ASEAN Plus Three: becoming more like a normal regionalism?
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations Plus Three (ASEAN Plus Three, APT) began discreetly in Kuala Lumpur in December 1997 as a symbolic sideline event marking the thirtieth anniversary of ASEAN. Malaysia, which held the ASEAN chair, invited only three leaders from China, Japan and South Korea. It was believed thatMalaysian PrimeMinisterMahathir Mohamad ﬁnally had succeeded in materializing his long-cherished East Asian Economic Caucus (EAEC) plan, which had been strongly opposed by the US during the early 1990s. However, the inaugural APT Informal Summit Meeting was held in the midst of the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997-8, and Prime Minister Mahathir merely proposed that the APT leaders meet in 1998 and decide then whether there would be a need to continue to meet subsequently. Vietnam, the next ASEAN chair, also invited leaders from three Northeast Asian countries, this time to the Hanoi summit, ensuring the further institutionalization of East Asian regional cooperation. It was only after the APT Finance Ministers Meeting in Hanoi in March 1999 that the term ‘ASEAN Plus Three’ was widely used. Finally, the ‘Joint Statement on East Asia Cooperation’ was launched for the ﬁrst time in history by the 13 heads of government at the 3rd Informal Summit Meeting in Manila in November 1999. The Statement broadly describes the aim of the APT meetings,1 but more than that, what was of critical symbolic importance was the fact that all leaders from East Asian states gathered and launched the joint statement as a collective voice for East Asia.