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Building on 20 years of ASEM: Expanding Connectivity and Inclusion

Published on 02 Dec 2015

By Mr Ch. SAIKHANBILEG, Prime Minister of Mongolia

The 20th Anniversary of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is a fitting opportunity to reflect both on its past, present and future as well as on the evolving connectivity between Asia and Europe, the world’s two ancient cradles of civilisations that have contributed greatly to humanity’s development and prosperity.

ASEM’s coming into being was a natural response to the dramatic changes in the global political and economic landscape in the mid-1990s following the end of the Cold War, at a time when Asia was emerging as a world economic powerhouse. ASEM with its distinct signature was an outcome consistent with the time.

Twenty years is a short span of time in human history, and yet the global and regional settings today are already fundamentally different from what they were two decades ago.  In spite of the challenges of rapid change, ASEM has withstood the test of time. Partly to the credit of ASEM dialogue and initiatives, Asia and Europe today enjoy much wider connectivity and greater engagement than 20 years ago.

Aspiring to make her own contribution to Asia-Europe engagement and to be a part of this multifaceted dialogue process, Mongolia joined ASEM in 2008. As Prime Minister of Mongolia and Head of the National Preparatory Council for the 2016 ASEM Summit in Ulaanbaatar, with great pride and responsibility, I am happy to inform that Mongolia is diligently preparing for this grand event. I take this opportunity to convey our sincere gratitude to ASEF and all ASEM partners who have been rendering valuable support and assistance in the summit preparations.

The term, connectivity, has become a buzzword within ASEM and Mongolia approaches the concept in its broadest sense. Mongolia, both historically and geographically, has been a bridge between Asia and Europe and strives to play a role in both “hard” and “soft” connectivity. My Government seeks to further develop and expand Mongolia’s existing infrastructure links between the two continents and concrete projects are being implemented in this field.

The international fora that exist for meetings and negotiations are spacious and vast, yet it seems that there are few platforms, like ASEM, which are not burdened with rigid and complex rules of procedures or protocol regulations and allow for informal dialogue. ASEM’s informality and openness to the free exchange of views are the very features that distinguish it from among other international venues.  ASEM is not a negotiating body and it should be preserved as a platform for informal dialogue and exchange. We could also work towards actively using the retreat format which has proved to be so valuable.

On the eve of its 20th Anniversary a number of recommendations and advice on ASEM’s future are being voiced. We find particularly valuable and thought-provoking the conclusions of the study on the future of ASEM, presented in March 2015 at the Symposium of the Future Direction of ASEM held in Bangkok and the Conference on the Challenge of Connectivity held in September 2015 in Luxembourg. We are also aware of the criticisms concerning ASEM meetings. As we prepare for the summit we will take into account the merit of these criticisms. We support the idea of engaging the Asian and European business communities, civil societies, youth and academia more actively into the ASEM process so as to make it more productive and result- oriented. These recommendations and conclusions are built on ASEM’s 20 years of experience. In this conjunction, I would like to commend ASEF for its role in the ASEM process and as a guardian of “collective memory”.

Mongolia’s view is that the ASEM dialogue should continue to build on political, economic and socio-cultural pillars. We firmly believe that trade and investment, and the robust role played by the private sector is crucial for Asia-Europe economic connectivity. Twenty five years ago, Mongolia embarked on the path of free market economy and political democracy. We are fully aware of the potential that the business community can bring into trade and investment between the two continents.

Further development and advancement of tangible areas of cooperation, which now cover 17 concrete fields, should help ASEM to become more result-oriented. Mongolia is a partner in a number of these tangible areas of cooperation and has successfully organised a Seminar on Renewable Energy in Ulaanbaatar in the spring of 2015.

As I mentioned earlier the development of infrastructure connecting Asia and Europe through Mongolia is of great interest for us and we highly value the results of the ASEM Transport Ministers’ Meeting held in Riga as well as the Industry Dialogue on Connectivity held in Chongqing, China, in May 2015.

The Asia-Europe Cooperation Framework 2000 document highlights “…respect for democracy, rule of law, equality, justice and human rights…” among others in its Vision into the 21th Century. These common human values are essential fundamentals for building an environment conducive to sustainable development, as we Mongols have experienced in our development efforts. On the basis of mutual respect ASEM should include these issues on its agenda.

That ASEM’s ranks have doubled since its inception is a straightforward testimony to its relevance. There are more countries interested in taking up membership. Mongolia believes that in order to make Asia-Europe dialogue even more inclusive ASEM should continue to expand to include new partners.

I am confident that based on the experience we gained through hard work in the past 20 years and having matured through the test of time, the Asia-Europe Meeting process will achieve even more success in the years to come. It is a noble duty and a matter of profound pride for Mongolia to serve for the prosperity of the peoples of Asia and Europe, and rest assured, Mongolia stands fully committed to most meaningfully advance this very responsible mission.

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This article is part of the ASEM 20th Anniversary Book on “20 Years of Asia-Europe Relations”. The publication is a collection of articles by leaders and experts from Asia and Europe on the past, present and future of ASEM. Selected articles from this collection will be compiled and published as a book by the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), which will be launched at the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM11) Summit in 2016 in Mongolia.