The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) provides a platform to foster political dialogue, strengthen economic and cultural cooperation, and tackle global challenges together. Today is ASEM Day and George Edgar writes that now more than ever the forum is needed to navigate through challenging times.
Today we celebrate ASEM Day, to mark the anniversary of the first ever Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Bangkok on 1-2 March 1996. The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is a forum for political dialogue to enhance relations and cooperation between its partners. ASEM is the main multilateral platform linking Europe and Asia.
The initial ASEM partnership consisted of 15 EU member states and 7 Asean member states plus China, Japan, Korea and the European Commission. Today ASEM comprises 51 partner countries: the 28 member states of the European Union plus Norway and Switzerland on the European side and the 10 Asean countries plus Australia, Bangladesh, China, India, Japan, Kazakhstan, the Republic of Korea, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Russia on the Asian side. It also includes two institutional partners: the European Union and the Asean Secretariat. As a member of Asean, Cambodia is part of the ASEM partnership. ASEM members represent around 60 percent of global GDP, 60 percent of global population and 60 percent of global trade.
ASEM’s main purpose is to provide a platform to foster political dialogue, strengthen economic and cultural cooperation, and tackle global challenges together. ASEM is conducted as an informal and flexible process on the basis of equal partnership, mutual respect and mutual benefit. ASEM aims to promote the exchange of ideas and best practices and thus act as a breeding ground for new policy ideas.
Apart from meetings among heads of government and ministers, other forms of dialogue have sprung up under the ASEM umbrella. They play an important role in bringing people and institutions together. The Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership promotes cooperation between parliaments in Europe and Asia and offers parliamentarians an opportunity to influence the ASEM process. The Asia-Europe Peoples’ Forum is the ‘grass roots’ level of ASEM and serves as an interregional network of civil society across Asia and Europe. The Asia-Europe Business Forum aims to enhance business-to-business dialogue between the two regions and to provide an opportunity for interaction between business and political leaders.
The Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) is the only institution of ASEM. It plays a fundamental role in developing connectivity between people. ASEF is an intergovernmental not-for-profit organisation that advances mutual understanding and collaboration between the people of Asia and Europe through intellectual, cultural, and people-to-people exchanges. It works as an interface between civil society and ASEM governments and consequently contributes to the ASEM process by generating recommendations for officials’ consideration. ASEF was established in February 1997 by the partners of the Asia-Europe Meeting. It is based in Singapore but operates in all ASEM countries. Since its inception, ASEF has initiated projects engaging more than 17,000 individuals from Asia and Europe.
The EU will host the next 12th ASEM Summit (ASEM-12) in Brussels on 18-19 October, to be chaired by the President of the European Council Donald Tusk. ASEM-12 will be the biggest summit in Europe this year, where presidents and prime ministers from 53 partners will come together in an informal setting – among friends – to discuss pressing global challenges and how to agree on common responses. The overall theme for ASEM-12 is “Global Partners for Global Challenges”. This theme underlines ASEM’s role as a crucial building block for rules-based international cooperation – between the two regions, but also, and increasingly, on global issues. ASEM-12 will feature intense debates on how to foster greater cooperation on economic, political and social/cultural issues, and especially on how ASEM can help boost Euro-Asian connectivity.
ASEM-12 will be the highlight of the 2018 calendar for Asia-Europe relations. The programme will extend over two days and include an opening session, two plenaries and a retreat as well as cultural events to highlight the common cultural heritage linking Europe and Asia.
In the European Union, we want to make the ASEM partnership stronger, even stronger that it is now. In times of confusion and change, we need to invest in searching for creative and progressive solutions to problems that we all need to tackle: common responses to international security threats, including terrorism and climate change, making sure that development is equitable and respects the environment, and the management of migratory flows, to name just a few.
We can be a point of reference, Europe and Asia together: our partnership can help the international system hold up and navigate through the challenging times of today, preventing and solving crises and get the best out of our opportunities. This is our shared interest, in Europe and in Asia, and this is what the whole world needs from us.
George Edgar is Ambassador of the European Union to Cambodia.