Hoping to balance the influence of a raising China across economic and diplomatic circles, the 10 member ASEAN – Association of Southeast Asian Nations has invited the United States and Russia to join a key regional dialogue to be held n Hanoi, Vietnam this Friday. ASEAN along with the 6-nation East Asia Summit (EAS) comprising Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea will meet to discuss issues ranging from security to trade and the environment.
The attendance of the United States and Russia seeks to raise the profile of ASEAN as a regional organization which has until now operated mainly to patch East Asian socio-economic and trade ties. The growing clout of Asia’s emerging markets and ascendance of China and India is gradually transforming the ASEAN into a larger organization with additional responsibilities including creating regional cooperation for disaster management, poverty alleviation, pollution, terrorism, free trade areas and immigration policies.
The move to include the US and Russia in an expanded EAS is also expected to “preempt” the emergence of other regional groupings that could dilute’s ASEAN’s role. Last year, proposals for two other regional groupings emerged. Japan raised the idea of an East Asian Community focused on economic ties, while Australia’s then-prime minister Kevin Rudd mooted an Asia-Pacific Community that would include the US.
Joining the ASEAN also gives both the US and Russia a better foothold into dynamic Asia. Washington’s proposal to join the group highlights a revival of U.S. interest in Asia’s emerging economies, notably Southeast Asia while Russia is keen to help Southeast Asian countries build nuclear power plants and develop its safe use. Several Southeast Asian nations including Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia are keen to partner with Russia for nuclear energy to eliminate electricity shortages. Vietnam plans to start building its first nuclear power plant in 2014 using Russian technology, a state-run newspaper reported in June.