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PacNet #46 – Focus on the Benefits – Not Threats – of Regional Economic Integration

In the midst of the global anti-terrorism effort, a different – though perhaps less noticed – angle on regional security may be taking shape in East Asia. In a series of meetings earlier this month, the ASEAN Plus Three leaders – grouping the 10 countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, plus China, Japan, and South Korea – pushed ahead on their agenda of regional economic integration: China and ASEAN agreed to establish a free trade area and the 13 heads of state discussed a possible East Asia free trade area. Japan and Singapore had already concluded their negotiations for an Economic Partnership Agreement and other region-based free trade arrangements are in the works. Quietly, but steadily, momentum for East Asian regional economic integration is gaining ground. But rather than challenge U.S. leadership in the region, this trend shows promise both for the economic benefits it can bring and for its potential in building a more secure Asia Pacific.