Some of the country groups examined in previous chapters are more homogeneous than East Asia. That is certainly true of the EU. East Asia, indeed, is hugely heterogeneous, economically and politically. Peace prevails within the ten-country ASEAN group, and ASEAN itself has helped to resolve dangerous disputes between some of its members. Yet some of its members have experienced political turmoil, whereas Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam fall far short of being democracies, and others, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand, are struggling to contain ethnic tensions. Beyond ASEAN itself, moreover, tensions abound. There is the chronic threat of conflict in the Taiwan Straits, and there is still the smoldering legacy of past Japanese aggression against China and Korea – a legacy inflamed periodically by unresolved territorial claims. To the south, Australia and New Zealand have not decided wholeheartedly whether they belong to East Asia or to a larger Pacific community symbolized by the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum – a body so loosely organized that the last word of its name is not even capitalized.
And then there is Japan, the only Asian member of the G-7. It has the largest East Asian economy, accounting for more than half of East Asia's GDP, even on the broadest definition of the region. Its economic preeminence, however, is threatened by its own demographic dynamics; its population will shrink sharply in the next few decades.