Cooperation between Asia and Europe is becoming increasingly important, making the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) more relevant than ever before.
That was the consensus of panellists at an event held by Friends of Europe in cooperation with the European External Action Service (EEAS), as ASEM Senior Officials met in Brussels on 21 June to discuss ways to boost connectivity between Europe and Asia.
Three major trends are accelerating cooperation between the two continents. First, the European Union has becoming increasingly united following the geopolitical uncertainties triggered by the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States and Britain’s decision to leave the EU.
Second, China is boosting its economic diplomacy with projects such as the Belt and Road initiative to boost trade between Europe and Asia. Less noticed is India’s more-active foreign policy, which is emerging from an isolationist tradition on the back of strong economic growth.
“For the first time in centuries Europe and Asia are re-emerging as the most dynamic areas in the world,” said Haroon Sheikh, author of ‘The Rise of the East: a Look at the New World Order’. “Does that mean more prospects for Europe-Asia cooperation? Yes, it does.”
Economic ties are the engine of the new mood between Asia and Europe. “Air transport is a good indicator of the trade that is going on,” said Patrick Jeanne, Senior Manager for Government Relations & Traffic Rights at Cargolux Airlines. “If you look at the traffic lanes between continents, the Asia-Europe lane is largest worldwide.”
ASEM is considered valuable as a forum for relatively informal talks. The 53 partners comprise 30 European and 21 Asian countries, as well as the European Union and the ASEAN Secretariat. More than trade or hard security, officials at ASEM events tend to discuss political, economic, social, cultural, and educational issues.
“Our leaders like to go to these meetings because ASEM is not a straightjacket,” said Gunnar Wiegand, Managing Director for Asia and Pacific at the European External Action Service (EEAS). “They are not taking binding decisions, so they can talk to each other freely. The possibilities for free exchange outside formal meetings is also important, and might become more important. The most popular meetings are the informal ones.”
However, there were also calls for the meeting to generate concrete results. “There have been many activities under the ASEM umbrella, but the momentum seems to have slowed,” said Ambassador Xie Bohua, ASEM Senior Official from China. “The development of the international situation since last year means that the importance of ASEM has increased. There is a pressing need for ASEM to renew itself and focus on relevance. We should focus on where ASEM can make a strategic difference.”
Interest in the meeting has risen as connectivity becomes one of its central themes, and because of the recent threats to the liberal world order, said Bart Gaens, Senior Research Fellow at the Finnish Institute of International Affairs (FIIA). “The forum and working methods are valuable and should be valued,” he said. “I am optimistic about the future of ASEM for the first time.”
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Video from ASEM Senior Officials' Meeting
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