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Japan’s Initiative for the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM)

Published on 21 Jun 2016

By Fumio KISHIDA, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Japan

In 2016, we will be celebrating the 20th Anniversary of the foundation of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which started with its first summit meeting in Bangkok. Over the past two decades, Asia and Europe, which together account for around 60% of the global population, gross domestic product

(GDP) and trade, have steadily deepened their relationship, both politically and economically. ASEM is a useful framework for conducting frank dialogue and further deepening cooperation with respect to issues of common interest for Asia and Europe.

For my part, I recently attended the 12th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (ASEM FMM12) in Luxembourg to discuss with foreign ministers of other member states a wide range of issues, which include global issues such as climate change and development, responses to terrorism and extremism and the increasingly severe security environment in both Europe and Asia. Through this meeting, I once again recognised the roles played by Asia and Europe in promoting global peace

and prosperity and renewed my resolve to strengthen our contributions to the two-decade-old ASEM process.

The fact that ASEM covers a wide range of themes, including politics, economy, society and culture, makes it possible to set timely agenda. Japan values ASEM as a forum that responds precisely and appropriately to the ever-changing international situation. Japan expects and hopes that ASEM will focus on political dialogue, connectivity and people-to-people exchanges in strengthening partnership between Europe and Asia, while maintaining these merits.

Political dialogue

ASEM is an important forum where heads of state and government and ministers from Asia and Europe get together to engage in frank exchanges of views about global challenges, such as terrorism, climate change, development and disaster management, as well as regional situations. The importance of political dialogue is growing, as the security environment in both Asia and Europe becomes increasingly severe year after year. The security of Asia and that of Europe are interconnected to each other, and it is very useful for political leaders from the two regions to hold candid discussions on how to ensure the peace and stability of the international community and to further deepen their common understanding and perspectives of this issue.

Above all, it is an important role of ASEM to ensure that Asia and Europe work together to maintain liberal and open international order by thoroughly upholding the principle of the “rule of law”. In the Chair’s Statement at the 10th ASEM Summit (ASEM10), ASEM made a reference to the principles of international law in the context of maritime security for the first time, and I highly appreciate this as something that has enhanced ASEM’s significance.

Connectivity

When we think of ASEM’s future, it is also important to achieve visible results by implementing more tangible cooperation. “Connectivity” is a comprehensive concept that not only concerns infrastructure but also applies to many other important areas, including trade, investment, education, culture and people-to-people exchanges. So we may say that connectivity, which is related to all of the three pillars of ASEM (politics, economy, culture & society), precisely embodies ASEM’s activities.

As a field of connectivity, Japan is advocating the importance of tourism, which is the largest area of private sector exchanges and which can be expected to bring economic benefits. Tourism promotes mutual understanding through people-to-people and cultural exchanges and also accounts for 9% of global GDP. To promote tourism, environmental preservation as well as services, trade and investment are also important. In September 2015, Japan successfully hosted the ASEM Symposium on Promoting Tourism, which gathered participants from ASEM members, including ministers. Japan will continue efforts to promote tourism, including follow-up review of results, in cooperation with ASEM members.

At the same time, strengthening connectivity involves risk. As a result of increased cross-border connectivity, negative side effects - such as the spread of infectious diseases - may arise. Based on the understanding that taking countermeasures against possible pandemic outbreaks is part of important infrastructure development for strengthening connectivity, Japan is implementing the Project for the Rapid Containment of Pandemic Influenza2 through cooperation with Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF).

Furthermore, Japan believes it is necessary to devote efforts to the fight against terrorism in consideration of the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015.

Strengthening people-to-people exchange

People-to-people connections form the heart of partnership between Asia and Europe. In particular, as Japan is convinced of the importance of exchanges between young people and students on whose shoulders the future of ASEM members rests, we have been striving to promote youth exchange. At the 1st ASEM Summit (ASEM1), Japan, together with Austria, proposed the Asia-Europe Young Leaders Symposium. This gathering, which was held every year between 1997 and 2008, brought together young leaders in various fields from Asia and Europe to discuss new ways of cooperation between the two regions. In addition, using funds contributed by Japan to ASEF, the Model ASEM was organised on the occasion of the 10th ASEM Summit (ASEM10) in 2014 and the ASEF Young Leaders Summit was held on the occasion of the 12th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (ASEM FMM12) in 2015. For ASEM’s future, I believe that such activities and exchanges conducted by young people will play a significant role.

This year when we mark ASEM’s 20th Anniversary at the Summit Meeting scheduled to be held in Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) in July, I am sure it will be a milestone event in setting the future directions of ASEM based on the strengths and achievements accumulated over the past two decades. For its part, Japan is resolved to continue to place emphasis on ASEM’s function as a framework for moderate dialogue and cooperation and to contribute to the ASEM process, in recognition of ASEM as an important forum for political dialogue, economic cooperation and cultural and social exchanges between Asia and Europe.

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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 distributed at the 11th Asia-Europe Meeting Summit (ASEM11) in July 2016 in Mongolia.