The Asia-Europe Cultural Forum brought together cultural leaders from 24 ASEM member countries and the EC to begin the process of establishing networks between European and Asian cultural workers. It sought to undertake an inventory of cultural exchanges between the two regions, and to brainstorm for new and innovative ways to promote inter-regional cultural co-operation. The idea for the Forum was proposed by French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette at the 1st ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in February 1997.
Five representatives from each ASEM member country attended the Forum. These included officials from national arts or heritage organisations, national institutions in charge of cultural exchanges, foundations and private associations active in arts and culture, and directors of festivals and performing arts centres.
The plenary and workshop sessions revolved around two themes: “The Yearning For Asia” and “Opening Up To The European Cultural Dimension.”
Participants acknowledged the crucial role culture played in dispelling misconceptions and prejudice. They agreed that one way to improve cultural understanding and appreciation between the East and the West was through education. Education would expose young Europeans and Asians to the cultural diversity and languages of both regions, and teach them to tolerate cultural differences.
Participants also reiterated that governments have an indispensable role to play in supporting an arts and cultural exchange, and that it was necessary to create links between the arts, governments, the business community, foundations, and individuals to bridge the cultural worlds of Europe and Asia.
Several projects were suggested at the Forum. These included an exhibition of contemporary Asian art, a film festival targeted at young film-makers from both regions, exchange programmes, alliances between media organisations and other cultural industries, as well as measures towards the preservation and promotion of traditional Asian performing arts.
Mr. Jerome Clement, Chairman, Arte
Professor Tommy Koh, then Executive Director, ASEF