia Summit.

"Thanks to the coordination of the host country Indonesia, finally, this proposal was rejected," said Lu. "It was a wise decision. The East Asia Summit is after all not an occasion for addressing such disputes."

Discussions on territorial disputes are not good for the development of East Asian cooperation. Instead, they may deepen regional rifts. This goes against the purpose of the East Asia Summit, said Lu.

The purpose of U.S. participation in the summit was to influence the direction of East Asian cooperation, fuel South China Sea disputes and sell weapons to Southeast Asian countries, said Song Qingrun, a researcher with the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.

At the beginning of his presidency, Obama promised a dramatic rise in exports. Now nearly three years have passed and the next presidential campaign is approaching. He will have trouble fulfilling his promise, and arms sales to Southeast Asia became a good choice, Song said.

These intentions are not only detrimental to harmony in East Asian cooperation, but may also endanger ASEAN's leading role in the process. ASEAN nations have already sensed this, Song said.

Both Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan have recently stressed ASEAN's leadership in East Asian cooperation.

China welcomes U.S. participation and it welcomes any open mechanism that is beneficial for East Asian regional cooperation, Lu said.

As for the South China Sea issue, China has reached a number of agreements with ASEAN countries and the two sides are working toward a final solution, he said.

In July, China and ASEAN countries reached an agreement on a guideline for implementing the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), laying a solid foundation for practical cooperation in the area.

China and ASEAN signed the DOC in 2002, pledging to solve the South China Sea disputes through peaceful means.

The South China Sea issue centers on the sovereignty of the Nansha Islands. China has exercised jurisdiction over the islands throughout history. Since the early 1970s, however, Southeast Asian countries including Viet Nam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei have claimed sovereignty over all or part of the islands.

At the summit, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao elaborated China's position on the South China Sea. A resolution among directly related countries through friendly negotiation and consultation in a peaceful way was a consensus reached in the DOC, said Wen.

"We hope relevant parties would take into concern the overall situation of regional peace and stability, and do something more conducive to mutual trust and cooperation," he said.

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