Malaysian PM outlines plans for East Asian Community
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi outlined his vision for an East Asian Community (EAC) incorporating a free trade area, a non-aggression zone and political and security cooperation as Malaysia prepares to host an inaugural summit next year. Abdullah said East Asian cooperation had become more urgent after the 1997 Asian financial turmoil, regional crises such as the SARS and bird flu epidemics as well as the terrorism threat. The summit of East Asian nations in Kuala Lumpur next December will mark the first milestone in the “irreversible” journey towards an integrated region and send a powerful signal to the world of their deep level of trust and cooperation, he said when opening a regional forum here. To chart the way forward, Abdullah listed six key markers: a regional charter, a free trade area, a monetary and financial cooperation pact, a zone of amity and cooperation to prevent an arms race, a transportation and communications network and a declaration of human rights and obligations. “We can begin to chart our way forward to seeking to emplace certain clearly discernable milestones in the route map to the East Asian Community” of more than two billion people and a combined gross domestic product of 6.8 trillion dollars, he said. “We must strategize to make the leap forward towards an East Asia Free Trade Area… a stable and prosperous East Asia would be a major contribution to world peace, security and prosperity.” But Abdullah said issues such as tensions on the Korean peninsula, overlapping territorial claims in the South China Sea, regional terrorism and pockets of internal strife could obstruct the creation of an EAC and must be addressed urgently.