The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Dialogue towards Understanding and Collaboration

National Day Special By Ambassador Gonchig Ganbold

ASEM’s principal areas of activities have been focused on political, economic and social, cultural and educational dimensions. It aimed at deepening understanding amongst Asian and European continents at every level, which is still being considered essential to achieve a more balanced political and economic world order. The process is enhanced by the biennial summits of Heads of State and Government, alternately in Asia and Europe and biennial meetings of Foreign and Finance Ministers as well as political, economic and socio-cultural events at various levels.

In the course of the past nearly 100 years, Mongolia has been marking her National Day – Naadam in July in which the audience is also a full-fledged participant. Throughout this sparsely populated vast land with a long and proud history, each of its 330 soum (administrative unit) centres turn into marvellous arenas for horse racing, wrestling and archery. Certainly, there are many other colourful events with blends of traditional and modern features from ankle bone-shooting to pageantry of beautifully trotting horses and open-air pop and rock concerts.

This year, Naadam will have not only a maximum number of wrestlers and other contenders but also a large contingent of foreign dignitaries to enjoy it as this vibrant democracy in North Eastern Asia – Mongolia – is hosting the 11th summit of the Asia European Meeting (ASEM) in mid July. About 51 states and 2 regional organisations are participating in the meeting.

The large family of Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Diplomatist readers might have heard that international community is stronger and wiser when and as we get together. Mongolian proverbs say no different, “Concurrence with all helps to be correct and washing with hot water helps to be clean” or “Magpies in unison are stronger than tigers wandering one by one.” Realities in life corroborate the wise proverbs stand true. Even so, many of us would agree that dialogue is always better than violent conflict. The dialogue that transcends the landscape of humanity such as Asia and Europe, leads to multifaceted and immeasurable benefits.

Asia is the largest and most populous continent, covers 30 percent of the earth land mass and has historically been cradle to the world’s modern civilizations. Europe is the world’s second smallest continent in terms of area but accommodates nearly 15 percent of its population, which gave rise to profound economic, cultural and social transformations.

The humankind had suffered in two devastating world wars and a decades-long Cold War that divided the whole world into adamantly contradicting blocks. However, this lingering division turned into reconciliation with the fall of the Berlin Wall and formation of the European Union. It is noteworthy that the first initiative was the First Asian relations conference, which was held in New Delhi, in March 1947, even prior to the proclamation of India’s independence.

Owing to the thaw in international relations a favourable prerequisite for understanding rather than animosity across the two continents of 5.2 billion inhabitants led to the birth of the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) on 1st March1996 at the first summit in Bangkok, Thailand. It was then the only venue to encourage understanding and enhancing relations at different levels. But it was not as big as today with only 15 members of the European Union (EU) and its Commission, and 7 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) participating in it. Throughout two decades of continuous dialogue, it has evolved into one of the major regional forums comprising 51 countries and two regional organizations such as the European Union and the ASEAN Secretariat.

ASEM’s principal areas of activities have been focused on political, economic and social, cultural and educational dimensions. It aimed at deepening understanding amongst Asian and European continents at every level, which is still being considered essential to achieve a more balanced political and economic world order. The process is enhanced by the biennial summits of Heads of State and Government, alternately in Asia and Europe and biennial meetings of Foreign and Finance Ministers as well as political, economic and socio-cultural events at various levels.

The year of 2016 when the 20th jubilee of ASEM is falling, Mongolia is committed to host its 11th summit, which was preceded by series of important events including Asia Europe Parliamentary Partnership Meeting (ASEP).

The ASEP Meeting held on 21 to 22 April, 2016 was an inseparable part of the overall Asia-Europe partnership process. It constituted as a forum for inter-parliamentary contacts, exchanges and diplomacy among elected legislative bodies, and to promote mutual understanding among the peoples and countries in Asia and Europe. ASEP meetings usually convened on a regular bi-annual basis alternately in Asia and in Europe before the ASEM Summit.

As said earlier, ASEM covers potentially every issue of common interest to Asia and Europe. It has provided a dialogue platform to address international matters such as United Nations reforms, weapons of mass destruction (WMD), terrorism, migration flows or WTO negotiations, or climate change. Asia and Europe have worked together for improving the international security environment. By and large, ASEM has become a conducive process for managing globalisation and its effects, for enhancing inter-regional and international business frameworks, and promoting the role of Europe in Asia. ASEM is also about diversity in terms of people and culture. It has served as a dialogue facilitator and helped increasing mutual understanding through people-to-people contacts.

In that context, ASEM should be construed as a dialogue mechanism as well as a delivery instrument. In fact, since no formal negotiations take place within ASEM, it is difficult to quantify the real contribution of ASEM on one or another particular issue. The delivery aspect of ASEM is not always visible as real developments may occur elsewhere in a more formal setting. It should be specified that high level delegations from India, led by Vice President of India Hamid Ansari to the 11th ASEM summit once again indicated the importance the Government of India attaches to these transcontinental forums.

ASEM is an opinion-making body. By promoting an open and inclusive dialogue, it has allowed its participants to develop and test new ideas for future policy-making. By creating a permanent process of consultation, ASEM has helped to streamline the international agenda. As a forum promoting an open and informal dialogue, ASEM provides an opportunity to work towards negotiated solutions, especially in areas of disagreement.

It provides additional consultation venues prior to formal negotiations take place at multilateral fora. Because ASEM remains an informal dialogue-based process, there is not a rigidly structured agenda. One specific institution, the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), has been created in response to summit decisions.

ASEM also creates opportunities for exchanging experiences and to share knowledge and facilitates some transfer of technology to Asian countries that have shown interest in the European regional integration developments. In the meantime, European partners can gain a better understanding of regional developments in Asia and the perspectives of Asia’s regional integration. ASEM also helps to build common view points on specific issues. In the wake of recent escalation of violent terrorist acts and territorial disputes as well as economic challenges in Asia and Europe, this feature might play a growing role in an enlarged ASEM, especially on trans-national and regional security issues, in particular for the fight against international terrorism, organised crime and migration.

ASEM was matured as a new process binding Asia and Europe, which complements existing Asia-Europe relations. This is not a substitute for other bilateral or multilateral fora between Asia and Europe, and it can best work to facilitate and stimulate progress in other forums. As a new layer of dialogue and cooperation, ASEM has enhanced synergies in Asia-Europe connectivity. ASEM has also served as catalyst for overall Asia-Europe relations and complements other levels of exchanges between the two regions.

Since, ASEM has helped Asia and Europe to have a more global vision of the two region’s partnership and still remains an informal dialogue-based process it would help to promote overall Asia-Europe relations on international and inter-regional issues of common interest. By bringing together diverse cultures, faiths and civilisation, ASEM, in general, and its upcoming summit to be held in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in particular would facilitate to foster common understanding and collaboration. What could be more of value than genuine understanding and effective collaboration today?

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.

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