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China open to unified East Asia proposal
By Li Xiaokun (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-09-29 09:07

SHANGHAI: Japan's proposal of an East Asian community of nations based on the European Union received a warm response from China after the Japanese foreign minister reintroduced the idea Monday.

China open to unified East Asia proposal
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (center) shakes hands with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan (left) and Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada in Shanghai on Monday. [Agencies]
China open to unified East Asia proposal

A potential snag between Japan and China, experts say, lies in what countries should be included in the community.

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Japan's Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama made a splash in late August with his vision of an East Asian community to unify the region, possibly under a single currency. The proposal was first reported in the New York Times.

Hatoyama also raised the idea to President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, Pa., last week.

Monday, Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada met with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and discussed the proposal of an East Asian community. The two are in Shanghai for a meeting with Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan from the Republic of Korea (ROK) to prepare for a summit of the three nations' premiers in Beijing on Oct 10.

"Okada said Japan will continue to follow an open style of regionalism, actively push forward diplomacy in Asia and strive to construct an East Asian community," according to a press release from the Foreign Ministry after the meeting between the two foreign ministers.

Yang said: "China will continue its receptive attitude on East Asian cooperation with relevant sides," in the release.

"China was among the first batch of countries to advocate and support the construction of an East Asian community and has actively engaged in East Asian cooperation and its integration process," he said in the statement.

Malaysian Premier Mahathir bin Mohamad first proposed an East Asian Economic Group to visiting Chinese Premier Li Peng in December 1990.

The group evolved into a project of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which then evolved into the ASEAN Plus Three (China, Japan and ROK) that started in 1997.

"Japan was not interested in the plan at first, but after the global financial crisis it realized that the impetus of its economy lies with China and some newly emerging countries in the region," said Zhou Yongsheng, an expert on Japanese studies with China Foreign Affairs University.

There is a conceptual gap, however, between Beijing and Tokyo as China prefers the East Asian community to be restricted within the ASEAN+3 grouping; Japan wants to involve some other countries and even the United States, Zhou said.

"The community can involve India, Australia and New Zealand, and there is no reason to exclude the US," said Kazuo Kodama, press secretary of the Japanese Foreign Ministry, to China Daily after Monday's meeting.

"It doesn't mean China wants to exclude the other countries. But the top priority of the plan is to develop local economies," Zhou said. "Dragging too many countries into it is not practical in the first phase."

A sampling of the Chinese online community, usually dissatisfied with Japan due to the nation's past invasion of China, have warmly welcomed Hatoyama's idea.

An online post set by a major news website showed 68 percent of the nearly 7,500 voters supported such a community as of 8pm Monday.

The proposal also attracted close attention from the ROK, which Japan hopes to be another part of the leading power in the East Asian community. Seoul-based Chosun Ilbo, a leading newspaper in the country, said recently that in the future, the term "G2" does not refer to the US and China, but the US and East Asia.

Yang said after the meeting of the three ministers that during the talks they raised concrete proposals on issues including East Asia cooperation without any details.