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Asian-European Perspectives. Developing the ASEM Process. Edited by Wim Stokhof and Paul van der Velde. ISBN 0-7007-1435-9 hb £40.00 (Curzon Press)

ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) was officially established in 1996 at the first summit in Bangkok. Its members are the seven ASEAN countries and the 15 EU countries. ASEM is an inter-regional forum for political dialogue, education, culture, and security and business, aimed at enhancing relations between Asia and Europe to achieve a better inter-regional balance in the spheres of politics, economics and culture. As the US downscales its involvement world-wide there now seems to be all the more reason to extend this process.

This book addresses three questions of central importance to the ASEM process and to the involvement of the private sector: What role can Europe and Asia play in managing an integrated global economy? What will be the role of the private sector in boosting the ASEM process? And how can the full potential of ASEM be realised? The contributors to the volume are Asian and European academics, politicians and businessmen who have been involved in the process from the very beginning.


The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) was officially established in 1996 at the first summit in Bangkok. ASEM is an interregional forum which consists of seven members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), China, Japan, South Korea and the fifteen members of the European Union (EU). The main components of the ASEM process, which has so far been only loosely organized, include political dialogue, education and culture, security and the economy. In general, the process is considered by the parties involved to be a way of enhancing relations between Asia and Europe at all levels, a move which is deemed necessary to achieve a more balanced political, economic, and cultural world.

Now at the beginning of a new millennium there seems to be all the more reason to deepen this process because the US is downscaling its involvement world-wide. In Europe we are seeing a host of new developments emerging. The monetary Union has finally been established after many years of debate. Unfortunately a political union which would make the EU more resolute still seems far away, although there is a continuous political consultation on foreign policy between the most important countries in Europe. In the field of security a European Rapid Deployment Force is in the making. Additionally, some people do not realize that Europe is also a nuclear power. In the field of education the Declaration of Bologna will go a long way towards the uniformization of the curricula of higher education by the year 2010. The development of an accreditation system for higher education is an unequivocal sign that Europe is striving towards integration. The Convention of Nice which gave the official go-ahead to the further expansion of the EU is creating its own dynamism. In Asia there have also been numerous initiatives towards achieving a further integration.

This book, Asian-European Perspectives: Developing the ASEM Process, is a sequel to the book which we edited two years ago: ASEM A Window of Opportunity (London 1999). In that volume we took a look at the politicians' view of ASEM, the possibilities to improve mutual contact between Asia and Europe simultaneously trying to delineate the challenges and problem areas and hence map out the future of ASEM. In this volume the contributors will try to answer questions of a more practical nature or present views on the process, such as: the ideas the ASEM Vision Group has developed. How can the ASEM potential be realized? How can we create an usable ASEM vocabulary? How can we create a Eurasian Research culture? The answers I these questions are of paramount importance to the continuation of the process.

The contributions to this book are written by Asian and European academics, politicians, and businessmen. Most of them have been involved in ASEM from its inception and freely support the necessity of the process. This does not mean that they are not critical. On the contrary, many express strong doubts about the feasibility and durability of the ASEM process, but at the same time are conscious of the fact that without it the world will be a far less stable place in which to live. We, and all the contributors too, are involved in thcASEM process because we are convinced that if it had not been invented, it should have been invented. It is timely because the `triangular world, - of which we saw the glimmerings a couple of years ago - is fast growing into a reality which we have to grasp before it is too late.


The first three contributions to this volume are written by persons closely connected with the ASEM Vision Group which drew up a report entitled, For a Better Tomorrow. Asia-Europe Partnership in the 21" Century which can be considered the guidebook to ASEM for the next twenty-five years. Niels Helvig Petersen, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, a country which will host ASEM in 2002, in his article `ASEM: Realising the Potential for the Next Millennium' strikes a positive note, although he is not blind to the shortcomings of the ASEM process. He is of the opinion that ASEM should serve as a facilitator and a bridge builder in creating a deeper understanding between Europe and Asia concerning some of the key issues which are on the global agenda. Therefore ASEM should gradually integrate Asia and Europe into an area of peace and shared development. In that context both regions should broaden their concepts of security and build regionally based crisis management capabilities. This broadening clearly anticipates a partial US military withdrawal from both the Asian and European theatres.
The title of the article by John Boyd, `Being Serious about Asia', sounds like an overt warning to all Europeans who have not yet grasped the importance of Asia for Europe. He openly warns the countries of Europe that they cannot afford to ignore Asia whatever `distractions' such as the enlargement of the EU or the introduction of the Euro there might be. At the same time he calls upon individuals to boost the process. Being a man with a wealth of Asia experience, Boyd knows that long-term personal relationships will not only give more substance and flavour to the process, but at the same time they will bolster the institutional framework of ASEM. In his argumentation, he pleads for the reinforcement of cultural contact and more transparency through the establishment of an international degree accreditation system and he favours benchmarking between the two regions. He thinks that this will serve to shed more light on testing systems and will also result in the use of `best practices'. This could be one of the most promising outcomes of the ASEM process as a whole.

Robert S. Arendal who is a declared representative of the business community and a member of the Vision Group voices the private sectors' point of view most clearly. In his article, which bears the same title as the Vision Groups' report, he makes a strong plea for a multilateral trading system, a free flow of goods by 2025, and such meaningful initiatives as the Asia-Europe Trade Week. He is convinced that the ASEM process has to move beyond government circles and therefore needs strong inputs by businessmen and academics. Whereas in the beginning the ASEM process was first and foremost seen by politicians as a way to increase and develop economic co-operation, Arendal expresses some disappointment at the meager concrete results which have been achieved in this domain so far.


In his article `Resolving the Paradox' Anthony Murphy points out the paradox underlying the relationship between the private sector and the government in the ASEM process. Some see this relationship as its greatest strength while others conceive of it as its most serious weakness. The paradox should be resolved otherwise ASEM, as a process in which the private sector has an active role, will lose its credibility. Among the reasons ASEM might have to cede this credibility in the eyes of the business community is the lack of such crucial factors as focus, engagement, continuity, and feedback. Quick results serve to get by on but they rarely endure or have a long-lasting impact. Therefore, ASEM business forums should learn from other similar forums such as the Transatlantic Business Dialogues (TABD) and the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC) in order to increase their own bargaining power.

In his contribution `The ASEM Process: New Rules for Engagement in a Global Environment' Leo Schmit takes a bird's eye view on the sociological and historical development of the process during the first five years of its existence. He refers to Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong of Singapore, who stated that there are three stages the ASEM process will have to go through before it reaches a mature status: getting to know each other, constructive dialogue, and consensus-based policy making. Schmit feels that we have moved into the second stage. He sees a clear role for Europe in Asia when it comes down to balancing US influence in the area, which would set the stage for a more stable world. In view of the fact that the EU is the biggest lender to and investor in Asia, the Euro has the potential to become more widely used in international transactions and may help to prevent a defacto inclusion of Asian countries in the Dollar zone. The EU has other important advantages over the US as it has a more highly developed capacity for intergovernmental co-operation and for the building up of regional institutes across natural borders, which are highly relevant to Asia where regional diversity is also a matter of course. In his article `Does ASEM function as a transregional Forum?',

Jürgen Rüland gives us the global setting of the ASEM process and the way he perceives its development. Whereas after World War II he identifies the foundation of global organisations such the UN, in the fifties these seemed to give way to regional organizations such as the EU, which were primarily established to create an own identity. However, these lost weight again in the sixties and seventies. At the end of the eighties they again began to gain strength. Rüland labels this second wave the open regionalism in which is the regional organizations become complementary to the global organizations. Regional co-operation is now a chance for building up more bargaining power in international forums.

As a transregional forum ASEM could assume an intermediary role between the regional and the global policy levels, but to do this ASEM must become more result-oriented. In turn this would require the institutionalization of ASEM as an organization. Rüland argues that the Europe-Asia identity building has already gone much further at an informal level than at a governmental level. He is specifically referring to the work done by NGOs on sensitive issues which have not been tackled at the governmental level such as human rights, democracy, and child labour. This remark gives the next contribution of Kiyoko Ikegami an extra dimension.


In her contribution `Legal Status of Non-Profit Organizations in Japan' Ikegami gives an insightful example of Japanese lawmaking while at the same time demonstrating how the meaning of a concept such as NGO can differ completely from one context to the other. Ikegami zooms in on the increasingly important role NGOs play in present-day Japan. She refers to the earthquake in Kobe in 1995 where volunteers rushed in to do the job the paralysed government bureaucracy was incapable of undertaking. Thus the NGOs were clearly pushed into the public realm because the government could not produce an effective response. The upshot was the emergence of a debate on the position of NGOs, organizations which up to that point in time had had a very feeble legal basis and therefore were hampered in their development. Ikegami states that it was the first time the citizens won a role in political decision making. The NPO Act was passed in 1998 as a consequence of negotiations between the citizens' organizations and the legislature. She sees this as a positive development which carries the potential of giving an increased Japanese grassroots level input to ASEM. The present-day Japanese NGOs are now more readily comparable to their ASEM counterparts or branches in Europe

. In his contribution `How to Facilitate Integration of Developing Nations into the ASEM Process', Ngyuen Son views ASEM primarily as a cooperation based on mutual benefits with preferential policies from developed countries to support resource-development programmes in the developing countries. These countries in turn are doing their utmost to abolish any obstacles which stand in the way of a multilateral trade system and a free flow of capital, goods, and services. Despite this positive note, he sounds a warning stating that trade-development thinking should move beyond ideas of pure trade growth to include the enhanced participation of all nations in international trade, the reduction of the inequality between rich and poor nations, and an improved quality of life for all. He hopes that these high-set goals can be achieved by the improvement of technological and scientific co-operation. Daljit Singh addresses another increasingly important topic in his article `Europe and Asia: Promoting Security and Political Co-operation'. He makes a plea for more European involvement in Asia, because he considers Europe (after two world wars) in contrast to Asia to provide a relatively peaceful environment. The investments in security should be brought more in balance with the major European investments in the Asian economy. Europe should strive primarily to transfer its knowledge and experience in the fields of preventive diplomacy, confidence building, and peace keeping. This would be specifically useful in potential, or actual, areas of conflict in Asia such as the South China Sea, the Taiwan Straits, and the Korean Peninsula. Singh believes the Asians would welcome this because at this point in history Europe does not have any interest in dominating any part of Asia. Europe could also be of assistance in facilitating the rise of China as a peaceful player in the global area.

In her contribution, `ASEM: Time for an Overhaul', Nuria Ofken tries to find an answer to the question of what has been achieved by ASEM. And to that of what direction it should take. She examines the main components of ASEM, political dialogue, economic co-operation, and cultural exchange to find out whether progress has been made in these fields in fostering a closer relationship between the two regions, something she considers to be the fundamental goal of the process. In the fields of political dialogue and economic co-operation she sees little progress being made and quotes the failed attempts to advance customs' co-operation and investment facilitation, and that no common position could be arrived at on the necessary reform of the UN, as examples. She is more optimistic about cultural rapprochement between the two regions pointing out the activities of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF). Notwithstanding small successes in the field of cultural exchange she pleads for a clear-cut ASEM agenda because only in this manner will ASEM fulfil its objective of initiating and sustaining collective learning processes, and thereby contributing to mutual understanding between the two regions.

In their contribution, `The Need for an ASEM Research Platform', Sabine Kuypers and Wim Stokhof give high priority to education and research. Although treated in an off-hand manner over the past few years, they could now re-emerge as prime favourites because of the slow progress made in developing the economic, political, and security pillars of ASEM. Many contributors to this book are inclined to adopt the point of view that deepening the relationship and solidifying the foundation of the process are essential but remain largely unknown, because the results are not immediately visible. Given that politicians are very result-oriented, academics should play a more important role in the process in order to make it more balanced. Petersen underlines this point of view by pleading for the setting up of a focal point to facilitate twinning arrangements and other forms of institutional co-operation between universities and technical colleges in Asia and Europe. Could this be the ASEM Research Platform Kuypers and Stokhof are pleading for? ASEM is not only about the exchange of elements of civilizations, but also about the creation of a new civilization: the Eurasian which will co-exist alongside other great civilizations.

In the last contribution to this volume by César de Prado Yepes, entitled `Towards a Virtual ASEM: From Information to Knowledge', the author accentuates the role new technology can play in boosting the ASEM process. He quotes President Kim Dae-Jung of Korea who made a strong plea for a Trans-Eurasian e-Network. This Network would not come as a bolt from the blue sky because there is an intensive co-operation between Asian and European multinationals in developing standards for GSM and UMTS. Although English is the language used most on the Internet, joint Asian and European efforts have paved the way for a multilingual Internet by developing software for characters. De Prado Yepes hopes that the Asian-Europe co-operation in the electronic field will stimulate the creation of virtual cultural and educational spaces even more. He is also aware that the convergence of existing structures at university and research level will be greatly enhanced by benchmarking and the development of an accreditation system which will create the critical mass the ASEM needs in order to achieve its goals.


One could arrive at the conclusion that ASEM has lost its momentum. But appearances deceive. Because the process was first and foremost perceived as a way to increase economic co-operation, the `Asian crisis' of 1998 intruded itself as an annoying spoil-sport. At a political level ASEM has not yet been able to formulate real common views leaving aside more rhetorical agreement on such hot issues as sexual abuse and so forth. Security has played a very limited role in the process but has become somewhat more important now that the US is scaling down its world-wide operations. In the meantime the cultural pillar, which received least attention from the politicians, has done what it could with the meagre funds allocated to it. The foundation of ASEF gave the cultural co-operation an institutional basis from which to operate and produce results which it did.

Therefore the majority of the contributors to this book, who represent all the layers of the process come more or less to the conclusion that for the time being culture is the way ahead for ASEM. Thanks to the activities of ASEF and other informal initiatives, for instance at NGO level, great progress in lasting cooperation has been made, not least because these organizations made it possible to deal with sensitive issues which lie at the heart of ASEM such as labour relations and human rights. These have to be solved first before many other aspects of ASEM can be treated in a meaningful manner. The vast majority of the populations of the Asian and European countries are not aware of the process as such and therefore they are also ignorant of the importance of the intensification of the Eurasian relationship. This low degree of popular participation is reflected in the virtual absence of interest shown in ASEM by the press. When Number 3 was held in Seoul, the main newspapers passed over it in virtual silence.

In our previous volume we remarked that ASEM should be for the people or it would not survive. We abide by this remark and propose that alongside the intensification of exchange programmes for students, high-school pupils, popular sitcoms with a mixed Eurasian cast addressing problems of day to day life in both areas should also be developed. These would contribute enormously to the sensitization of the populations of the ASEM countries. Europeans could come to the conclusion that the Asianization of Europe has advanced much further than they could ever have imagined, while Asians could see the Europeanization in a completely different perspective. If we are talking about the exchange of elements of civilizations, we should open ourselves to it. Asian-European Perspectives are everywhere. One only has to develop one's senses to see, hear, feel, and enjoy them. ASEM 4 in Copenhagen should become synonymous with the mobilization of the EURASIAN senses!

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