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East Asia Summit Raises Concerns Over Influence of China, India


The first-ever East Asian summit meets Wednesday in Malaysia - raising concerns about the dominance of the two rising regional powers: China and India. Some fear their growing economic might will overshadow the smaller economies of Southeast Asia.

China's sheer size and its booming economy have some experts and Southeast Asians worried it will give China undue influence in regional political affairs and trade.

This is of particular concern as the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations prepares to host the first-ever East Asia summit with China, India, South Korea, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.

Before the summit here in Kuala Lumpur, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao sought to alleviate these fears in a speech Monday to business leaders.

Mr. Wen says China needs a peaceful international environment to focus on economic development and lessen income disparities among its people. He notes China's growth will depend first on domestic forces but it will also need extensive international cooperation.

The director of Kuala Lumpur's Institute for Strategic and International Studies, Mohammed Jawhar Hassan, says fears about China are exaggerated. "The domination of China is being used a lot and bandied about, but I think it is more myth than reality," he said.

He notes that China is a growing economic power, but says its military and political influence is not overly strong in the region.

The director of Malaysian Strategic Research Center, Abdul Razak Baginda, believes the key rests in how smaller Asian states approach their relationship with China. "Individual countries cannot confront the might of China, but collectively they can," he said. "And I think this is perhaps one of the underlying reasons for the creation of the East Asia Summit."

One of the aims of the summit is to consider the long-term goal of creating an East Asia free trade community - similar to the European Union or the North American Free Trade Agreement.

This East Asia grouping comprises almost half the world's population and significant trade.

India - with one billion people - has already begun negotiating a free trade agreement with ASEAN.

Mr. Abdul Razak of the Malaysian Research Center says India's economy may not be as big as China's but it is important in terms of balance. "The idea of bringing India in is perhaps to counter the influence of China. India is also an emerging power," he said.

Free trade talks have also begun between ASEAN and Japan and South Korea. Analysts note that with the new addition of Australia and New Zealand there will be no shortage of diversity and economic competition within the new regional forum.

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