|New Asian scenarios:Eu-Asean perspectives Indonesian Concil of World Affairs Jakarta, 17th May 2002|
Mr. Chairman, Your Excellency Alatas, Italian Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all I wish to thank the “Indonesian Council on World Affairs” for organizing and the Indonesian Foreign Ministry for hosting this event, and for giving me the opportunity to talk about a topic – the new Asian scenarios – that will be crucial for the next decade.
· In the field of foreign policy – it has been said – a Country, or a Region, becomes strategic when it represents either a problem or a resource for the international community. This is even more true now that globalization has increased the inter-connections between world events.
· Globalization has, in fact, shortened the distances in such a way that, sometimes, regional and local challenges have become of major interest for the entire world. Issues like the environment, migration (as the recent Bali Conference has shown) have acquired a global impact, not to mention the inter-dependence of the financial markets.
· But the most recent example of a new “global issue” is terrorism. September 11th has shown with dramatic evidence that there is no safe place from terrorism. Asia has become part of an international struggle that places it side by side with all other continents.
· This is why Europe’s perception of Asia – namely South East Asia – is deeply changing. From the traditional relationship based on trade and business, the European-Asian dialogue has shifted – and will further shift in the future – to a more comprehensive framework of cooperation.
· Under the economic point of view, the rather simplistic image that prevailed in the 80’s of the “Asian tigers” qualified South East Asia in Europe’s eyes as a resource. The financial crisis of 1997 has, on the other hand, made South East Asia to be perceived as a problem. Now, I hope, thanks to its healthy and rapid reaction to the economic earthquake of the 90’s and the growing sense of a new South East Asian identity – one of the few positive effects of the crisis – Europe will look again at the Region as a valuable resource. The acceleration of free trade policies in the area and the recovery of many South East Asia’s economies have proved that the fundamentals are sound and that the Region is worth a long-term approach, consistent with the growing importance of a market of more than 500 million people.
· But South East Asia is not the only “good news”. Other major players are emerging in Asia that are changing Europe’s perception of the continent. China’s impressive growth and her future role in the world economy – emphasized by China’s recent accession to the WTO – as well as the growing weight of Indian economy carry new risks and opportunities both for Europe and for all Asian Countries.
· It is no coincidence that, taking into account these new scenarios, the European Union felt the need of reviewing its overall approach towards the continent and has given way to an internal reflection, from which an “Asian Strategy Paper” has begun to float, that will guide European policy for the next years, with a new approach in which both political and economic issues are taken into consideration.
· In this context, being the most advanced example of regional integration, Europe perceives ASEAN as its natural counterpart. An organization that, at regional level, offers the unique advantage of being the most coherent, visible and institutional partner for a dialogue with the Countries of the Region. Actually, Europe and ASEAN have much in common. Both were founded in the context of the Cold War, but are rapidly adapting to the new globalized world. Both started mainly as economic organizations and are evolving towards a closer political cooperation. Both faced the challenge of an enlargement to new members, but have proved flexible enough to dynamically absorb other partners without slowing the integration process.
· The entering into force of AFTA has been greeted by Europe as a major success. The new Free Trade Area will make the Region more attractive to foreign investment and – as it happened with the European Common Market in the past – will pave the way for wider markets. Maybe AFTA will not remain limited to South East Asia. If the creation of a wider Free Trade Area will include one day China and perhaps Japan, Europe will find itself confronted with a market at continental level.
· On the political side, I would like to mention as a most promising achievement, the Asia Regional Forum (ARF), an answer to security issues that works with a progressive approach based on confidence building measures and that involves civil society as well. Encompassing 23 Countries, ARF has given ASEAN, in less than a decade, a central role in the security of the Region.
· Of course ASEAN and the European Union work in a very different way. E.U. is a strongly integrated organization with a supranational vocation, whilst ASEAN is a loose association based on consultation and consensus. Far from being exclusive, both approaches can be complementary. In fact the “ASEAN way”, based on consensus between equals, may be best adapted for political dialogue while some institution building may be helpful in dealing with technical problems.
· As a matter of fact, the two Organizations have long since undertaken a productive dialogue. I would like to mention here that the European Union participates every year, as ASEAN Dialogue Partner, to the ASEAN Post Ministerial Conference and to the ASEAN Regional Forum. Ministers also meet regularly in the EU-ASEAN summits.
· It is but natural that a dialogue between friends could raise some divergent opinions. That’s why sometimes there have been obstacles – such as those linked with the position of some ASEAN members – that have eventually been solved, as it happened in Vientiane in the year 2000. But the dialogue has also led to concrete initiatives, like the joint EU-ASEAN Conference on Maritime Security that took place in Manila earlier this year.
· Talking on EU-Asian relations under a wider angle, I wish to recall another important forum, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). It began, as you know, in 1996 between ASEAN member Countries, Japan, China, South Korea, and the European Union. ASEM offers the advantage of giving an original formula for dialogue, at different levels. From Senior officials (that meet every year) to Foreign, Economic and Finance Ministers, up to Heads of Government and Heads of State, that get together on an informal basis every two years. Besides, new Institutions have been created, such as the Asia Europe Foundation in Singapore, dedicated to improve cooperation. Furthermore, through ASEM the European Union has given a substantial financial support to South East Asia, via a special Trust Fund that helped face some of the consequences of the 1997 crisis.
· Should we consider ourselves satisfied, then? I think that, in fact, we still have much work to do! As Chair of the Union in the second half of 2003, Italy looks forward to further strengthening our partnership with ASEAN. But I am convinced that we should try to enlarge our agenda to other global issues, such as drugs and transnational crime. Moreover, Europe should play a more active role in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF).
· Our commitment should be reflected not only in a strengthened and comprehensive dialogue with ASEAN as a whole, but also in the enhancement of Europe’s bilateral relations with key ASEAN partners, like Indonesia.
· To this purpose, we should overcome the misunderstandings that affected our dialogue in the past and strive for a deeper mutual knowledge. I remember the words pronounced by a prominent Asian personality: “Can Asians think? Can Europeans listen?”. If we succeed, this question shall never be asked again in the future.