The 12th ASEM Foreign Minister’s Meeting (ASEM FMM12) was held in Luxembourg, on 5-6 November 2015. It was attended by Foreign Ministers of 51 Asian and European countries, plus the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, and her homologue the ASEAN Secretary-General, Lê Lương Minh. Under the theme “Working Together for a Sustainable and Secure Future”, stakeholders discussed varied topics as climate change and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, some international and regional issues, the constructive and strategic importance of the concept of connectivity and the future of ASEM.
You said ASEM?
The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), officially established in 1996, is the Asian-European forum to enhance relations and various forms of co-operation between UE members States, the European Commission, the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and the individual countries of China, Japan, and South Korea.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a political, economic and cultural organization founded several years before, in 1967, in Bangkok (Thailand) by five countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. Nowadays, it gathers ten countries, including Brunei (1984), Vietnam (1995), Laos (1997), Burma/Nyanmar (1997) and Cambodia (1999).
It was founded during the Cold war in opposition to the spread of communism, to cooperate in the field of development and ensure regional stability. Since the end of the Cold War, it aims at strengthening cooperation and mutual assistance between members, to provide a privileged space to counter regional issues (terrorism, piracy and poverty) and to act together in international negotiations.
ASEAN/EU cooperation formally started in 1978 with a Foreign Affairs Ministers’ meeting. Nevertheless, it’s only during the 1990s that the cooperation evolved in a more dynamic one. The ASEAN/EU rapprochement has been facilitated by the fact that all ASEAN members, except Thailand, are former European colonies.
Today, even if ASEAN receives nearly half of aid flows from the European Union toward Asia, the ASEAN/EU dialogue seems to be overwhelmed by the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), due to its more global and inclusive nature. As ASEAN, ASEM is an important platform for political dialogue, economic cooperation and cultural and social exchanges between Asia and Europe. As stressed by the Chair’s Statement of the 12th ASEM, the forum “works towards achieving greater understanding and addressing global and regional challenges, and promoting peace, stability, security, prosperity, human rights and sustainable development for all”.
From a scale to another: the “up and down strategy”
During the 12th ASEM, Ministers exchanged their views on climate change, sustainable development and disaster risk reduction and management. They recognized that “2015 is a key year for global action for people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnership”.
Indeed, the United Nations Summit held in New York last September achieved a global consensus on a bold new vision for sustainable development and poverty eradication. It was formalised with the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, following up both Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) (adopted under the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or “Rio +20”, 2012).
The implementation of this Agenda will depend, amongst others, on the adoption of an ambitious global climate agreement under the 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Conference of Parties in Paris in December (COP21).
From this view, Ministers recognized the “serious and urgent challenge posed by climate change” and the “critical role of Asia and Europe” in tackling it. Actually, the ASEM has been used to complete preliminary negotiations on this matter, to reach a common position in order to succeed in the adoption of an ambitious agreed outcome with legal force under the COP21. Both Asian and European partners will sustain reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions, together with the enhancement of resilience and adaptive capacity.
ASEM’s Foreign Ministers also acknowledged the “inherent links between eradication of poverty in all its forms and the pursuit of sustainability”. In this context, they supported further cooperation between ASEM partners in the framework of the ASEM Sustainable Development Dialogues as an “important platform to exchange best practices… for transforming global challenges inter alia related to water, food and energy security into opportunities for inclusive growth and sustainable development”.
Last but not least, Ministers encouraged further development of the cooperation on disaster risk reduction and management between ASEM partners, promoting the implementation of the UN Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030. It was adopted at the Third UN World Conference in Sendai, Japan (2015, March 18th).
The UN Sendai Framework is the successor instrument to the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005-2015 (“Building the Resilience of Nations and Communities to Disasters”). It defines four priorities for action: understanding disaster risk, strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk, investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience and enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response (recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction).
To this end, Ministers underlined the importance of “strengthening resilience through sharing knowledge and promoting cooperation on a broad and people-centred approach to disaster prevention, mitigation, preparedness and response to disasters, recovery, rehabilitation, including through awareness programmes, early warning systems, search, rescue and relief operation, capacity building, and promotion of innovation and technology”.
In fact, every issue which is relevant on the international level is appropriated at the regional level thanks to organizations and fora, such as ASEAN/EU cooperation and Asia-Europe Meeting. Then, key problems are fitted to specific needs of each partner, and a common approach is drawn from it. Finally, the issue’s common approach is defended at the international level.
This “up and down strategy” ensures a better credibility to both partners and a greater weight for their proposals relating to global matters on international scene. Besides, the common approach can induce a knock-on effect for other countries in the world.
The cooperation between European Union and Asia is directly linked to their shared ambition of imposing an international leadership in global and major topics, such as eradication of poverty or sustainable development. It also reveals that Europe considers Asia as an equal and privileged partner. Somewhere, Europe is preparing: Asia could be soon the new “centre of the world”.
ASEM/EU dialogue: facing same problems all over the world
The 12th ASEM was also the occasion to reaffirm the importance of building a stronger and more effective multilateral system based on international law. Especially, Ministers stressed the respect of international treaties regarding disarmament and non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. It includes the importance to ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme, as such as the nuclear and missile programmes in the Korean Peninsula.
To improve diplomatic relationship between ASEM and European Union members, and prove their good faith, Ministers mutually recognized the “unprecedented challenge of irregular migration, migrant smuggling and trafficking in persons” occurring both in Asia and Europe. From that perspective, they particularly welcomed Joint Communiqué issued after recent discussion on Syria in Vienna (Austria).
With very similar terms as those used by the European Union to deal with the current migratory crisis, Ministers discussed the need to tackle “the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement and to providing protection and support to those in need, including improving livelihood and raising awareness in at-risk communities, in accordance with international standards”. Besides, they underlined the responsibility of the countries of origin, transit and destination to cooperate to promote safe and orderly movement of persons, and to protect the legitimate rights of migrants in accordance with international law.
Furthermore, Ministers reiterated their “strong condemnation of terrorism and violent extremism in all its forms and manifestations and expressed their determination to effectively combat it”, in accordance with the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. The 12th ASEM was also the occasion to precise that “terrorism and violent extremism are not associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group”.
Surprisingly, there is a direct reference to the threat posed to international peace and security by terrorist groups, “including the terrorist group calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant”, but there is no mention of radical Islamist groups operating in Indonesia or acts of maritime piracy perpetrated by Al-Qaida’s affiliates.
Nonetheless, Ministers highlighted the “importance of preventing, detecting, investigating and prosecuting terrorism financing and of stopping the phenomenon of foreign terrorist fighters, preventing violent extremism and terrorists’ abuse on the internet”. These goals closely resemble these of European policies against terrorism and radicalisation.
Finally, a paragraph about human rights and gender equality has not been forgotten: “Ministers underlined the important role of national human rights institutions and their regional networks and of the relevant international human rights fora in the promotion and protection of human rights and of strengthening the exchange of experiences and cooperation between Europe and Asia in this field”.
In addition, Ministers agreed that “UN must discharge its crucial role in conflict prevention and mediation as well as prevention of conflict-related sexual and gender-based violence more effectively” They recognised that greater participation of women in peace and security is needed for sustainable peace and development.
For further information
-. To consult the Chair’s Statement of the 12th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (EN) http://eeas.europa.eu/statements-eeas/docs/151106_02_statement_on_asem_foreign_ministers_meeting_en.pdf
-.For further information about the EU involvement in ASEM, visit the EEAS’ website (EN) http://www.eeas.europa.eu/asem/index_en.htm
-. Official website of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) (EN) http://www.aseminfoboard.org/
-. For further information about Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, visit the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) (EN) http://www.unisdr.org/we/coordinate/sendai-framework