International Relations, Diplomacy and Governance Briefs:

No. 2, April 2001: ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) Beyond 2001

by R. James Ferguson
Description: 

The Asia-Europe Meeting is a partly institutionalised dialogue process focused around major meetings the occur every two years, supplemented by more specialised meetings of ministers and committees. Comprising the 15 states of the European Union, the European Commission and 10 East Asian nations, the ASEM can be viewed either as a multilateral process or as a loose trans-regional process that engages Europe and much of East Asia. (1) 

It is a dialogue and consensual organisation, with special concern given to the interests of the European and Asian regional groupings within the organisation. It has aimed to boost economic, political, security and cultural understanding between Asia and Europe.

Background: The ASEM meeting grew out of complex diplomacy among several states from 1989-1994 which tried to focus on the rich opportunities of greater connectivity between Asia and Europe once the Cold War had ended. The meeting could also be seen as a hedge against growing U.S. unilateralism and economic power,(2) as well as a recognition of the great importance in global trade of the Asia-Pacific region. Partly hindered by limited discourse on human rights, by limited membership, and by the downturn in some Asian economies following the 1997 financial crisis, ASEM managed to reinvigorate itself through the 2000 meeting in Seoul, moving towards the more robust Asia-Europe Co-operation Framework (AECF) 2000. The organisation has moved to encourage investment, boost trade, enhance cultural and educational understandings, as well as begin dialogue on security and human rights issues.
Current Members:

* 15 Members of the EU (prior to expansion)
* The European Commission
* Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam, (ASEAN 1996 states, but not more recent members), 
* China, South Korea, Japan

Prospective Future Members:

Expansion will need to be considered (1) after 2002, especially in relation to:
* Prospect of new EU members joining ASEM dialogue.
* Prospect of recent ASEAN members Cambodia and Laos joining ASEM, and most problematically, of possible Burma (Myanmar) membership.
* Requests from states in involved more widely in Asian and European process including: -

- Australia
- New Zealand
- India
- Pakistan
- Turkey
Key Meetings and Institutions:

ASEM Meeting of Leaders: 1996 (Bangkok) 1998 (London), 2000 (Seoul), 2002 (Copenhagen)

ASEM Meeting of Foreign Ministers

Asia-Europe Business Forum

Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF)

Asia-Europe University Program

Asia-Europe Environmental Technology Centre (AEETC)

Parallel Processes:

ASEAN-EU Dialogue,  suspended after 1997due to expansion of ASEAN to include Myanmar (Burma), but trade negotiations through 2000-2001 between Myanmar and the EU, and Myanmar's recent UN human rights dialogue may changes this.

Key Bilateral Dialogues and business relations between Asian and European nations including:

- China-EU official dialogue
- Germany-Singapore business relations
-France-China business relations
-Germany-China business relations
- NATO-Japan Security Conferences
- Japan-EU business relations
Major Problems and Challenges:
- The problem of selective but balanced expansion
- The need to develop a coherent agenda of programs
- The need for follow up and accountability in initiatives
- Balancing US engagement in foreign policy of East Asian and Europe Union (14)
- Concrete progress in human rights due to ASEM processes
- Increased European direct investment in East Asia
- Need to engage Russia and 'Greater Central Asia' to develop a true trans-regional impact for ASEM
- Need to move beyond government and elite participation to engage international civil society and selected INGOs (international non-government organisations)


Footnotes:

 1. HWEE, Yeo Lay " ASEM: Looking Back, Looking Forward", Contemporary Southeast Asia, 22 no. 1, (April 2000), pp113-144; FERGUSON, R. James “Shaping New Relationships: Asia, Europe and the New Trilateralism”, International Politics, 4, (January 1998), pp1-21.
 2. HWEE 2000.
 3. For details see the ASEM2 Agenda (the 1998 Asia-Europe Meeting) will be found at http://asem2.fco.gov.uk/
 4."EU/Asia: ASEM Ministers Tackle Currency Fluctuations", European Report, Jan 16, (1999). 
 5. DENT, Christopher The European Union and East Asia: An Economic Relationship, London, Routledge, (1999), pp257-258.
 6. "European Report: EU/Asia: Euro is Hot Topic at ASEM Finance Ministers Meeting", European Report, Brussels, (13 January, 2001).
7. See DENT, Christopher M. "The ASEM: Managing the New Framework of the EU's Economic Relations with East Asia", Pacific Affairs, 70 no. 4, (Winter 1997), pp495-416 and HWEE, Yeo Lay " ASEM: Looking Back, Looking Forward", Contemporary Southeast Asia, 22 no. 1, (April 2000), pp113-144.
8. "European Report: EU/Asia: ASEM Leaders Launch 16 Joint Projects", European Report, 21 (October, 2000).
 9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. YOO, S.J. "ASEM III Emerges as Global Group", Business Korea, 17 no. 11, (November 2000), pp32-33.
 12. "EU Looks to ASEM to Strengthen Asia Ties", Asia Today, 18 no. 7, (December 2000), p9.
 13. YOO 2000.
14. BERGSTEN, C. Fred "America's Two-Front Economic Conflict", Foreign Affairs, 80 no. 2, March/April 2001, pp16-27 
 

Analysis 

Improving Diplomacy 1998-2001:

The ASEM2 meeting, held in London in April 1998, continued with all the courtesy and fireworks of the first meeting, with most agendas proposed in 1996 being followed through. Efforts were made to deepen the engagement of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) between the two regions, efforts to boost infrastructure investment in Asia, the setting up of an Asia-Europe Vision Group to guide ASEM into the next century, and deepening cooperation on drug control, environmental problems, and technological cooperation. (3) 

However, one of the disappointments for some of the Asian delegates was the inability, or unwillingness, of the European delegates to provide for extra direct aid for economies which had been severely battered in the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, particularly Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea. Most EU delegations referred these efforts to existing organisations including the IMF and World Bank. This problem would only begin to be seriously addressed in meetings of ASEM finance ministers in January 1999, though efforts to support some sort of financial control mechanism have not reached fruition.(4)  China, in particular, still hoped that the dialogue with Europe could help transfer technology and develop cooperation to form a more stable world economy. 

In general, the Asia-Europe relationship is a pivotal inter-regional relationship. As noted by Christopher Dent: -

If one particular point has been stressed . . . it is that the EU-East Asia economic relationship has become one of the most important structural features of the world economy. While this relationship remains the weakest Triadic link, . . . the continued expansion of the EU-East Asia economic ties is to be anticipated. Powers from both regions should also be expected to undertake more definitive responsibilities in shaping the new economic order of the twenty-first century. Thus, the future evolution of the EU-East Asian economic relations has important regional and global significance.   (5)
If anything, Europe will be more important to the Asian economies with the development of the unified European currency, the Euro, which the EU hopes will become a major investment currency. Through early 2001, Europe promoted the Euro as a worthwhile investment currency, as well as suggesting ways that Asian nations could benefit from European experience in 'currency pegs' and exchange rate systems to strengthen their own currencies. (6) These issues indicate that the ASEM process, though having useful initiatives, is far from routine or effortless. (7)

The 2000 ASEM meeting focused on a number of issues designed to revitalise the ASEM process in practical undertakings: 

The 26 leaders attending the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Seoul were poised on 21 October to agree no fewer than 16 joint co- operation projects to bond the two regions together. Officials said the plans - which were expected to be rubber stamped at the end of the two-day Summit - were designed to give ASEM a 'human face' by raising the level of educational, cultural and intellectual exchanges. They were contained in the Asia-Europe Co-operation Framework (AECF) 2000, or the ASEM charter, . . . a key document outlining the course of ASEM for the coming ten years, which includes various co-operative projects and guidelines for new admissions. Officials also said that the first day of talks produced none of the anticipated rows between Asian and European leaders - even when they debated sensitive issues like trade policy and human rights . . . (8)
ASEM III, as the 2000 meeting is known, focused on the theme of 'Partnership for Prosperity and Stability', and contained several key initiatives: (9)  -
  • It worked on a draft Asia-Europe Co-operation Framework (AECF) 2000, updating the earlier ASEM frameworks.
  • Placed a new emphasis on democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
  • The Asia-Europe Co-operation Framework guidelines will become the basis for accepting new members into ASEM, including the need of backing from regional neighbours for new members (with up to 20 countries, including Turkey and Australia, having shown interest in joining).
  •  Continued dialogue on 'transnational crime like smuggling, 'human trafficking', and the illegal arms and drugs trades' and ' high-tech sectors like agro-technology, e-commerce, transport, energy and environmental engineering.' (10) 
  • The Seoul Declaration for Peace on the Korean Peninsula which outlines four initiatives: '1) the importance of peace and stability in North East Asia, 2) support towards North-South relations, 3) pro-active support by ASEM and 4) support for Korea Energy Development Organization.' (11) 
It also seems that this process will further the current EU 'alliance with Japan and South Korea over agriculture concessions - to resist the pressure of the US and Cairns Group to remove all export subsidies and other production support for agriculture' (12)  In general, the emerging Europe-Asia dialogue seems to have been revived through 2000-2001. In 2002, the fourth ASEM will be held in Copenhagen, Denmark, and it is expected that there will be a return to intense debate over progress in human rights,  as well as in monitoring the major projects launched in 2000. Whether the ASEM process, however, can be part of balanced trilateral system of global burden sharing that can positively engage Russia and Greater Central Asia remains to be seen. In part, this will depend on whether new members can be effectively drawn into the ASEM process.
 
Websites and Key Documents:
 
 

Outlines of the ASEM II Agenda (the 1998 Asia-Europe Meeting) 
will be found at
http://asem2.fco.gov.uk/
 

Documents from the ASEM III Meeting, including key declarations, 
will be found at
http://www.europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/
asem/asem_summits/asem3.htm

This website includes key documents:

  • Chairman's Statement 21/10/00 
  • Seoul Declaration for Peace on the Korean Peninsula 
  • The Asia-Europe Cooperation Framework (AECF) 2000 
  • EC's Priorities for the ASEM III Summit and Beyond 
  • The EU and Asia in the New Millennium - Speech by C. Patten 


The English language version of the Korean Website for the ASEM 3 meeting will be found at
http://asem3.org/english/index01.htm

 
 

Select Bibliography:

BERGSTEN, C. Fred "America's Two-Front Economic Conflict", Foreign Affairs, 80 no. 2, (March/April 2001), pp16-27
DENT, Christopher M. "The ASEM: Managing the New Framework of the EU's Economic Relations with East Asia", Pacific Affairs, 70 no. 4, (Winter 1997), pp495-416
DENT, Christopher The European Union and East Asia: An Economic Relationship, London, Routledge, (1999)
FERGUSON, R. James “Shaping New Relationships: Asia, Europe and the New Trilateralism”, International Politics, 4, (January 1998), pp1-21
GODEMENT, Francois "Europe and Asia: the Missing Link", in Asia's International Role in the Post-Cold War Era, Part II, Adelphi Paper 276, (1993), pp94-103
HWEE, Yeo Lay " ASEM: Looking Back, Looking Forward", Contemporary Southeast Asia, 22 no. 1, (April 2000), pp113-144
NGOO, Irene “Europe Committed to Following Up on ASEM Initiatives”, Straits Times Interactive, (July 25, 1996a)
NISHIHARA, Masashi "European Security in a Wider World", in Conference Papers: European Security After the Cold War, Part II, Adelphi Paper 285, (1994), pp60-71
SHIN, Dong-Ik & SEGAL, Gerald “Getting Serious About Asia-Europe Security Cooperation”, Survival, 39 no. 1, (Spring 1977), pp138-155
SHAMBAUGH, David China and Europe 1949-1995, London, Contemporary China Institute, (1996)
TAKAHASHI, Fumiaki "What Role for Europe in Asian Affairs?", in Asia's International Role in the Post-Cold War Era, Part II, Adelphi Paper 276, (1993), pp104-115
YAHUDA, Michael B. "China and Europe: The Significance of a Secondary Relationship", in ROBINSON, Thomas W. & SHAMBAUGH, David (ed.) Chinese Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice, Oxford, Clarendon Press, (1994), pp266-282
YOO, S.J. "ASEM III Emerges as Global Group", Business Korea, 17 no. 11, (November 2000), pp32-33
 

Copyright: R. James Ferguson 2001