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What We Do

History of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF)

1-2 March 1996

15 February 1997

8-9 October 2004

4-5 October 2010

November 2012

October 2014

On 1-2 March 1996, the Heads of State and Government from 10 Asian nations and 15 European nations, the President of the Council of the European Union, and the President of the European Commission, convened in Bangkok, Thailand, for the inauguration of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM)- an intergovernmental process established to foster dialogue and cooperation between Asia and Europe. This was the 1st ASEM Summit, which paved the way for the establishment of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF).

On 15 February 1997, the 1st ASEM Foreign Ministers' Meeting (ASEMFMM1) was held in Singapore. The Ministers adopted a Declaration welcoming the establishment of ASEF. Based in Singapore, ASEF is the only permanent institution of ASEM. ASEF is funded by voluntary contributions from ASEM's partner governments and shares the financing of its projects with its civil society partners across the 2 regions.     

ASEF's mandate is to promote better mutual understanding between Asia and Europe through greater intellectual, cultural, and people-to-people exchanges, in line with the vision for Asia-Europe cooperation laid down by ASEM leaders at the 1st ASEM Summit in Bangkok in 1996 as well as subsequent meetings. Our purpose has been reiterated at the 5th ASEM Summit (ASEM5) in Hanoi, Vietnam on 8-9 October 2004 through the Dublin Agreed Principles of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF). At the 5th ASEM Summit (ASEM5) in October 2004 in Hanoi, Viet Nam, the ASEM process expanded from 26 to 39 countries, including the 10 new members of the European Union, as well as Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar. The second round of enlargement happened in October 2007, when India, Pakistan, Mongolia, Romania, Bulgaria and the ASEAN Secretariat were officially welcomed into ASEM.

During the 8th ASEM Summit (ASEM8) held on 4-5 October 2010 in Brussels, Belgium, 3 new members joined the ASEM process: Australia, New Zealand and the Russian Federation. This third round of enlargement increased the membership to 48 partners.

During the 9th ASEM Summit (ASEM9) in November 2012 in Vientiane, Lao PDR, ASEM was officially joined by Bangladesh, Norway, and Switzerland.

During the 10th ASEM Summit (ASEM10) in October 2014 in Milan, Italy, when Croatia and Kazakhstan formally joined ASEM, bringing the total number of ASEM and ASEF partners to 53. See full list of the 53 ASEM partners.

exchanges & cooperation

Our Areas of Work

We focus on strengthening Asia-Europe relations through our seminars, workshops, conferences, publications, web portals, grants and public talks. Explore our 7 key thematic areas of work

We promote cultural relations by connecting artists, cultural professionals, arts organisations, public institutions, networks and museums in Asia and Europe.

We address current economic issues and long-term trends impacting Asian and European societies in line with ASEM’s political and economic agenda concerning the international financial and economic situation across ASEM constituencies

We connect the youth, students, teachers & educators, higher education & EdTech experts with policy makers across Asia and Europe.

We promote informal, open and non-confrontational dialogue between civil society and government representatives on human rights issues and provide tailored capacity-building training for diplomats engaged in public diplomacy efforts.

We engage media industry stakeholders in annual events enabling a diverse exchange of perspectives. We also facilitate dialogue and cooperation by managing ASEF’s multiple online platforms that aim to increase awareness of ASEF and its projects spanning all thematic areas.

We engage governments, international organisations and civil society to share best practices and lessons learnt on public health issues related to infectious diseases, including risk communication for public health emergencies.

We engage civil society, governments, and businesses on national, regional, and international levels to build capacity on issues of sustainability

We complement the ASEM Process

As the only permanent institution of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), ASEF’s overall work revolves around and complements the ASEM Process, an informal intergovernmental dialogue process established in 1996, and now bringing together 51 countries, the European Union and the ASEAN Secretariat.

On the whole, ASEF translates the ASEM Agenda into concrete activities that enable exchange between Asians and Europeans, between civil society and government.

Several ASEF projects follow the cycle of ASEM Ministerial Meetings and ASEM Summits. In fact, several of our projects are official side-events of ASEM Summits, and we enable access for our participants into ASEM Meetings. 

ASEF projects feed content into ASEM Meetings via policy recommendations or research studies. Our work is also recognised in ASEM Chair Statements.

ASEF at ASEM Culture Ministers’ Meetings (ASEM CMMs) 

Every 2 years, Culture Ministers from Asia and Europe convene at ASEM Culture Ministers’ Meetings (ASEM CMMs). Previous ASEM CMMs have taken place in Bulgaria (2018, The Role of Culture in International Relations: The Road Forward), Republic of Korea (2016, Culture and Creative Economy), the Netherlands (2014, Creative Industries for Society: Talent, Technology & Trade), Indonesia (2012, Managing Heritage Cities for a Sustainable Future), Poland (2010, Heritage and the Challenges of the Present), Malaysia (2008, Cultural Diversity- Realizing the Action Plan), France (2005, Cultural Diversity: Opportunities and Challenges – ASEM’S Long-term Plan) & China (2003, Unity and Diversity). (Read about the key outcomes of these Ministerial Meetings in2018 and 2016on ASEF’s arts website, 

ASEF, as the only permanent institution of ASEM, attends these biennial ASEM Culture Ministers’ Meetings (ASEM CMMs) and the preceding Senior Officials’ Meetings (SOMs), alongside the 53 ASEM Partners. 

Connecting civil societies: ASEF’s role in facilitating bi-regional co-operation in arts and culture has been consistently acknowledged in all the Chair’s Statements of the ASEM CMMs. At the most recent 8th ASEM CMM (2018, Bulgaria), Ministers recognised ASEF’s “important role in facilitating multilateral cultural cooperation among artists, arts organisations and museums in Asia & Europe.” 

Aligning with ASEM priorities: ASEF works in 7 thematic areas: Culture, Education, Governance, Sustainable Development, Public Health, Media and Economy. In the area of culture, ASEF’s work has been inspired by the recommendations of Ministers, as documented in the Matrix of Evaluations and Decisions of ASEM CMMs (2003-2018). 

Civil society participation: Since 2010, ASEF has facilitated the active participation of artists and cultural professionals at the Culture Ministers’ Meetings. Since 2014, ASEF and the host country have co-organised panel discussions with cultural professionals at the start of the Ministerial Meetings to ensure that civil society concerns are included as a vital component of deliberations of the ASEM. Previous panel discussions have taken place in 2018, 2016, & 2014

ASEM Cultural Festival 

Most recently, ASEF supports the organisation of ASEM Cultural Festivals (#ASEMfest), which are to be held alongside ASEM Summits and ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meetings (ASEMFMM). The ASEM Cultural Festival is high on the agenda of Heads of State and Government from Asia and Europe as it serves to “strengthen inter-cultural dialogue among ASEM partners” (Chair’s Statement, ASEM12, October 2018, Brussels). 

Every year the ASEM Cultural Festival offers a diverse range of programming from Asia and Europe including performances, exhibitions, and discussions, showcasing both traditional and contemporary art from the two continents. 

The intercultural exchanges, the vision and creativity of artists contribute to strengthening the dialogue among ASEM Partners promoting and ensuring connectivity between Asia and Europe. 

The ASEM Cultural Festival aims to:  

  • enhance the visibility of culture at key ASEM leaders’ meetings through regular editions of the festival
  • present artistic creativity from Asia and Europe to ASEM leaders and the public
  • increase awareness of ASEM and ASEF among the arts communities of both regions and the public 


ASEF’s work in the field of Education is an integral part of the ASEM Education Process (AES) and closely connected to ASEM Summits and ASEM Foreign Ministers MeetingsSeveral education projects are recognised as Dialogue Partners and/or official side events and are, hence, aligned with the thematic focus and frequency of ASEM Summit or Foreign/Education Ministerial Meetings. Furthermore, ASEF contributes to the ASEM process through its participation in ASEM Working Groups and Steering Committees on education matters. 

In the area of youth empowerment in ASEM, the ASEM Leaders “underscore[d] the need to increase their engagement in ASEM activities through incorporating the Asia-Europe youth forum […] as additional ASEM Stakeholders’ fora” in the Ulaanbaatar Declaration at the 11th ASEM Summit, held in July 2016 in Ulaanbaatar, MongoliaThe commitment to involve young people more closely in ASEM has since been re-affirmed by the ASEM Leaders and Foreign Ministers at the 13th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meetingthe 12th ASEM Summit and the 14th ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting; and ASEF is creating diverse formats for “Structured Dialogue” between young people and ASEM Leaders, Foreign Ministers, Education Ministers and ASEM Officials. 

Both the ASEF Young Leaders Summit and the Model ASEM are established official side-events of the ASEM Summit and the ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting respectively. For these projects, youth representatives are invited to deliver youth interventions at the Opening Ceremonies of the ASEM Meetings. Individual, personal meetings and youth dialogue sessions between youth participants and ASEM Leaders, Foreign Ministers and ASEM Officials are also organised as part of their programmes and demonstrate the growing interaction and connectivity between junior, upcoming leaders and senior, political leaders in ASEM. 

In the field of Higher Education, ASEF’s Regional Conference for Higher Education (ARC) is recognised as the Dialogue Partner and official side event of the ASEM Education Ministers’ Meetings (ASEMME). Through comparative studiespolicy mapping as well as policy recommendations, ASEF’s projects in higher education inform ASEM education policy makers and feed into the agenda and deliberations of ASEM Education Ministerial Meetings. In addition, personal meetings between ARC participants, coming from civil society, and ASEM Education Ministers and Ministry representatives alongside ASEMMEs complement the active exchange of views and interactions. 

ASEF works in strategic partnerships with three institutions that are set up under the umbrella of the government-led ASEM Education Process: the ASEM Education Secretariat (AES)the ASEM Lifelong Long Learning Hub (ASEMLLL Hub) and the ASEM Duo Fellowship Programme. 

The ASEM Education Secretariat ensures the effective coordination of all initiatives and activities that shape the ASEM Education Process (AEP)as well as the ASEM Education Ministers’ Meetings. The ASEM Education Process mainly focuses on Higher Education, with four established priority areas: 1) Quality Assurance and Recognition; 2) Engaging Business and Industry in Education, 3) Balanced Mobility, and 4) Lifelong Learning including TVET. These four priorities areas are complemented by two transversal themes, Sustainable Development and Digitalisation in Education. With a focus on priority area 2, 3 and 4, ASEF’s education projectcontribute to a dynamic annual activity portfolio that connects education stakeholders across ASEM. ASEFEdu is also a member of the ASEM Education Standing Working Group on the ASEM Education Strategy 2030, coordinated by the ASEM Education Secretariat (AES) as well as the ASEM Expert Group Digitalisation, coordinated by the German DAADThe ASEM Education Secretariat is currently hosted by Government of Belgium, by both the French community (Ministry of Wallonia Brussels Federation) and Flemish Community (Ministry of Education and Training). Further information can be found here. 

The ASEM Lifelong Learning Hub (ASEMLLL Hub) is a network of Asian and European higher education institutions that collaborate on comparative research on lifelong learning and offer research-based education policy recommendationASEF works in particular with the Hub’s Research Networks (RN) 1,3 and that focus on the development of ICT skills & culture of e-learning (RN1), professionalisation of adult teachers & educators (RN3), and learning cities & learning regions (RN6)Further information can be found here

ASEF also supports the outreach work of the ASEM Duo Fellowship Programme, with the Secretariat based in Korea, This ASEM initiative provides scholarships and facilitates educational exchanges between students and higher education staff between both regions.  

Informal ASEM Seminar on Human Rights Series 

The Informal ASEM Seminar on Human Rights Series (ASEMHRS) provides a platform for an exchange of views and practices related to human rights across Asia and Europe. It adds value to Asia-Europe relations by transforming the outcomes of the Seminar into inputs actionable for Asia-Europe policy dialogue. In particular, a set of recommendations are elaborated collectively and sent to the relevant institutions in ASEM Partner countries as informal contributions to the official ASEM dialogue.  The Seminar recommendations and outcomes are further presented to a wider audience through outreach events and utilised to train government officials and practitioners of ASEM Partners on human rights topics. 

Since 1997, ASEF, has co-organised 19 Informal ASEM Human Rights Seminars across Asia and Europe with more than 1,900 participants from 53 ASEM Partners. 

The Informal ASEM Human Rights Seminar is referenced as an example of regular dialogues between ASEM Partners in the official documents of e.g. Foreign Ministers’ Meetings and ASEM Summits. 

ASEF Public Diplomacy Training 

The ASEF Public Diplomacy Training (ASEFPDTmakes concrete and practical contributions to the ASEM Process by providing capacity-building training for early-/mid-career diplomats and government officials involved in strengthening Asia-Europe relations. The practical skills-oriented training is also a unique networking opportunity to connect Asian and European diplomats. In addition, the project promotes visibility of ASEF and understanding about the ASEM Process through dedicated training modules and sessions.  

Over the years, ASEF has partnered with Asian and European Ministries of Foreign Affairs and diplomatic academies for the delivery of the face-to-face component of the Training. 

We organise two project series that are official side-events to ASEM Summits and ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meetings, each taking place on alternate years: 

We manage the ASEM InfoBoard, the official information platform of the Asia-Europe Meeting, as well as the official ASEM social media channels I.e. FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram.

ASEF Public Health Network (ASEF PHN) is part of the ASEM Initiative for the Rapid Containment of Pandemic InfluenzaThe Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) leaders at the 7th ASEM Summit (2008) stated their determination to combat a possible human influenza pandemic. Reflecting this strong political statement, the initiative was officially launched in 2009 with the financial support from the Government of Japan. Since then, the ASEF Public Health Network (ASEF PHN) has been promoting bi-regional exchange of public health priorities with a strong focus on emerging infectious diseases (EIDs), including pandemic influenza.  

ASEF PHN in short is a platform to encourage public health dialogue among Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Partners to facilitate multi-sector knowledge sharing between health and non-health sectors including governments, international and non-profit organisations, businesses, academia, and the media.” 

In 2020, the outcome from the Asia-Europe Virtual Forum on Combatting Substandard and Falsified Medicines (SFMs), organised by ASEF PHN together with MoH Cambodia, will be elevated to the 13th ASEM Summit in Cambodia in mid-2021. 

Since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in 2015, ASEM leaders have expressed their commitment to fulfil the 2030 Agenda – ENVforum contributes by providing capacity building and knowledge exchange activities which hope to fulfil the pledge “no one left behind” among ASEM partners.

At the 11th ASEM Summit (ASEM11; 2016; Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia) leaders committed to “focus on areas of common interest … [including] the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development … [and] place emphasis on areas in which it can create added value, when appropriate, and give mutual benefit to both regions. … Initiatives and projects within each area of tangible cooperation, as well as coordination among various areas, are vital to narrowing the development gaps in ASEM and provide capacity-building to its developing partners.”  The Asia-Europe Environment Forum’s (ENVforum) 2018 project consists of a series of activities which facilitates knowledge-sharing aimed at exploring good practices in promoting and implementing SDGs with the focus on SDG 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production (SCP) patterns. The activities will contribute to the process of capacity-building in SDGs implementation, especially to the developing countries among the ASEM Partners. Therefore, the 2018 ENVforum is a direct response to the leaders’ recommendation and a contribution to the efforts of ASEM Partners to fulfil the 2030 Agenda.

At the 12th ASEM Summit (ASEM12; 2018; Brussels, Belgium), leaders expressed their commitment to “implement the 2030 Agenda fully for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals” and at the same time “tackle the growing threats to the environment”.[1] The Asia-Europe Environment Forum (ENVforum) 2020 is a direct response to the leaders’ recommendation as it consists of a series of activities which facilitates knowledge-sharing aimed at exploring good practices in promoting and implementing SDGs with a focus on SDG 12. The activities facilitate capacity-building in SDGs implementation, especially among the developing states. Hence, the project contributes to the efforts of fulfilling the 2030 Agenda among ASEM Partners.

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