There have been previous attempts to unite the nations of north-east Asia, some more ill-starred than others, of course. Some Japanese officials, and let’s go back no further than the 1980s, envisioned Asia’s economies flying like a skein of geese with their own country the lead bird. Regional economic cooperation has always been easier than political cooperation, as ASEAN attests, though even economic cooperation has been a hard slog for a set of economies of such varying size and stages of political and economic development. But Japan, China and South Korea, already tied closely by trade and investment as well as geographical proximity are talking seriously about creating a free trade pact.
The issue was discussed again this weekend at a meeting of Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, new Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama and South Korea’s President Lee Myung-bak. It is still a long way from an Asian equivalent of the European Union, as some envision, but as the three countries are the regions three largest economies, collectively accounting for 16% of world GDP, they would anyway form the core. much as France, Germany and Benelux were the founding kernel of the EU. And in the interim, uniting China, Japan and South Korea under a free trade regime would be a considerable step towards expanding an alternative export market for Asian counties to the U.S. and an engine of global growth if U.S. consumers are going, as seems likely, to have a lengthy period of recovery from their recent excesses.