26 October, 2009

KL is open to an East Asia bloc

Malaysia's Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak believes the United States should be engaged in the formation of an East Asian Community. He also outlined his views on the controversial Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights with the Bangkok Post Group's Editor-in-Chief Pichai Chuensuksawadi in an interview yesterday in Hua Hin.

The East Asia Community idea proposed by Japan is not really a new one. Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad proposed the East Asia Economic Caucus in Bali, Indonesia in 1990. That has evolved into the Asean plus three (Japan, China and South Korea) summit. How does Malaysia view this proposal now?

We are looking forward to the vision of the East Asia Community. But it has to evolve as you say. It has to be at a pace that we are comfortable with. But the whole notion that we must have this viable economic grouping between Asean plus three to actually become an East Asia Community has already taken root in the sense that Free Trade Agreements have already been signed between Asean and the plus three. The nexus of various bilateral trade agreements as well, for example we have an economic partnership agreement with Japan. So we are moving ahead, we are moving forward and the three countries - China, Japan and South Korea - are very supportive of Asean. For example, the Chiang Mai Initiative - they have come up with a financial commitment. In fact they went beyond what they were asked to do. This is indicative of them giving Asean a high priority so we can evolve into an East Asia Community. There are some minor issues on the Chiang Mai Initiative and we hope we can overcome the minor technical glitches and our intention is that it should be operationalised as soon as possible, either at the end of this year or at the very latest early next year.

What will the role of the United States be in this East Asia Community? How would Malaysia view a US role?

I think we are quite open. The whole concept of Asean plus three, an East Asian Community, should be open in the sense that we should be able to relate to other countries as well. How that will emerge later on, I think we should take it in stages. But we should be open, we should engage with them and we should see to what extent we can integrate them within the concept of the East Asian Community.

There was some discussion (at Asean plus 3) that it should go further than that with the East Asia Free Trade Agreement involving India, Australia and New Zealand.

We agreed officials should study this and put it on the table at some point in time for us to consider it and we will be discussing this when we meet with the leaders of India, Australia and New Zealand.

The Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights was launched - but with some controversy. But Asean is not new to controversy......more

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