Asia-Europe Relations: The Roles of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) and the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) |

Asia-Europe Relations: The Roles of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) and the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF)

Amb. Zhang called the past 17 years “an endurance in the test of times” for the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). Formed in 1996, he called it a watershed moment that “reflects a strong collective will between the two regions for cooperation and prosperity”. Amb. Zhang noted its growth in depth and breadth in a talk sharing his reflections on the roles of ASEM and ASEF.

ASEM covers a substantial section of the world: 60% of the world’s population, 52% of the world’s GDP, and 68% of global trade. He reminded the audience that the interregional forum represents a new chapter in Asia-Europe relations by going beyond tradition bilateral formats.

In 2012, its newest members, Bangladesh, Norway, and Switzerland, joined countries from the European Union (EU), the European Commission, and the 10 members of the ASEAN Secretariat, China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea, India, Mongolia, and Pakistan, Australia, Russia, and New Zealand. ASEM now consists of 51 members, after four rounds of enlargement.

ASEM’s main components rest on political, economic, and social, cultural and educational pillars. In 1997, it formed the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF). Based in Singapore, the non-profit organization is ASEM’s only permanently established institution. It supplements the ASEM process by serving as a conduit for knowledge and good practices between the two regions.

Critics, challenges, and ASEM/ASEF’s future

Amb. Zhang singled out ASEM’s “lack of concrete deliverables”, which opens ASEF to criticism of remaining a process without substance. ASEM was conceived to fulfill the missing link in global triangle between Asia, Europe, and America. He pointed out that globalization and greater polarization has intensified its importance. Mutual peace and development is “a noble objective”, and Amb. Zhang believes greater trust, understanding, and confidence does represent a substantial qualitative difference compared to 17 years ago.” He cites the layers of complexity in the European rebalancing and Asia emerging post-financial crisis.

However, Amb. Zhang cites ASEM’s growing membership as an indication of its longstanding vitality. He cautioned not to lose sight of its strategic potentials, as ASEM remains useful in facilitating engagement between Asian and Europe countries on hot-button issues. Moreover, over 600 projects in ASEM have been implemented. These include the Informal ASEM Seminar on Human Rights, the Asia-Europe Environment Forum, the ASEM Education Hub, the ASEF Public Health Network, Culture360.org and the ASEM InfoBoard, which are all directly linked to the ASEM process.

While the Asian-Europe partnership still remains the weakest partnership in the global triangle of strategic relationship, ASEM has the power to translate political will into concrete politic, economic and socio-cultural cooperation. Amb. Zhang underlined that both major powers need ASEM, and require a long term perspective. He named the ASEM Symposium held on April 2012, in Yangzhou, China as a strong attempt at assessing and rebalancing the development of the three pillars.

ASEF’s unique challenges

He pointed out three main challenges to ASEF in its supportive role. First, to augment its value to ASEM, its involvement in political processes needs to be improved. Furthermore, current projects need to address specific ASEM members’ concerns, and align its work with the ASEM framework. In return, he recommends a sense of ownership by ASEM members for ASEF as a convenient instrument. Finally, ASEF needs to build a sustainable financial basis, which ASEM has a moral obligation to ensure.

In the question-and-answer session, Prof. Tommy Koh, former ambassador to the UN, commented if the two regions are able to learn on environmental challenges, such as the decade-long Doha Development Round, or closer to domestic scene, immigration and healthcare challenges. He noted the dilemma that ASEM needed “to be close to, but not subordinate to” ASEF. There is a need to maintain relevance to ASEF, while being accountable to its own board of governors.

Amb. Zhang said that while ASEM has less influence compared to ASEAN, but due to reasons such as less frequent meetings, and nature of ASEF “as process, rather than a negotiation body”. He said ASEF thus serves as a unique network that connects the people in these countries in dialogues and exchanges. These bolster positive impressions, facilitating interactions in civil society. Amb. Zhang also called it a vital tool in building a solid opinion base; its dissemination of knowledge reinforces visibility and impact of ASEM plans.


On 17 June 2013, the LKY School hosted Amb. Zhang Yan, Executive Director of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), in an evening talk on “Asia-Europe Relations: The Roles of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) and the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF)”. He is the 6th Executive Director of ASEF, and a veteran diplomat, with experience spanning over 30 years, serving in many countries including Liberia, Switzerland, the United States, Singapore, Austria and India. He has closely worked with the United Nations dealing with the Security Council, as well as Disarmament and Arms Control.

The talk was chaired by Kanti Bajpai, Professor and Vice-Dean (Research) at the LKY School. Both Amb. Zhang and Prof. Bajpai thanked Michael Matthiessen for his instrumental role on behalf of Europe and Asia relations. He is a senior official from the European External Action Service (EEAS), and the LKY School’s EU Visiting Fellow for 2012-2013.


is Editor for Global-is-Asian, the quarterly magazine of the LKY School.

 

Synopsis:

The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), consisting of 51 members, encompasses almost 60% of the world’s population, 52% of the world’s GDP, and 68% of global trade. Established in 1996 to play a balancing role in a multi-polar world and to serve as a forum for dialogue, ASEM has opened a new chapter in Asia-Europe relations by going beyond the traditional bilateral formats. Given the size and continuing expansion of ASEM, expectations towards the ASEM partners have increased over the years to move more from bi-regional dialogue to bi-regional cooperation, from fostering mutual understanding towards the articulation of mutual interests. At the same time, it is the neutrality and flexibility of the ASEM process to address transversal and multilateral concerns that is needed for improved multi-sectoral or international coordination. The Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) is ASEM’s only permanently established institution. Since its inception in 1997, ASEF has been supplementing the ASEM process by serving as a conduit for knowledge and good practices between the two regions. Ambassador ZHANG Yan will speak about the unique role, achievements but also challenges of ASEF, an inter-governmental organisation which links the governmental process with the civil society in Asia and Europe and which is solely funded by voluntary contributions of the 51 ASEM members.

Please click here for more details.

Speaker(s):

Amb. Zhang Yan, Executive Director of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF)

Date:
Monday, 17 June 2013
Time:
5:15 p.m. - 6:30 p.m.
Venue:

Seminar Room 3-1, Manasseh Meyer, 469C Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 259772

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