Tuesday, October 21, 2008

EU looks forward to taming Asian giants at ASEM Beijing Summit

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the current holder of rotating EU Presidency on Tuesday (October 21) announced his intentions to bring China and India to the international negotiating table slated for next month to streamline global financial reforms aimed at international financial institutions including International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Addressing the Plenary Session of the European Parliament at its Strasbourg seat, Sarkozy said, “With (European Commission) President (Jose Manuel) Barroso, we are going to visit China, the aim being also to convince China and India to take part in this summit.”

Reiterating, “This is a global crisis so the response can only be global,’’ the EU Council President asked, “Who will take part in this summit?”

“There are a lot of different schools. I believe the most straightforward thing would be the G8, obviously with Russia. We need to add the G5 to that, obviously with China and India,’’ Sarkozy said answering his own question.

Beijing is hosting the 7th ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) on October 24-25 and with the formal acceptance of six new members, Bulgaria, India, Mongolia, Pakistan, Romania and the ASEAN (Association of the Southeast Asian Nations) Secretariat, the gathering is set to swell the membership to 45.

According to political pundits, with the presence of Asian economic heavy weights China and India along with arch-rivals Pakistan and India, the Summit will be more a testing ground for the new arrivals with agenda being overshadowed by ongoing global financial events.

Yeo Lay Hwee, senior research fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Relations and Associate Director of the EU Centre in Singapore warned, “we must not expect too much or we will be disappointed,” as ASEM is “not a venue for negotiations,” but “an ideal platform for testing new and evolving ideas.”

Addressing a select gathering of diplomats, academics and journalists at an event titled, “Injecting new momentum into ASEM, an uphill struggle?” organised by Brussels based think-tank “European Policy Centre,” (EPC) on Monday (October 20), Lay Hwee pointed that there was no doubt that China will deliver “a superbly organised and executed meeting.”

Quoting the theme of the Summit, “Vision and Action --Towards a Win-Win Solution,” she said, “Taking ASEM for what it is, an informal dialogue form, one should be realistic and not expect anything beyond a talk fest, the outcome of which will be more declarations noting the challenges ahead and stating common positions on some of the issues.”

Going down the memory lane, Lay Hwee said, “Ten years ago, the EU agreed to help (Asian) member states affected by the Asian financial crisis and today we have another financial crisis.” Citing, “crisis brings opportunity,” she added, “ASEM, not to look irrelevant, must make an impact.”

“We expect to consolidate progress made at the Helsinki (Summit) in 2006,” hoped Geoffrey Barret, senior advisor for Asia at the European Commission. Addressing the audience Barret said, “ASEM is based entirely on political will,” and outlined four building blocks of the ASEM platform:

Climate negotiations, Development co-operation on Millienuium Development Goals, Labour employment and social cohesion, Human rights.


On the question of Burma, Lay Hwee said, “the EU changed attitude saying better to engage than to leave them alone.”

Professor Xing Hua, senior researcher and director, Centre for EU studies, CIIS, added, “If we are patient and skillful, we can help Burma to seek solutions to their internal problems.”

No speaker on the panel responded to the question of participation of North Korea in ASEM as China, the mentor of North Korea was holding the Summit.


Moreover, Barret said he expected another declaration on international financial development adding that ASEM 7 will be the largest event ever hosted by the Chinese after the Olympic games representing 60 percent of the world population and 60 percent of global trade.

Founded in 1996, with 27 members, ASEM is going to be 45 members strong at Beijing and is looked at as the main multilateral channel for communication between Asia and Europe and six summits have taken place till date.

According to figures released on Monday (October 20) by the European Union’s statistics bureau Eurostat, the EU exports between 2000 and 2007, to the 16 Asian countries in ASEM rose from 146 billion Euro to 228 billion, while imports increased from 285 billion to 459 billion Euro.

The Asian countries accounted for more than a quarter of the EU's total external trade in goods in 2007. However, their trade with EU showed very different patterns between 2000 and 2007.

Among the 16 Asian countries, China was not only the leading destination for EU exports in 2007, accounting for 31 percent of the total, but also the leading source of EU imports, according to Eurostat.

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