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Re-vitalizing regionalism

By Ioan Voicu - posted Thursday, 29 June 2017

We are witnessing at present a dangerous and unpredictable political turn against multilateralism, which is a complex process generated by many factors, but first of all by an increased polarity and fragmentation in world politics.At the same time, the visibility of a major political interest for regionalism is more obvious than in the past, as open, robust regionalism is considered by many countries as a strong influential force in the globalizing world. The area of Asia and the Pacific offers in this regard some persuasive examples.

An important anniversary

At a time characterized by a less friendly environment for genuine multilateralism, the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) should be regarded by historians as a real landmark.


In a message addressed to the 73rd ESCAP's session, which took place in Bangkok in May this year, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres congratulated ESCAP on this auspicious event by saying :

This dynamic institution is at the heart of the largest trading hub in the world. Asia and the Pacific are also leaders in science, technology and innovation. At the same time, many challenges confront this region which is home to half the world's poor…

Indeed, ESCAP is the largest regional structure on our planet, born in Shanghai in 1947 with an initial membership of only ten countries, and is now based in Bangkok, with a composition of 62 members and associate members. This is the only regional commission in the world reuniting all five permanent members of the UN Security Council. The area covered by ESCAP is home for the greatest demographic power (China), the biggest democracy (India), the largest Muslim country (Indonesia) and an officially un-specifiable number of nuclear powers. In addition, ESCAP includes countries belonging geographically and politically to both Europe and Asia, like Russia and Turkey. This fact introduces another element of geo-political originality in the concept of regionalism and provides consistency to the notion of Euroasia.

Over the past 70 years, the whole area of Asia and the Pacific went through deep transformations which are equal to a real seismic shift. The vibrant economic and social trajectory of the region is unprecedented. ESCAP area accounts for over a third of the world's output and is on track to make up half of global GDP by 2050. 61 percent of the world's foreign exchange reserves are located in this area. It offered exemplary regional solutions to global problems. While in 1990, 50 percent of ESCAP's population lived in poverty, in 2012 this had fallen to 15 percent.

A significant session

The 73rd ESCAP's session mentioned above met in Bangkok in May this year, under the theme topic "Regional cooperation for sustainable energy".


The Presidents of the Marshall Islands, Nauru and Palau, and the Prime Ministers of Tonga and Tuvalu, were among the high-level participants taking part in this year's session.

Several key ministers attended the High-level Dialogue in order to explore ways and means for advancing regional economic cooperation and integration in support of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This dialogue provided a useful platform for all members and associate members to share their national priorities and perspectives on regional economic cooperation for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The theme topic for 2017 "Regional cooperation for sustainable energy" offered all participants the possibility to consider appropriate policy approaches to deal with normal access to energy sources, in the difficult process of passing from traditional sources of energy to clean sustainable energy for all. This is a vital objective for the 420 million people in Asia and the Pacific who have no reliable access to electricity.

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About the Author

Dr Ioan Voicu is a Visiting Professor at Assumption University in Bangkok

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