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Forging Asia’s Missing Links

MANILA – China’s government has just announced that Premier Wen Jiabao will be the main speaker at the 2009 Boao Forum for Asia, where the roster of leaders expected to participate is a virtual Who’s Who of the continent: President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, President Faure Gnassingbe of Togo, Prime Minister S. Bayar of Mongolia, Prime Minister Thein Sein of Myanmar, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung of Vietnam, Prime Minister John Key of New Zealand, and Kopsak Saphawasu, Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand.

Such meetings are vital for Asia, because the continent lacks the dense institutional infrastructure that Europe has built up over the past five decades. This year’s Boao Forum has become even more important because of the cancellation of the East Asia summit due to the action of violent protestors. 

Multinational companies increasingly treat Asia as a single economic space, at least as far as production is concerned. This, of course, does not mean that Asia is, or is becoming, a single market, but rather that is now something of a tight-knit pan-national supply chain.

But, although Asia is becoming more like Europe in terms of economic integration, political and diplomatic integration lags behind. So, because Asia lacks such institutional arrangements, personal diplomacy of the type that the Boao Forum represents, like the annual global winter gathering at Davos, remains vitally important.