The recent sixth Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem 6) held in Helsinki was attended by 13 Asian and 25 European nations, as well as the president of the European Commission. Its major theme was ''10 Years of Asem: Global Challenges Joint Responses.'' Since the original Asem in Bangkok in 1996, the summits have played a pivotal role in providing guidance for the future of Asem.
The Asem tenth anniversary was celebrated in the light of the conviction, expressed by its Finnish hosts, that the Bangkok Asem Summit of 1996 was the beginning of a new era in Asia-Europe relations.
One of the most significant results of Asem 6 was the enlargement of this original forum of multilateral diplomacy. It welcomed Bulgaria and Romania on the European side, along with India, Mongolia, Pakistan and the Asean Secretariat on the Asian side.
Today, Asem countries already account for 40 per cent of the world's population, 50 per cent of gross domestic product and 60 per cent of trade. With the above-mentioned enlargement to 45 participants, by 2008 almost 60 per cent of the world's population will be involved in the Asem sphere.
Can Asem effectively contribute to a fair reform of the globalisation process? This crucial question must be answered collectively. From that perspective Asem 6 dealt with relevant issues of a political, economic and cultural-social nature. The agenda was impressive. Among the issues discussed were the importance of Asia and Europe as global political and economic actors, regional developments and experiences related to security dialogue and cooperation, developments on the Korean Peninsula, events in Burma, the situation in Timor Leste, the stabilisation and rebuilding of Afghanistan, peace in the Middle East, Iran's nuclear programme, national reconciliation and the rule of law in Iraq, strengthening multilateralism, implementation and compliance with the international disarmament and nonproliferation treaties, terrorism, United Nations conventions against transnational organised crime, corruption and illicit drugs, as well as global health security and the state of World Trade Organisation negotiations.
In addition to all of this, an Asem 6 Declaration on Climate Change was adopted. It is a strong message that reflects a common will to tackle this challenge which may have drastic consequences both for Europe and Asia.
The debate on energy security once again demonstrated that Asia and Europe face similar problems and can benefit from a cooperative approach to innovative and renewable energy solutions.
The ''Dialogue among Cultures and Civilisation'' generated ideas and initiatives to prevent and overcome ignorance and prejudice and to promote mutual understanding and tolerance.
The Helsinki meeting considered the prospects for Asem cooperation on the basis of a report entitled ''Asem in its tenth year: Looking back, looking forward.'' The report concludes that Asem has not completely met the expectations placed in it and that its full potential has not been utilised.
Trade between the EU and Asia has grown tremendously. Between 1995 and 2004 exports by the EU to the Asem countries increased by 56 percent and imports by 137 percent. However, Asem's role in facilitating trade is questionable, and those concrete results which have been achieved are generally deemed insufficient.
Recognising this reality, the Helsinki meeting attempted to act as a diplomatic catalyst and inject life and dynamism into Asem. The Helsinki Declaration on the Future of Asem reiterated the commitment to maintaining and enhancing peace and stability and to promoting conditions conducive to sustainable economic and social development, as well as Asem's mission as a partnership between equals committed to multilateralism.
The intention of Asem is to maintain its informality and flexibility while strengthening its instruments. An Asem Virtual Secretariat is a key tool toward that end. The establishment of the Asem Contingency Dialogue Mechanism for Emergent Economic and Financial Events is another example of a concrete initiative to consolidate the Asem position. In total there were 14 political initiatives, 51 economic and 41 socio/cultural initiatives, as mentioned at the summit.
This article was previously published in the Bangkok Post on 24 September 2006.
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