Asia’s moves toward an EU-style community covering half the world’s population have sparked a backroom power play led by the US, China and Japan, diplomats and analysts said on Monday.
Leaders at a summit of 16 nations meeting in Thailand at the weekend heard the prime ministers of Australia and Japan set out competing visions for a regional bloc that would boost Asia’s global clout.
But beneath the talk of unity and the “Asian Century” lie intense diplomatic manoeuvrings, with countries desperate to avoid being marginalised in a new regional framework that could still be years off.
“The waters may be calm on the surface, but the undercurrent is sometimes turbulent,” a veteran Southeast Asian diplomat said after the summit.
Japanese premier Yukio Hatoyama, who pushed his plan at the summit for an East Asian community that could “lead the world”, would not be drawn on the extent of proposed US involvement despite Tokyo’s close ties to Washington.
But Australian leader Kevin Rudd’s vision for an Asia-Pacific Community by 2020 explicitly includes Washington.