In Hangzhou, at the just-concluded G20 Summit, President Xi Jinping called on the participating global leaders to avoid making the meeting a “venue for empty talk”, and instead build an “action team”.
And positive actions are what we hope to see at the East Asia Summit now in session in Vientiane, Laos.
With the crisis-era sense of urgency gone, globalization stalled, and some members losing determination, it remains an open question if the promises and action plans made in Hangzhou will bear the anticipated fruit.
The summit in Vientiane, which convenes leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, as well as Australia, India, New Zealand, Russia and the United States, is the first test for those who have just left Hangzhou having vowed to act and collaborate.
Featuring all the key characters in the ongoing political and economic dramas in East Asia, in multilateral and bilateral settings, the Vientiane summit is a precious venue for meaningful discourse on regional priorities.
Over the years, the East Asia gathering has produced abundant rhetoric about the synergy called for at the G20 Summit, even the vision of an East Asia Economic Community. But optimism has receded lately as the territorial disputes have distracted and estranged the neighborhood.
For decent-looking outcomes, the participating leaders may subdue their divergences in Vientiane and present consensuses. But that is far from enough.
Xi’s exchanges of goodwill in bilateral meetings with the Japanese, ROK and US leaders in Hangzhou cleared the way for substantive next-step communication. Now we need to see practical progress. What the countries can commit to together, under the “10+3” framework or beyond, will tell a lot about what we can anticipate in the years to come.
Beijing deems Premier Li Keqiang’s trip to Vientiane, both for the summit and an official visit to Laos, as an important diplomatic move to cement ASEAN ties and promote regional cooperation, and it is willing to go the extra mile to make substantial headway.
Premier Li is to table a series of proposals for regional cooperation, from financial security to poverty reduction to interconnectivity, and push the participating parties to recommit to the EAEC. Cooperative projects will prove essential to refocusing the region on development, a present and future priority for East Asia.
It would be even better if such projects can engage those parties not directly involved in the disputes, but which have been trying to take advantage of them, as this might help to de-escalate tensions.