East Asian Community
Lisbon Treaty Is Wake-up Call for Regional Powers
The three-nation summit in Beijing on Saturday could hardly come at a more delicate moment both in and outside the region.
Globally, the Irish people's yes vote on the Treaty of Lisbon will push the 27-member European Union to just a few steps away from a single political entity complete with a president and foreign minister, reminding East Asian nations of how disintegrated they are.
Regionally, the top leaders of South Korea, Japan and China are meeting when the North Korean nuclear crisis is about to re-enter into dialogue after a yearlong impasse.
Presidents Lee Myung-bak and Prime Ministers Yukio Hatoyama and Wen Jiabao will find themselves being forced to combine the seemingly two separate issues into one, as it will be nearly impossible to discuss the possible integration of East Asia without first solving the biggest security problem in the region over the past two decades or so.
Chinese Prime Minister Wen is expected to explain the results of his recent meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il before the three leaders discuss their joint strategy for denuclearizing the isolated country. Conservative commentators here maintain in this regard that Seoul and Tokyo should call for Beijing not to deviate from the regional and international common front, based on the two-track tactics of sanctions and negotiations.
That is an agreeable approach, but the participants are advised not to go further from there. It is widely agreed that the ongoing deadlock in the six-party talks, which also include the United States and Russia, was due in large part to the hard-line tactics of Japan under the former Liberal Democratic Party leadership under the pretext of abductees and other bilateral pending issues as well as South Korea, miffed by the U.S. administration under former President George W. Bush, which delisted the communist country as a sponsor of terrorism without reciprocal changes in Pyongyang.
It is highly doubtful, however, whether it would be wise for the two countries to let their past grudges continue to hamper any progress in the multilateral disarmament efforts. The three leaders are urged in this regard to exchange views on new and more future-oriented approaches based on changes in regional circumstances, including the new governments in Washington and Tokyo.
Even without discord over North Korea, the three Northeast Asian countries have a long way to go before even taking the first step toward forming the East Asian Community as Europe did 57 years ago.
There are too many stumbling blocks in the way to taking what the new Japanese leader is saying into action, including the hegemonic struggle between the world's second- and third-largest economies, historical differences among the three countries and territorial disputes each of them has with one another.
No less difficult will be the integration of Northeast and Southeast Asian nations in view of the wide gap in their levels of industrialization as well as difference in political systems.
It is against this backdrop that calls are made for Seoul's role as a ``regional balancer." It is a concept first floated by the late former President Roh Moo-hyun, who, however, had to withdraw his proposal both because of signs of displeasure from other Northeast Asian capitals and even because of opposition from his domestic political rivals, who criticized the idea as lacking in practicality in view of Seoul's weak diplomatic leverage.
For now, we are just hoping President Lee's so-called new Asian doctrine will help Korea play the role of regional mediator.