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A significant test for multilateral diplomacy

By Ioan Voicu - posted Friday, 20 November 2020

The Asia-Europe dialogue, which is officially known as "ASEM" (Asia Europe Meeting), is the diplomatic result of a valuable joint initiative of France, Germany and Singapore.

The fundamental objective of ASEM is to develop relations between Europe and Asia at large. ASEM started in Bangkok with 25 members in 1996, and now has 53 partners: 30 European countries, 21 Asian countries and two international organizations (the European Union and ASEAN).

Australia and New Zealand are active members of this forum.


By its nature, ASEM is an intergovernmental process of informal dialogue in which an exchange of views can take place on all topics of common interest to member countries.

ASEM's activity revolves around three "pillars": political, economic and financial, socio-cultural. This last pillar covers issues relating to education, health, employment, the environment, science and technology, culture, as well as relations between civil societies.

This forum for dialogue does not have official statutes. ASEM has neither its own administrative structure nor operating budget. ASEM's diplomatic life is nourished by summits and ministerial meetings, held alternatively in Europe and Asia.

Revitalization of ASEM

As a forum for multilateralism, ASEM is expected to become a real driving force for the future, consolidating its role as a dynamic facilitator in key areas of interregional cooperation.

Europe and Asia have an important role to play in strengthening the institutions of global governance, including through ASEM. Their co-responsibility in the management of global crises must be clearly recognized. In this regard, ASEM could bring an important contribution to the process of transforming the new multipolar balance of power into effective and successful multilateralism.


Former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who received the Nobel Peace Prize, said:"At present, Asia-Europe cooperation is no longer a luxury but a necessity. Expanded cooperation between the two continents is vital in order to contribute to global peace and security. Cooperation is essentially rooted in constructive dialogue. ASEM occupies a unique position in facilitating such a dialogue between Europe and Asia ".

Is this dialogue sufficient?

There are many comments about ASEM as a "messy diplomatic dance", and opinions according to which Asian nations are "traditionally more accustomed to bilateralism, not multilateralism, and prefer to attend ASEM with their own respective positions." This description of the situation is not correct.

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About the Author

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

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