WikiLeaks cable: East Asian Summit: NZ's views

January 27, 2005
East Asian Summit: NZ's views

SUBJECT: EAST ASIAN SUMMIT: NEW ZEALAND'S VIEWS

REF: 04 STATE 275091

Classified By: ACTING DCM KATHERINE B. HADDA,
FOR REASONS 1.4 (B AND D)

1. (C) Summary: New Zealand officials have been watching
with interest the proposal to hold an East Asian Summit, but
they remain unclear as to either the form or function of the
meeting. New Zealand would welcome the chance to participate
in the Summit, but is unlikely to push for an invitation
because of a perception that ASEAN's agenda is already
overloaded. China seems to be the driving force behind the
EAS proposal, but New Zealand officials think the PRC's goal
is to have more control of its dialogue with governments in
the region rather than to push for any specific policy goal
or to create an alternative to APEC or other groups. END
SUMMARY

2. (C) On January 25, Acting DCM discussed the East Asian
Summit (EAS) with Sarah Dennis, Director of the South/South
East Asia Division at New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign
Affairs and Trade (MFAT). Rebecca Needham, a Policy Officer
working under Dennis and who covers ASEAN issues, joined the
meeting.

The South/South East Division has only recently
been assigned the EAS portfolio within MFAT, as over the last
few weeks the Ministry's small staff -- made still smaller by
the Antipodean summer holiday -- was focused on locating New
Zealanders missing following the Boxing Day tsunami.

3. (C) Dennis admitted that New Zealand officials do not
know a great deal about the form or agenda of the EAS, and
she said this was because even the Summit's core participants
seem still to be working out the details. New Zealand has
actually been watching the proposal since last year, mainly
through reporting done by the country's missions in the
region.

4. (C) ASEAN 3 has become a fixture of the ASEAN calendar,
Dennis said, and she has perceived both interest and some
nervousness about the EAS proposal -- and specifically
China's role -- among ASEAN members. In New Zealand's view,
China's diplomacy on the EAS has been constructive and open
to ASEAN input, and the members seem keen to work with China
although their suspicions remain. Dennis said it remains
unclear what the content of the EAS would be, but China has
made clear that it wants to have the ASEAN region relatively
secure and growing economically, so it seems likely that the
Summit agenda would cover both economic and security issues.

5. (C) A/DCM noted that because Taiwan and Hong Kong
participate in APEC, China had resisted efforts by the U.S.
and others (including New Zealand) to discuss
counter-terrorism issues in that forum. She asked whether it
was possible that for this reason China saw a potential EAS
security agenda as an alternative to APEC. Dennis and
Needham said they were unaware that China was seeking an
alternative grouping in which to discuss security issues,
although they did agree that China might be trying to take a
strategic position that would allow them a more central role
in shaping a regional agenda than would be possible under
ASEAN 3.

6. (C) Dennis said her impression is that China floated the
EAS idea (although some say it was Japan) and ASEAN was
initially cautious about the proposal because members
preferred the control afforded them by the current ASEAN 3
format. By the time of the Vientiane Summit, New Zealand
officials were somewhat surprised to find that the ASEAN 3
Leaders had agreed to the EAS, to be hosted by Malaysia.

7. (C) Dennis said that it was still not clear which
countries would participate in the EAS, nor even whether or
not ASEAN members would (as seems likely) attend as
individual countries rather than as a bloc or whether this
would be a one-off or annual event. Leaders participating in
the December ASEAN 3 meeting said that the EAS would be in
addition to ASEAN 3, but some members have told Dennis that
the EAS would replace the existing forum. ASEAN 3
officials are now tasked to decide when and where the EAS
will be, and who will attend. Dennis said that New Zealand
officials are not on the inside of this process, but she
speculated that ASEAN Foreign Ministers may make the final
decisions when they meet in March. At the latest, the
details should be decided by June or July.

8. (C) Despite media claims at the Vientiane summit that
invitations to the EAS would be issued to India and others,
Dennis does not believe that any decision has been made to
invite other countries. New Zealand has not been invited and
Dennis is not sure whether or not it would be. She said that
the time had come for New Zealand officials to decide whether
to lobby for an invitation, but she indicated that in
general, New Zealand has been cautious about foisting itself
onto ASEAN because the government believes the ASEAN agenda
is overloaded as it is. For this reason, Prime Minister
Clark had said in her statement in Vientiane that she would
welcome the chance to participate in the ASEAN Summit again
when it made sense to do so. Dennis explained the Prime
Minister had in mind the conclusion of the
ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement as an
example of the kind of event that would logically lead to New
Zealand's future participation in the summit.

Swindells

- Herald on Sunday

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