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ASEM: A Window of Opportunity
Wim Stokhof and Paul van der Velde

The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is an unique interregional forum which consists of six members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Japan, South Korea and the 15 members of the European Union (EU). ASEM officially came into being at the first summit, which was held in Bangkok in 1996. it was born out of a necessity, felt as much in Europe as in Asia, to improve the dialogue between both continents, which had been neglected since the end of decolonization. Although there had been contacts dating from the late 1970s at the level of foreign ministries between ASEAN and the EU. they were of a rhetorical nature and lacked substance. This has changed since the inauguration of ASEM. In general the process is considered by the parties involved as a way of fortifying the relations between Asia and Europe which is necessary to balance the triangular world (US, Asia and Europe) of the 21st century. Now that the process has been underway for two years we can begin to distinguish its main components which are, by far, more substantial than the talks between Europe and Asia before the inauguration of ASEM.

The main components of the process include political dialogue, security, business, education and culture. Since the first meeting of heads of state in Bangkok there has been a fair number of follow-up meetings on all the topics mentioned above. Political bodies generated some of these meetings but others spontaneously came into being. A number of the participating countries, realizing the importance of the process, have created ASEM sections within their respective ministries of foreign affairs in order to closely monitor the multi-faceted ASEM process. This is increasingly propelled by the many new opportunities for communication offered by the rapidly developing information technology.
Notwithstanding this positive start, ASEM remains a loosely organized process, which is an easy target for sceptics who often point to its non-focused nature. They are of the opinion that only the creation of a more formal body could secure the momentum of ASEM. Steps in the direction of formalization led to, for example, the creation of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) in Singapore in 1997. The ASEF aims at increasing the dialogue between Asia and Europe at all levels of society. Other initiatives such as the Asia-Europe Business Foram (AEBF) and the Senior Officials Meeting on Trade and Development (SOMTI) may well develop into more formalized bodies. Still the meetings of a more informal nature far outnumber the formalized ones and can be viewed as a token of the enthusiasm which the process has generated. The articles in this book are a clear reflection of the more informal side of the ASEM process although not uniquely so. They are written by Asian and European politicians and academics involved in the process from its very beginning which all share the most important belief underlying the ASEM process, namely that it is based on partnership and equality. The contributions deal with a variety of topics such as security, economy, politics, education, culture, exchange of information and so forth. Of course these articles do not cover the whole spectrum of the ASEM process but they do give us an idea of what is not only an exciting experiment but which can also be construed as the beginning of a new era in the relationship between Asia and Europe. The book is loosely grouped around four themes: The Politicians' View of ASEM; Improving Mutual Contact between Asia and Europe; Challenges and Problem Areas; and the Future of ASEM. The first three articles in this volume are concerned with the political dimension of the ASEM process as written by a Minister of State, a Director for Relations with Far Eastern Countries of the European Commission, and a Europarliamentarian. These contributions touch upon the various levels at which the political dialogue is taking place.


Derek Fatchett, in his article 'Setting the Agenda for ASEM 2: From Bangkok to London via Singapore', reflects upon the Agenda of ASEM 2, which was held from 2-4 April 1998 in London. He clearly sees a special role in the ASEM process for the United Kingdom in bridging the gaps between Asia and Europe since it has been a long-time trading partner of Asia and since its economy enjoys much Asian investment. One of the aims of the British government is to further increase the comfort-level among the countries of ASEM, which was already high during the Bangkok meeting. ,This .is now known as the 'Spirit of Bangkok'.
According to Fatchett, ASEM is unique because of the strong involvement of the business communities of Asia and Europe as exemplified in the AEBF. The involvement of business in the process will increase the prosperity of both regions and in a roundabout manner will also stimulate the political dialogue (also on sensitive issues such as human rights) which in Fatchett's eyes is at the heart of ASEM. Another cornerstone of the future success of ASEM is the broadening and deepening of educational exchanges between Asia and Europe. This is the most effective way to challenge existing prejudices and nurture new relationships. In this context Fatchett points to ASEF as a catalyst in stimulating cultural, educational, intellectual, and people-to-people contacts. Percy Westerlund brings in the European Commission's perspective on how links between Europe and Asia can be intensified in his article, 'Strengthening of Euro-Asian Relations; ASEM as a Catalyst'. Although he is clearly optimistic about ASEM, he conceives of three possible trappings: the setting of unrealistic goals; proliferation of follow-up meetings; and holding summits too often. Of these three he considers the risk of proliferation as the most dangerous because he feels the process would then run the risk of losing its focus. In this context, Westerlund pleads for a structural approach along the lines of the comprehensive framework programmes applied by the EU in which priorities are clearly delineated. The establishment of the VISION group in 1997, which consists of resource persons from both continents, will lead to the formulation of such a programme. It will be presented during ASEM 3 in Seoul in the year 2000.
Although not necessarily in order of importance, Westerlund sees three priority areas: trade and investment; culture, education and personal exchange; and political dialogue. In the field of trade and investment there are now two main forums: the AEBF and SOMTI. Their task is to forge a Euro-Asian alliance in support of a more ambitious and global approach, and to advise the ASEM leaders and governments on how to improve economic ties. The SOMTI in turn is fed by two advisory groups, which will hand in reports on a Trade Facilitation Action Plan (TFAP) and an Investment Promotion Asia Plan (IPAP) during the meeting in London.
While the articles of Fatchett and Westerlund are written from a perspective of intemational politics, Michael Hindley, in his article 'Involving Politicians in the Political Dialogue: A Parliamentarian Perspective', deals with the question of how politicians should translate the ASEM process to the voters and subsequently how to generate enthusiasm for a fairly abstract phenomenon. Policies which seem to be rational and explicable at an interregional level do not necessarily always translate into positive scenarios at a local level. The lifting of measures restricting imports from Asia might well be conducive to the ASEM process but if in practice it boils down to, for example, the foreclosure of a plant with hundreds of workers in a parliamentarian's constituency, it will be very difficult for the politician involved to explain the grander political scheme and even more difficult for him to be re-elected. Whereas such eventualities might diminish the popular support for ASEM, Hindley is also aware of the possibilities of democratizing the ASEM dialogue and commercial relationship by involving the population of Asian extraction in Europe in that dialogue. The European-Asians can play a key role into widening the ASEM dialogue, as can the politicians who represent them. Notwithstanding the fact that Hindley clearly understands the role of European- Asians in the process, he is not convinced that the advantages of a deeper understanding of each other's cultures are bound to improve the economic ties between Asia and Europe. However, many other people involved in the dialogue attach great value to the role culture can play in bridging the existing gaps between Asia and Europe. Wim Stokhof is one such person.


In his contribution, 'Bringing the Communities Together: What More Can Be Done?' Stokhof focuses on the mediating role culture can play in increasing mutual understanding between Europe and Asia. Cultural rapprochement can only enhance the economic growth and deepen the political consensus. Knowledge of each other's cultures will augment our capacity to recognize prevailing stereotypes and to replace them by ideas and images which are deeply rooted in present-day realities. In order to be able to measure the impact of this process to some extent, Stokhof calls for a (permanent) survey executed across both regions, which could fine-tune the process of cultural rapprochement in the future.
Stokhof emphasizes the critical role education plays in the cultural sensitization. Therefore the exposure to each other's culture should begin at the secondary school level through the teaching of language and culture and the introduction of one-year fellowships for secondary school students to be carried out in Asia or Europe. At the university and institutional level, long-term joint research programmes on matters of interregional importance should be executed by mixed groups of researchers from Asia and Europe with disciplinary backgrounds in the Humanities, Social Sciences and in the technological field. The formation of strategical alliances between European and Asian research institutes could pave the way for such a development. An&ils Hernfidi, in his article 'Increasing Opportunities for Greater Contact: Asia and Eastern Europe', looks at the possibilities of how to improve contacts between Asia and Eastern Europe. He draws a parallel between ASEM and Central Europe in the sense that ASEM is the missing link in a triangular power equation. In turn he considers Central Europe to be the missing link in ASEM itself. The Central European countries are by no means the only countries which are interested in becoming members of ASEM. More than twenty Asian and European countries also want to join in. Hernadi pleads for the inclusion of what he considers to be the core group of Central Eastern European countries: the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary.
Hernadi particularly looks at Hungarian relations with Asia. He predicts a shift of Asian investment from Western to Central Europe, which is more attractive in view of its low wage costs. Added to that, Hungary is a regional centre for tourism, banking and finance. Hernadi quotes three other assets of Hungary: its openness and multicultural set up; the Hungarian diaspora feeding back to Hungary; and the entrepreneurial and hard-working attitude of the Hungarians. He is strongly in favour of increasing the bilateral contacts with Asian countries by setting up centres in Asia, which combine diplomatic, commercial, educational and cultural efforts.
Cesar de Prado Yepes, in his article 'Connecting ASEM to the Global Information Society (GIS)', treats a very important aspect of the future ASEM process. The emergence of the GIS creates a much wider range of opportunities for contact than ever before. Furthermore, these opportunities do not involve big expenditures. De Prado Yepes, like Westerlund, pleads for the adoption of EU-like framework programmes to achieve more focus. For example, in the sphere of communications there are endeavours such as in the Golden Bridge infrastructure project aiming at the informatization of China using advanced fibre-optic satellite technologies. De Prado Yepes is also strongly in favour of the creation of more Internet gateways in Europe and Asia because still now most Internet packet-switched traffic searching the fastest route to its destination finds its way through the US when flowing back and forth between Asia and Europe.


Dong Ik-Shin and Gerald Segal, in their contribution 'Getting Serious about Asia-Europe Security Cooperation', consider a more engaged approach within the ASEM towards security if it wishes to achieve a well-balanced global triangular relationship. Although Asia and Europe do not play an important role in each other's security context they do need to work more closely together in this arena. Segal and Dong Ik-Shin plead for a flexible understanding of the word 'security': economic and military dimensions can not be separated from it in an increasingly interdependent world. They distinguish between 'hard security' and 'soft security with and hard edge'.
After the withdrawal of the colonial powers from Asia there remains little of what could be labelled hard security apart from a few remnants of French and British presence in the area such as the Five Power Defence Arrangements (FPDA) in which the UK, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand cooperate. The sale of sophisticated weapon systems training and transfers of intelligence also fall in the 'hard' category. Since 1992 the European market share in arms (related) sales to Pacific-Asia hovers around twenty per cent. Dong Ik-Shin and Segal consider a sensible arms-transfer strategy of vital importance to security building in Asia. Defending a stable Pacific Asia that remains open and connected to the global economy is a vital interest of Europe which it should want to defend in order not to continue free-riding on the US. In the field of 'soft' security they see three possible fields of cooperation in the ASEM context. The European countries have a wide experience in Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) which they can easily share with their Asian partners. Also, European countries are very familiar with preventive diplomacy to help stop the emergence or escalation of conflicts, which can be valuable in the Asian context as well. The third field is peacekeeping operations in the context of the United Nations (UN). One-third of the budget and one- third of the personnel for such UN operations are from Europe. Asia's contribution to it is on the rise. Peacekeeping within the UN framework may enhance the ASEM process.

Another problem area (but at the same time an opportunity) for closer cooperation is international corruption. Jong Bum Kim, in his article 'Combating International Corruption: In Search of an Effective Role for ASEM', describes the recent intemational movement to combat corruption against the backdrop of the multilateral efforts to develop a framework for investment liberalization. In the process, he argues that ASEM can play a unique role by filtering the discussion on combating corruption before it reaches multilateral rule-making bodies such as the World Trade Organization (WTO). Kim proposes that ASEM should first take up the issue of combating international corruption before tackling domestic corruption issues. This has the advantage that the international community can avoid pointing fingers at corrupt behaviour in one particular country. Thus ASEM could first provide a balanced forum for raising consciousness of the adverse effects of corruption in international business and then could make concrete proposals to combat them. Tetsundo Iwakuni, in his contribution 'Developing the Business Relationship between Asia and Europe: Trends and Challenges', makes a clear distinction in the relationship between overall trends, trade related trends and capital market trends. He then focuses in particular on the relationship between Europe and Japan, which he does not consider applicable to the rest of Asia. Iwakuni sees four major challenges affecting the future business relationship between Asia and Europe. These are related to the environment, the political culture, social ethics and education.
By far the biggest challenge lies in the field of education, Iwakuni points out that it is of crucial importance that the opportunities for educational exchange between Asia and Europe be drastically enlarged. Educational exchange is essential in ensuring mutual understanding in the areas of language, culture, economy and plain people-to-people contacts. Without this two-way flow it will be impossible to improve the relationship. He considers a challenge for non-English speaking countries in Europe to attract more Asian students. The number of Asians studying in Europe is a mere fraction of those studying in the US; while the number of European students studying in Asia is again a mere fraction of Asians studying in Europe. Not only the quantity but also the quality of the existing exchanges will have to be increased by including not only transfers of knowledge or technical skills but also the cultural background of the country the students are living in. In summary, raising the intercultural sensitivity by means of intercultural education is, in the eyes of lwakuni, the paradigm on which the new Asia-Europe relationship should be founded.


Zhao Gancheng, in his article 'Assessing China's Impact on Asia-EU Relations', first examines China's domestic development in the past two decades and its recent open-door policy. Then he examines the important role China should play in the ASEM process. With its huge population and its fast- growing market, China does not only have a big influence on developments in Asia as a regional power but also increasingly as a global player. It is clear that China will benefit most from a stable Asia-Pacific as the EU does, but configurations at a regional level may interfere with those at a global level. According to Zhao Gancheng China will work both towards improving its relations with other Asian countries and with the EU, which can be done effectively within the ASEM context. Therefore China will further open its markets and liberalize its domestic economy, which in turn will stimulate the economic relations between the EU, ASEAN, Japan and South Korea. Not only economic benefits will be reaped from this improved relationship: it will also create an environment in which security matters such as arms control and non- proliferation can be put on the agenda of ASEM. Furthermore, the new dialogue between Asia and Europe will help to balance the emerging triangular power structure of the 21 st century.
In the last contribution to this book, 'The Future of the ASEM Process: Who, How, Why, and What', Jurgen ROland looks at the future of the ASEM process in practical terms. As to 'who', it is no secret that a host of countries want to participate in the ASEM process for various reasons. Ruland singles out six categories of future participants: Australia and New Zealand; India and Pakistan; Russia; Eastern European countries; European Free Trade Association (EFTA) members; and Myanmar and Laos. As a yardstick for future inclusion in the process, he uses the argument that the candidates should not introduce new lines of conflicts which could endanger the process. In analysing the above-mentioned categories he does not anticipate danger in including Eastern European countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary, Australia and New Zealand, and India and Pakistan because the detente between the latter two countries would be in the interest of all present ASEM members. ROland continues by pleading for a moratorium on membership until the year 2000. However, applicants should be given observer status and the secretary-generals of overlapping regional organizations should be unconditionally admitted to AEBF and ASEF. Furthermore, task forces should be formed which concentrate on the different aspects of the process. These in turn should feed back to the summits and the foreign ministers' meetings. In order to coordinate all activities, a modest secretariat should be set up (preferably in Bonn) and soon the allocation of the budgets will have to be sorted out.
Ruland puts forward a number of arguments both of a theoretical and practical nature as to why this process is functional and positive for all parties involved. As such the interregional approach in international relations promises to be the most fruitful in terms of efficiency. Multilateral bodies with too many players and too widely diverging interests have become unmanageable with rounds of negotiations, which can stretch out over decades. ASEM in particular can be a stimulus for the emerging triangular global power structure. Furthermore it can clarify intraregional positions on all kinds of topics and can increase the efficiency of international decision making.
Practical motives from a European point of view to actively stimulate the ASEM process are: making good for lost opportunities and recapturing the initiative in global affairs against the backdrop of its unification: using ASEM as a platform for discussion on issues which can not be solved at a supranational level; and shared security interests with Asia. From the Asian point of view, bolstering the ASEM process will increase its bargaining power with the EU which could become increasingly inwardlooking as a result of the unification of the 'fortressed' Europe. Asia could use ASEM to press for a more open economic system of the European Union.
As to what should be done in the future in the ASEM context, Rilland shares many of the ideas put forward by other contributors to this book. However, he clearly stresses that the involvement of civil society at all imaginable levels should be stepped up immediately because otherwise the ASEM process runs the risk of petering out. Needless to say, the media in Europe and Asia, which so far have paid remarkably little attention to this important process, should be more alert in picking up news that does not originate in the US but at our own doorstep in Eurasia. So the big question which remains to be answered is how popular the Asia-Europe Meeting really is.


There can be no doubt about the fact that a new interregional dialogue between Asia and Europe, devoid of either colonial or new value rhetoric, is not only useful in the global triangular context but also per se as a means to boost the intraregional contacts of the Eurasian landmass and between two neighbouring cultures which were made to believe that they were of a completely different nature and texture. Such sayings as the 'East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet' were engraved not only in the collective memory of the Europeans but also in that of the people of Asia. Going further back in time, a picture emerges of two cultures learning from each other and accepting each other. At the time, this took place on a very small scale. Looking towards the future we can not escape the conclusion that such a phase of cultural rapprochement is rapidly emerging, yet now on a more pervasive scale. Therefore the academic and cultural community should build on this new window of opportunity, which the ASEM process offers, by increasing communication at all levels.
Science and culture - the two most important cornerstones of the Eurasian civilization that brought into being a meaningful transfer, not only of people, but also of human matters such as ideas, technology, services, goods and food - must involve themselves across the board to integrate the challenge of the ASEM process. The process elevates the promise of a multicultural world in which twains stem from the same tree. It is not very likely that many people noticed the banner flying from Nelson's Column on Trafalgar Square during ASEM 2. The text written on it not only encapsulated the essence of the ASEM process but also its precondition for success: ASEM for the People!

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