TOKYO, Dec 8 (AP): At the first East Asia Summit next week, Japan will find itself stuck as usual between East and West as it tries to balance commitments to close friend United States with the desire to intensify economic ties with Asian neighbours.
Although Japanese companies are increasingly investing in Asia, and China has already surpassed the United States as Japan's biggest trade partner, Tokyo remains heavily dependent on its military alliance with Washington to protect itself against the possible threat from a nuclear China, as well as from an even spookier North Korea, which also claims to have nuclear weapons.
While the summit was being organised, Japan was vocal in pushing for expanding participation to Australia, New Zealand and India - all U.S. allies - in opposition to China's demand for a narrower framework limited to Southeast Asian nations, South Korea, Japan and China.
That has not gone down well among some in Asia. Japan's popularity in Asia already has taken a beating by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to a war shrine that honours war criminals along with the nation's war dead, which outraged China and South Korea.
Another AP report from Kuala Lumpur adds: Myanmar's dismal democracy record won't dominate a Southeast Asia summit next week despite strong U.S. pressure to ostracize the country's military junta, host Malaysia said Thursday.
The junta's failure to fulfil pledges to democratise has been an embarrassment to the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which admitted Myanmar in 1997 with Malaysia's lobbying despite heavy opposition from the U.S. and Europe.
Myanmar, which has kept pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, was a key concern at the ASEAN Regional Forum in Laos last July when the bloc faced a possible boycott from the West unless the junta agreed to forgo ASEAN's 2006 chairmanship.
However, Myanmar backed down, giving the alphabetically rotating chairmanship to the next-in-line, the Philippines, and defusing the issue for the coming year.
The junta's record has sparked little debate or interest during preparatory meetings in Kuala Lumpur for this year's ASEAN summit starting Monday, followed by a broader East Asia Summit on Wednesday.
Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar told reporters that the issue was not expected to flare up as in past years.