However, it will be difficult for ASEAN to constrain the policies and behaviors of the US and Russia. The US is a superpower with the global perspectives and strategy, prone to interfere in the domestic affairs of other countries under the pretexts of human rights, democracy, and nonproliferation. The US will hardly be willing to accept the leadership of ASEAN on the same basis as other countries, and may seek to shape and "change" the "ASEAN Way" using its absolute predominance in power and influence.
US President Barack Obama's policies are very changeable. Having tried to change Bush's approach to international disputes by conducting dialogues with the DPRK, Iran, Arab countries and the Taliban, he changed and toughened his stance when faced with obstacles. Since last year, Obama's planned visit to Indonesia has been postponed three times. This is undermining Obama's political credibility with ASEAN and its members.
Russia has been an ASEAN dialogue partner since 1976 and acceded to the TAC in November 2004. In 2005, Russia attended the first East Asia Summit as an observer and has asked many times to be allowed to attend as a full member. Moscow is trying to balance its interests in East Asia and Europe. By getting more involved in APEC and EAS, Russia can achieve economic prosperity and security guarantees in the East, so that it will be in a better position to bargain with western countries on economic and security matters. However, as a front-rank power, Russia also intends to influence Asia-Pacific regional mechanisms.
We should keep in mind that the US and Russia are both major powers, used to conducting business in their own way with their own strategic objectives. If the US and Russia are admitted into the EAS, it will become ASEAN+8, and will in effect cease to be the EAS, because the membership conditions will be too complex. If the ASEAN partners are unable to reach consensus at summits, the EAS may degenerate into a talking-shop or a public brawl which would diminish ASEAN's role in international society. Furthermore ASEAN members may find their national interests are overlooked or damaged in the struggle among the major powers.
ASEAN had better be more pragmatic than ambitious. Only when genuine regional cooperation, that is ASEAN+3 integration, builds a FTA and ensures East Asian regional security stability, economic prosperity and cultural identity, will ASEAN be able to provide a counterbalance to the other world powers in a much looser EAS.
Next month, in the Post-Ministerial Conferences and the 17th ASEAN Regional Forum to be held in Vietnam, ASEAN foreign ministers, the US Secretary of State, the Russian Foreign Minister, and the ministers of the six non-ASEAN participants in the EAS will discuss the proposed Asean+8 scheme. They will decide whether and how EAS becomes ASEAN+8.
The author is a columnist with China.org.cn For more information please visit