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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 December 2005, 07:20 GMT
East Asia stages inaugural summit
Leaders at the East Asian Summit
Leaders from 16 nations gathered for the inaugural meeting
Leaders from 16 nations have held an inaugural East Asia Summit in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur.

The grouping brought China, South Korea and Japan together with 10 South East Asian countries, and also India, Australia and New Zealand.

The summit ended with an agreement to hold annual talks on issues such as trade and security.

There also seemed to be a slight thaw in China-Japan relations, with a handshake between two leaders.

"We have established the East Asia Summit as a forum for dialogue on broad strategic, political and economic issues of common interest and concern with the aim of promoting peace, stability and economic prosperity in East Asia," said a final declaration after the summit ended.

The summit, which lasted barely three hours, took no decision on a request from Russia that it also join the summit. Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi said a decision would be made at next year's meeting in the Philippines.

This year's summit has been overshadowed by a row between Japan and China. Beijing is furious about Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to a controversial war shrine.

Despite a handshake between Mr Koizumi and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the end of the summit, there were other signs that the feud was not over.

The two sides failed to arrange any bilateral talks, and when Mr Koizumi, who sat next to Mr Wen to sign a declaration on the East Asia Summit's establishment, asked to borrow the Chinese leader's pen, Mr Wen reportedly ignored the request for several seconds before Mr Badawi intervened.

'Patchwork of races'

Proponents of the grouping want foundations laid for an economic and political alliance that one day might rival those of North America and Europe - not an unrealistic goal, given that three of the world's four largest economies by 2050 will be Asian.

But according to the BBC's correspondent in Malaysia, Jonathan Kent, those who talk about this group eventually emulating the European Union might consider just how diverse it is.

Size, for instance: with China's 1.3bn people against Singapore's 4m. Or wealth: Japan's gross national income of $37,000 per head, against Cambodia's $320.

Culturally, too, East Asia is a patchwork of religions, races and political systems.

Some did not even want predominantly Caucasian countries like Australia and New Zealand to take part.

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