Deepening economic and trade cooperation
Asian countries have created different economic growth models to facilitate their economic development and strengthen regional economic and trade cooperation. For the past six years, all Asian countries' economies have been in the fast lane.
As Asian economic development has accelerated, inter-regional trade has rapidly expanded. In the 1980s, inter-Asian trade only accounted for 34.7 percent of the total trade volume, while the proportion rose to 57.3 percent in 2002. This is higher than within the North American Free Trade Area (NAFTA), which was 46 percent that year, and second to the EU's 62.4 percent. China, Japan, South Korea, India and Viet Nam contributed greatly to the substantial increase of inter-regional trade. Although China's exports to Asian countries grew 37.7 percent from 2001 to 2005, it exported even more to other regions during this period, drawing down its percentage in 2005 compared with what it was 2001. However, China's imports from other Asian countries rose 6.5 percentage points to 66.9 percent in 2005. Japan's figures indicate that it has gradually returned to focusing on Asia. South Korea, India and Viet Nam have all deepened their trade relations within Asia.
In the field of inter-regional investment, China, Japan, South Korea, India and Vietnam are also major players. Among China's paid-in foreign direct investment in 2001, 61.2 percent came from Asian countries, while in 2005 the ratio was 59.9 percent. Statistics also show that by the end of 2004, China's outward direct investment had reached $44.78 billion--70 percent of that invested in Asia. Japan's outward direct investment is also Asia-bound, with the proportion climbing from 19.5 percent in 2001 to 35.6 percent in 2005. In 2001, 19.7 percent of South Korea's outward investment flew to Asian countries, with the ratio soaring to 60.1 percent in 2005. India absorbs investment mainly from the EU and the United States. But investment from Asia to India also increased from 2.9 percent in 2001 to 12.7 percent in 2005. Vietnam mainly attracts Asian investment, grasping 36 percent in 2001 and a whopping 70.2 percent in 2005.
A diversifying Asia
An important feature of Asia is its diversity. Asia has a multitude of countries, races and a large population, and Asian countries have taken on different political, economic, cultural and religious forms and development models. These are reasons why Asian regional cooperation is different from other regions, and why it is much slower compared with the EU and NAFTA. But since the beginning of the 21st century, propelled by economic globalization and regional integration, and along with the development of Asian economies and inter-Asia trade, as well as the deepening of mutual understanding, many countries have become more tolerant toward regional cooperation. Asia has already been developing a multi-area, multi-level and multilateral cooperative mechanism in order to create a cooperative model that transcends social systems and ideologies.
Looking outside Asia
Asian cooperation doesn't shut the door on new countries and regions, and more members are welcome to join in. Australia and New Zealand have already been participants. Russia, the United States, the EU and other countries and organizations have established relationships with Asian cooperation organizations--a development not only beneficial to the prosperity and stability in Asia, but also toward playing a positive role in global peace and development.
Asia insists on opening up and learning experiences from other regions, especially from the EU. It also strengthens communication and exchange with other countries and regions, and enhances mutual understanding and support among all parties.
Admittedly, opening should have its limits. East Asian integration is only the first step of the process of Asian integration. East Asia comprises Southeast Asia and Northeast Asia, including ASEAN, China, Japan, South Korea, North Korea and Mongolia, making up one-third of the world's population. The aggregate GDP of East Asian countries accounted for 20 percent of the world's total in 2004, and foreign trade 25 percent.
However, during this initial stage, East Asian regional cooperation should be limited to the "10+3" framework. Otherwise, unlimited expansion will bring another APEC, a situation unhelpful to the healthy development of regional integration.
International practice also shows that in the initial stage of regional cooperation, it is not advantageous to have too many members; otherwise, too many opinions are difficult to be coordinate. The current EU with 27 members had only six countries at first, while the ASEAN grew from the original five to 10.