Leaders of East Asian countries have laid the groundwork for a European Union-style bloc that will cover half the world’s population, analysts and officials say. Discussions on the grand project began during the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit.

Rodolfo Severino, Asean’s former secretary-general, told the AFP news agency: “It is coming together.”

The proposal for the so-called East Asian Community project was mooted by Yukio Hatoyama, the Japanese prime minister, to fellow leaders at the summit, saying the region should aspire to “lead the world”.

Japan is not a member of Asean, but if the project materialises, it – along with South Korea, China, India, Australia and New Zealand – would be part of Asean, which includes Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam.

Other Asean member states are Brunei Darussalam, Burma, Cambodia, the Philippines and Cambodia.

“It’s not just Asia coming together economically but politically as well. The more integrated you are, the more forceful you are”

Head of the Singapore-based Asean Studies Centre

Severino said a more cohesive Asia would have a bigger role in global affairs, especially after the region overcame the global economic crisis more quickly than the West.

“It’s not just Asia coming together economically but politically as well. The more integrated you are, the more forceful you are,” Severino said.

He currently heads the Singapore-based Asean Studies Centre.

A key issue raised during the East Asia summit and during the dialogue with China, Japan and South Korea is the formation of an East Asian community. Leaders feel this is work-in-progress.

Both the Japanese and Australian Prime Ministers talked about such a community during their discussions with ASEAN and the dialogue partners, but leaders said they did not present definitive blueprints.

Mr Lee said:

“What they have is a vision and an idea of some long term desired objective, but the specific shape of what is to be developed, who to participate, what its mandate is going to be and how fits into the existing structures and organisations… those are things we have to think about and explore and gradually become more definite and clearer as our cooperation develops.”

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