Asians to launch talks on pan-Asian trade area

The leaders of Southeast Asia and Japan met Tuesday ahead of regional summit of 16 Asian powers that some hope will be the launching pad for a pan-continental community and the world's largest free trade area. The summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi was to be followed by ASEAN leaders' meetings with the presidents of South Korea and Russia, and the prime minister of India later Tuesday. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Monday he is convinced the East Asia Summit is the stepping stone for creating a pan-Asian community that can become a free trade area to rival the European Union. However, a feud raging between China and Japan at the conference epitomized the region's uphill quest to tighten economic and security cooperation. China and South Korea, both occupied by Japanese forces before 1945, say Japan has not fully atoned for wartime atrocities.