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A significant test for multilateral diplomacy

By Ioan Voicu - posted Friday, 20 November 2020

The European Union and ASEAN share similar global visions and develop multilateral cooperation to resolve common cross-border issues. To advance this position, the two regional organizations should demonstrate their diplomatic maturity by making vigorous efforts to revitalize ASEM.

The 53 current partners of ASEM, in a ministerial statement of September 7, 2020 - almost ignored by the mainstream media - reaffirmed their commitment to maintain the momentum of ASEM to strengthen multilateralism and mobilize in solidarity in the fight against COVID-19. They expressed hope that ASEM would emerge from this unprecedented global challenge stronger and more resilient. ASEAN and the EU will have a responsible role in implementing this legitimate expectation in this complex and multidimensional process.

An important commitment


The ASEM statement of September 7, 2020 inter alia reads: "We support the United Nations call for shared responsibility, global solidarity and enhanced multilateral cooperation in response to the multidimensional impacts of COVID-19, and in particular support the importance of the World Health Organization (WHO) ".

This is nothing new. The ASEM I Summit in Bangkok on 1-2 March 1996, among other things, underlined in its final declaration the need to improve cooperation between the two regions in the public health sector. During the same Summit, ASEM I also agreed to cooperate to promote effective reform and greater democratization of the United Nations system, including in matters concerning the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), with a view to strengthening its preeminent role in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security and sustainable development. In this regard, the Summit agreed to initiate a dialogue among representatives of ASEM participating nations in New York to consider the vital issue of UN reform.

A waiting list

These commitments are still on the waiting list. ASEM 13, which will be hosted by Cambodia in 2021, will have the difficult task of advancing action-oriented measures to give tangibility to all collective commitments on global health, as well as to the UNGA substantive recommendations on fight against COVID-19.

Indeed,ASEM countries should pay more attention to the implementation of the UNGA resolutions on COVID-19 adopted in 2020. We have in mind the following resolutions with self- explanatory titles: resolution 74 / 270 of April 2, 2020, "Global solidarity to fight against coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)", 74/274 of April 20, 2020, entitled "International cooperation to ensure global access to medicines, vaccines and medical equipment for coping with COVID-19 ", 74/306 of September 11, 2020, entitled" Comprehensive and coordinated response to the coronavirus disease pandemic (COVID-19) ", and 74/307 of September 11, 2020, entitled" United response against global health threats: combating COVID-19 ".

Make ASEM more visible


At this juncture, this forum must avoid becoming a club that is long on speech and short on substance. To this end, the European long experience in many fields and Asian traditional adaptability to change could be better combined.

To that end, the ASEM partnership should be revitalized to become more visible, more proactive and less reactive in addressing regional and global issues, including while dealing with prevention and response to pandemics. In this regard, the EU Presidency and the ASEAN Chairmanship play a very important role in promoting the credibility of ASEM through persuasive action.

In all circumstances, a true inter-regional partnership requires innovative diplomatic efforts to develop balanced relations based on reciprocity.

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About the Author

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

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