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Vishnu Subramanian asked: What are the key challenges facing the East Asia Summit and what are its future prospects?

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  • Raviprasad Narayanan replies: There are several key challenges facing the East Asia Summit (EAS):

    First, EAS is beholden to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as progenitor of this regional forum. Mahathir Mohamad, current Prime Minister of Malaysia, is considered to be behind the idea of EAS. The inclusion of the United States and Russia was designed to accommodate two belligerents in the past, currently with a suspicious outlook vis-à-vis each other.

    Second, China as member of the EAS is relatively quiescent at the forum which may be perhaps owing to its own strategies in creating a world order with financial institutions and security initiatives lending a strong Asian flavour, albeit with characteristics increasingly determined by Xi Jinping. China in the EAS is to be watched - as participant, subversive or an actor willing to allow other multilateral forums to co-exist with its ambitious plans for the region and beyond.

    Third, with several member countries of the EAS plagued by internal discord, the forum has not displayed any resolve in discussing issues in Myanmar for example.

    Fourth, the EAS needs to discuss ‘bread and butter’ issues. There appears to be a multi-tiered EAS with the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore being wealthy, yet not pushing their weight so far. China and Russia comprise another tier, with being in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) playing a role at the EAS and members in the forum wanting to not let the UNSC discuss issues pertaining to the region. The other members of the EAS, including India, are actors on the global stage with global outlook, but held behind by various other compulsions - mostly internal.

    Fifth, the EAS could become a voice that matters if a charter reflecting goals for the region are listed out and acted upon. Unlike the United States that speaks democracy and foment wars, the EAS needs to think of resolving disputes in the region by enhancing connectivity within the EAS - political, financial and social.

    Sixth, the summit last held in Singapore (2018) presents the EAS as a regular fixture in the Asian calendar for issues pertaining to the region. The regularity of annual summits should not evolve into a talking shop with nothing more than summit declarations and decorations at the end of a forum.

    Dr. Raviprasad Narayanan was earlier Associate Fellow at IDSA. He is presently Associate Professor at Centre for East Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

    Posted on January 07, 2019