East Asia Summit (EAS)

The East Asia Summit (EAS) is a regional forum held annually by leaders of, initially, 16  countries in the East Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian and Oceanian regions, based on the  ASEAN Plus Six mechanism.  

  • Membership expanded to 18 countries including Russia and the United States at the Sixth EAS in 2011.  
  • Since its establishment, ASEAN has held the central role and leadership in the forum.  
  • EAS meetings are held after the annual ASEAN leaders' meetings and play an important role in the regional architecture of Asia-Pacific.  
  • EAS is an “open forum” for dialogue on strategic, political, and economic issues in order to promote peace, economic prosperity, and regional integration in East Asia.
  • The first summit was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on 14 December 2005 

Membership 

  • The EAS comprises the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations  (ASEAN) – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam – along with 8 members Australia, China, Japan, India, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Russia and the United States. 
  • The EAS membership represents around 54% of the world’s population and accounts for 58% of global GDP. 
  • The EAS is an ASEAN-centred forum; it can only be chaired by an ASEAN member.

Areas of Cooperation 

  • Environment and Energy 
  • Education 
  • Finance 
  • Global Health Issues and Pandemic Diseases 
  • Natural Disaster Management 
  • ASEAN Connectivity 

India endorses regional collaboration in all six priority areas. 

What is the need for the East Asia Summit? 

  • The EAS is expected to provide a political impetus and commitment to a process that is already on, i.e., the East Asian countries are feverishly interacting economically with each other like never before.  
  • The intra-East Asian trade has reached over 55 per cent from about 40 per cent a  decade back, and much of regional direct investments are increasingly inward bound. 
  • This is happening despite the absence of a region-wide, overarching organisation and is entirely driven by market conditions. 
  • Theoretically, strong political support through an institutionalised structure will boost this process and may even result in regional integration.  
  • Such integration is expected to address two issues.  
  • One, greater interdependence will be a disincentive for countries to become militarily aggressive, and two, many of the existing security problems are unlikely to flare up into conflicts because of certain common, critical stakes. 

EAS Meetings and Processes 

  • The centrepiece of the EAS calendar is the annual Leaders' Summit, usually held alongside ASEAN Leaders' meetings in the fourth quarter every year. 
  • The EAS Summit is supported through the annual EAS Foreign Ministers Meeting (FMM)  and EAS Senior Officials' Meetings (SOM), which meet throughout the year to take forward leaders' initiatives.  
  • The EAS Economic Ministers' Meeting (EMM) has been held annually since 2014. The  EMM provides an opportunity for Ministers to discuss economic opportunities and challenges in the region and is an important complement to the strategic discussions of the Leaders' Summit. 
  • Meetings of the EAS Environment, Energy, and Education Ministers are also held annually. 
  • Additional support for the EAS is provided through the EAS Ambassadors' Meeting in Jakarta (EAMJ). EAS Ambassadors in Jakarta meet regularly to discuss emerging issues, prepare for EAS meetings, and take forward decisions by EAS Leaders. 
  • A dedicated EAS Unit within the ASEAN Secretariat in Jakarta also supports the monitoring and implementation of decisions by EAS Leaders. 

Institutional Mechanisms 

▪ EAS Foreign Ministers' Meeting 

Potential 

  • EAS, representing nearly 50 per cent of the world’s population and over 20 per cent of global trade, is a mega gathering and is a testimony to the rise of Asia. 
  • EAS is a region of strong and fast-growing economies. It is considered the third pole of the world economy after the US and Europe. Its four major economic players namely Japan, China, India and Korea are among the twelve largest ranking global economies. 
  • Financial and monetary cooperation between ASEAN+6 or EAS countries could be an area of fruitful cooperation in view of the fact that their combined foreign exchange reserves exceed $ 3 trillion. Steps can be taken towards creating an Asian financial architecture that would facilitate partial mobilisation of these reserves for narrowing the development gaps in Asia. 

Challenges 

  • China-Japan rift casts a big shadow over the EAS and also potential rivalry between  China-India, as China sees India as a competitor not just for investments and markets but also for political and security reasons. 
  • The second area of tension in EAS relates to the question of institutionalization and institution building. The position adopted at the summit clearly makes EAS a ASEAN  driven organization. 
  • The third area of tension is about streamlining the agenda. EAS has adopted a very wide agenda and it may not be possible to work effectively on all the parts of the agenda.  There is a general understanding that the economic agenda will be pursued more vigorously as compared to cultural and political/security agenda. Within the economic agenda also, there are indications that trade matters will be taken up on priority towards building pan-Asian free trade areas. 
  • The fourth area of tension in the EAS is its relationship with other regional organizations functioning in the region, such as ASEAN, APEC and various other sub-regional groups. The boundary between ASEAN and EAS is hazy and even confusing. If the purpose of the EAS is to encourage ASEAN community building, then what is ASEAN  meant for and what independent identity ASEAN or EAS can retain vis-à-vis each other. 
  • The growing number of multilateral alignments among the more militarily capable regional powers and vast differences in their military budgets undermines the objectives of regional peace, security and prosperity.

Significance of EAS vis-a-vis APEC 

  • Similar to EAS, statements and declarations of APEC is not binding. Even though this increases the members’ willingness to be active in the process, it decreases the real importance of any outcomes. 
  • EAS can be more significant as it is majorly Asia specific (except for US and Russia) whereas APEC includes countries such as Mexico, Chile, Argentina, and the European  Union, and hence it is difficult if not impossible for APEC to concentrate on issues that are specific to East Asia. 
  • APEC is more likely to continue to be an Asia-Pacific institution, emphasizing economic and political cooperation across the Pacific Ocean, including between Asia and the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Russia. It is better characterized as a  “trans-Pacific,” rather than “inter-Asian,” process. 

Significance for India

  • For India, it acts as an alternative to the APEC in which India doesn’t enjoy the membership. 
  • India’s membership to the EAS is a recognition of its fast-growing economic and political clout
  • Act East policy of India: In order to build multi-faceted relations with ASEAN and other multilateral nations and strengthen bilateral relations, India has emphasised upon its L Act East Policies for which EAS will prove crucial. 
  • During the 2008 economic crisis, the EAS as a group grew at considerably higher rates than the average growth in developed countries. Deeper integration with the EAS  members, therefore, helped sustain India’s external sector as an engine of growth
  • China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea and the nature of its growing investments has led the ASEAN countries to view India as a potential power that could balance a  rising China
  • India’s strength lies in the service sector and information-technology and Japan has a sound capital base. Thus there are complementarities in trade and production structures of the EAS members
  • India is also keen on monetary integration of the EAS region and cooperation in the energy sector. India’s infrastructural sector will need investments of more than US$500bn in the coming 4 to 5 years. The East Asian countries are already involved in  India’s infrastructural sector and they can take further advantage of the opportunity available. 
  • Trade: the South China Sea is a busy waterway through which half of India's trade passes,  hence for freedom of passage in the international waters, this area becomes crucial.
  • For the implementation of connectivity projects, such as the India-Myanmar-Thailand trilateral highway, and building new trade and transport linkages with all the EAS  member states, the summit gains significance. 
  • There are prospects of the Indian private sector being involved in defence production and supplies which will greatly improve India’s defence diplomacy in the region. India 

has also conducted naval exercises with almost all the EAS members and is actively participating in counter-terrorism efforts under the ASEAN, ARF and BIMSTEC  frameworks of sub-regional 40 groupings. 

  • India’s deep cultural and civilizational links with the EAS countries are widely known. India can play a major role in cultural and people to people cooperation with the region, which can reinforce the economic momentum for community building. 

Way Forward 

  • Though India is not a part of the TPP negotiations, it is an important part of the RCEP  negotiation process and has much to offer to the EAS and also gain in return, especially in areas like maritime security, terrorism, non-proliferation, irregular migration. Hence, this growing partnership represents a win-win equation for both India and the EAS. 
  • East Asia is the world’s most dynamic economic region as well as one of its most challenging security environments. Maintaining regional integrity through cultural connectivity is crucial. The other initiatives could include the creation of an Asian currency unit as a unit of account to facilitate intra-regional trade and production networking. 
  • While the region is facing similar regional issues the EAS platform has wide capacity do discuss deliberately upon these issues and drawing balanced solutions in order to benefit equitably. 
  • India’s participation in EAS symbolises its continued commitment to strengthening engagement with ASEAN member states and with the wider Indo-Pacific region which has ramifications for RCEP, India’s Act East policy and its stature as global power significant in Indo Pacific.

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Blog Post written by:
Anurag Trivedi
UPSC Mentor