For the public in East Asia, questions about the pace and quality of development are at the top of the agenda. For governments the trends in trade and investment flows, and the pace and quality of trade agreements, are first order concerns. There is broad agreement that a surprising – and potentially stabilizing – degree of economic interdependence has occurred over the past two decades as well. At the same time, significant progress toward economic integration – different from Europe but with some similar strategic implications – has stalled.

In this context, recent concrete steps by China, South Korea and Japan to begin work on a trilateral FTA should be seen alongside the new US-ASEAN Expanded Economic Engagement (E3) initiative announced this week, and the ongoing Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). State, corporate and public interests all intersect within these trade pacts, and it is important to explore precisely who benefits depending upon which systems are adopted. Overall, economic competition between the US and China over trade regimes, and the extensive development efforts by states in the region, will bear close watching, and AsiaEast will focus regularly on the latest developments.

Down the road several major infrastructure projects – which would link markets and people in new ways – are pending. The so-called Iron Silk Road rail lines that could eventually run from Seoul to London; the Japan-Korea bridge/tunnel that would add Tokyo and all of Japan; and the Russia-Korea gas line are but three currently under extensive study. Political agreements must precede such projects, but in that way they are concrete indicators of regional developmental progress. AsiaEast will review the extensive (three decades, in the case of the Japan-Korea bridge/tunnel) planning for, and current status of, these potentially game-changing projects. We will also explore the political environment and identify leaders in various sectors who have the best ideas about how to move the projects forward.