Regional cooperation in Asia and the Pacific
Economic and political cooperation is not yet so well-established in the Asia-Pacific region as it is in Europe. Many states believe it is important to keep their own distinct economic and political profile. That said, diverse regional cooperation structures are emerging in this region too.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), founded in 1967, enjoys special status in the region. The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in its turn has served as a trans-Asian platform for economic dialogue between the countries in the Pacific region since 1989. In 1994 the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was established to provide a framework primarily for security policy dialogue at foreign minister level. Since 1997 the three largest economies in the region – China, Japan and South Korea – have also been represented in multilateral regional structures through ASEAN Plus Three. With the first East Asia Summit (EAS), attended by the ASEAN Plus Three countries as well as Australia, New Zealand and India, another body was established in 2005; the United States and Russia joined in 2011. In addition, there are the regional organizations of South Asia (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, SAARC), the Pacific (Pacific Islands Forum, PIF), and Central Asia (Shanghai Cooperation Organization, SCO), as well as supraregional forums for dialogue such as the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) and various subregional associations such as the Mekong River Commission (MRC) launched by the Mekong riparian states.
Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)
ASEAN Summit 2011 in Bali
© dpa/ picture alliance
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was founded in 1967 and today has ten member states (Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam). Cooperation in ASEAN has thus far focused on economic integration. As well as aiming for competitiveness, balanced economic development and integration into the global economy, ASEAN hopes to establish an economic community with a common market for goods, services, capital and labour by 2015. ASEAN has for some time been in the process of setting up the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) through gradual reductions in customs duties.
The ASEAN Charter, which entered into force on 15 December 2008, gave cooperation within ASEAN additional fresh impulses, particularly in the political and security spheres and in the cultural and social fields. The Charter provides a foundation for the further development of the ASEAN community and gives ASEAN a legal personality. It also records the ASEAN states’ commitment to the rule of law, democracy and good governance and envisages the formation of a human rights body. The establishment of a group of permanent representatives of the ASEAN states in Jakarta is an important step towards more effectively institutionalized cooperation. It is now also possible for third states to accredit ambassadors to ASEAN. The German Ambassador to Indonesia fulfils this function for Germany.
Since 2007 ASEAN has had observer status at the United Nations and the ASEAN Secretariat has been a member of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).
ASEAN Plus Three
ASEAN Plus Three is the name given to the regional framework for dialogue between the ten ASEAN member states and the three East Asian powers China, Japan and South Korea. ASEAN Plus Three was formed in the late 1990s in response to the Asian financial crisis and works mainly on economic, trade and financial policy, but also on environmental and health issues. The multilateral cooperation of ASEAN Plus Three has also found expression in a number of agreements. For instance, ASEAN has free trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea.
East Asia Summit (EAS)
East Asia Summit 2012 in Phnom Penh
The 16 Heads of State and Government of the ten ASEAN states as well as of China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India have been meeting in the framework of the East Asia Summit since 2005. At the 2011 EAS in Bali under the Indonesian presidency of ASEAN, the United States and Russia took part in the EAS process as full members for the first time. At the Summit in Phnom Penh (Cambodia) on 20 November 2012, participants decided to launch negotiations on a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)
The ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) was founded in 1994 following a decision by the ASEAN Foreign Ministers. ARF deals with security issues and is the only institutionalized security-policy discussion forum in the Asia-Pacific region. Along with the ten ASEAN member states, another 16 countries – Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, India, Japan, Mongolia, New Zealand, North Korea, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Russian Federation, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Timor-Leste, and the United States – currently participate, as well as the EU. On the fringe of the last ARF, at which the EU was represented by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, the High Representative and US Secretary of State Clinton adopted a joint EU-US statement on the Asia-Pacific region.
South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC)
17th SAARC Summit in the Maldives on 10 November 2011
© dpa / picture-alliance
The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) was founded in 1985 by Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Afghanistan has been the eighth member since 2007. Together with China, Japan, South Korea and the United States, the EU attended the SAARC Summit as an observer for the first time in New Delhi in 2007. SAARC itself has had observer status at the UN since December 2004.
SAARC concentrates on economic and trade issues. The agreement to create the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA), which entered into force in 2006, marked a milestone in regional economic cooperation. SAFTA has been ratified by all member states. SAARC’s action programme refers to cooperation in seven key areas, including agriculture and rural development, environment and forestry, human resources development and transport.
Pacific Islands Forum (PIF)
The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF; until 2000 South Pacific Forum) was founded in Wellington in 1971. It provides a forum for dialogue and cooperation on politics, economics, environment, culture, education and social affairs. Moreover, it is the only multilateral forum in the Pacific region to also look at security-policy aspects. PIF’s 16 member states are: Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu. The EU is one of 14 dialogue partners for the PIF (the others include China, France, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States). Last year’s PIF Summit was attended for the first time by EU Commission President Barroso, this year’s by Chief Operating Officer O’Sullivan of the European External Action Service.
Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)
SCO Meeting in Beijing on 7 June 2012
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) emerged in 2001 from the “Shanghai 5” set up in 1996. The original five members were the People’s Republic of China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, the Russian Federation and Tajikistan; Uzbekistan joined in 2001. Mongolia, India, Iran and Pakistan became “observers” in 2004/05, Belarus and Sri Lanka “dialogue partners” in 2009. At the SCO Summit in Peking in June 2012, Afghanistan, which had attended SCO Summits as a special guest for several years, was granted observer status, and Turkey obtained dialogue partner status. Turkmenistan is not a member of the SCO, on the grounds of its “permanent neutrality”, but attends Summits as a special guest of honour. The SCO has held observer status at the United Nations since December 2004. Furthermore, it maintains cooperation agreements with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The SCO’s original focus was security cooperation in the member states’ border regions. Now, however, other areas such as economic and trade issues also feature. The SCO’s focuses today are subjects such as stability in the region, the fight against terrorism, “separatism and extremism” and energy security issues. At the SCO Summit in Tashkent in 2004 it was decided to set up a Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure. In recent years, the SCO members have carried out several joint military manoeuvres.
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC)
APEC was founded in 1989 on the initiative of Japan and Australia and aims to strengthen economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region, not least by dismantling tariffs and other barriers to trade. So at their summit in Bogor (Indonesia) in 1994, the APEC countries agreed to set up a free trade area within the economic community (Bogor Goals). Summits at head of state and government level are held annually with the participation of business executives. Climate protection appeared on APEC’s agenda for the first time at the 15th Summit in Sydney in 2007. APEC currently has 21 “member economies”: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, the Russian Federation, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the United States and Viet Nam. Together these economies account for some 55% of global GDP and some 45% of global trade.
More information on EU cooperation with regional organizations in the Asia-Pacific region:
Last updated 21.11.2012