|Italian Foreign Policy in Asia Speech delivered by Hon. Margherita Boniver Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy Seoul, Sejong Centre, 16th June 2003|
I am particularly glad to be here today and to have the opportunity to speak in front of such a qualified audience. It is not an easy task to speak about Italian foreign policy in Asia. As you know, Italy is not a historical major player in the continent, not having had a colonial history in Asia. Nevertheless, this is possibly the very reason that makes Italy a generally very welcomed partner when it comes to offering a conciliatory contribution in the principal areas of crisis. This special role could prove even more useful in the near future, with the beginning of the Italian Semester of Presidency of the European Union.
Both for geopolitical and geoeconomical factors, our priority is to reinforce our ties with this part of the world, with whom we wish to engage in working together.
Since I would like to start with multilateral issues, a mention goes to the Asia-Europe Meeting, or ASEM, which at the moment represents the most effective and encompassing framework for multilateral relations between our continents. I like to recall that next month, Italy will co-chair the fifth Foreign Ministers’ Meeting that will take place in Bali
It is our goal to build further on the results that ASEM has so far accomplished: ASEM is the most important forum for discussing at high level on the most important political and economic issues of common concern for Asia and Europe. Heads of State and Government, Foreign, Finance and Economic Ministers meet on a regular basis. In addition, other ministerial meetings have been organised on issues such as migrations and environment and transnational crime.
ASEM has not been limited to Governments, but by means of the Singapore-based Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), it has been able to involve the Asian and European civil societies, and especially the younger, in a broad spectrum of activities aimed at promoting a better understanding among people in our continents.
In other words we already created sufficient instruments to develop and strengthen the Euro-Asian dialogue in different fields and not only at a Government to Government level. Now it's a matter of political will and at the same time of creating awareness in our Civil Societies.
Coming now to examine specific countries, notwithstanding the progresses reached in more than one year thanks to the efforts and the commitment of the international community, the political background in Afghanistan remains unstable. Recalling the recent Report to the Security Council of the U.N. Special Representative Mr. Brahimi, the last three months - after a period of relative calm – have been characterised by turbulence and instability.
In the framework of the efforts carried out by the international community for strengthening stability in Afghanistan, Italy has undertaken a leading role.
First of all, Italy supports the rebuilding of Afghanistan both through aid (43 Meuro in the 2001, 47,7 Meuro in the 2002 and 47 Meuro in the 2003) and security (1.500 Italian troops are present at the moment)
Moreover, Italy has the role of Lead Country in the reconstruction of the Justice system in Afghanistan.
Finally, it is important to continue with the commitment undertaken with the Bonn Agreement: to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan is fundamental for the region and for the whole international community; the re-establishment the rule of Law in the country plays in fact a pivotal role not only in the improvement of the Human Rights situation but as an essential prerequisite for the economic and social reconstruction of Afghanistan.
We have warmly welcomed recent positive developments between India and Pakistan, starting from Prime Minister Vajpayee’s conciliatory speech in Srinagar. The subsequent re-establishment of high level political contacts and further confidence building measures (resumption of full diplomatic relations, announced restoration of civil aviation and bus links) have raised the hope that India and Pakistan could at the end leave behind their past and move forward towards peace and prosperity.
It is not that easy. What seems now a promising path towards future reconciliation could suddenly be overshadowed by a terrorist attack.
Terrorism is the core issue. We Italians do not like double standards. A terrorist attack like the one carried out in December 2001 against the Indian Parliament is an outrageous and coward act wherever it takes place. And thus our condemnation is clear and strong: we do not accept the label of “freedom fighters” for those who kill innocent people.
Pakistan made a courageous choice after September 11th . President Musharraf decided to put his country in the forefront of the war on terrorism, even against a prominent part of his public opinion. His support was and continue to be valuable.
Pakistan’s promise to put an end to terrorists infiltrations along the line of control is yet to be completely met. We commend Islamabad for its efforts even in this field, but we encourage it to do more in order to curtail all the sources of instability in Kashmir.
We also strongly support the ongoing peace process in Sri Lanka.
After nearly twenty years of bloody civil war, the present Government in Colombo and the LTTE leadership have put an end to violence signing last year a cease-fire that marked a watershed in the history of the island.
Although the peace process is currently facing a temporary set-back due to the decision of LTTE to suspend negotiations for the time being, I am confident that pressures exerted on the parties will help to bring them back to the negotiation table and to put forward the process of reconstruction and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
This is the aim of the Italian Government. We feel that a negotiated settlement in Sri Lanka would be a landmark achievement as it would provide a peaceful solution to a long-standing ethnic conflict. Thus, showing to other armed movements throughout the world that after September the 11th their “fight for freedom” can only be fought through peaceful and diplomatic means and that rejecting terrorism could easily bring the international support for the benefit of people involved.
Italy tried its best to provide the peace process with its political and financial support. We stressed to both parties the need to leave behind animosity, to find an acceptable compromise and then to focus their attention on the development of the island, whose potentials are extraordinary.
Our financial contribution has been planned along the lines drawn in the Oslo Conference in last November and strictly adheres to the needs assessment provided by the Sri Lanka Government.
As far as South East Asia is concerned, I would like to point out two Countries that, for very different reasons, are of great concern for our foreign policy. I am speaking of Indonesia and Myanmar.
Indonesia occupies a central position in South East Asia. With 215 million inhabitants, it is the biggest Muslim country in the world. It is strategically located between Indochina and Australia. Everything makes it a land of opportunities and, indeed, Italian companies have always been present in Indonesia, starting a century ago. So Jakarta is a major partner for Italy. But Indonesia’s weight has gone over business and trade in the last few years. Since the fall of President Suharto, Indonesia has undergone a deep political change that we support and encourage. President Megawati’s efforts to maintain democracy are extremely important for us, especially in view of next year’s elections. Indonesia must also cope with internal ethnic struggles and separatist movements. Italy believes that the Country’s integrity should be maintained. Therefore, in the case of the two problematic Provinces, Aceh and Papua, we think that the only path to a peaceful solution is by respecting democratic principles and human rights, but without touching at boundaries. And Jakarta’s role as one of the biggest democracies in the world has been challenged lately by two global problems, terrorism and religious extremism. The October 12 2002 Bali attack showed the world how easily we can became victims of organized, international terrorism. The other problem is religious extremism, and especially Islamic integralism. Indonesia has also been the symbol of moderate Islam, of how a modern State mix tradition and progress. So it is especially important for everyone of us that Indonesia remains as a model, as a success case. For all the above mentioned reasons Italy has undertaken a dialogue with Indonesia that makes her a special partner in South East Asia.
Myanmar is a different kettle of fish. Italy has no major direct interest in Myanmar and practically there are no Italian companies making business in or with that country. Nevertheless Italy is concerned with what goes on in Myanmar, because it represents a case of a country that is drifting away from the international community and can easily become a source of instability. Its domestic situation is far from satisfactory: the results of general elections have not been respected, neither are basic human rights, forced labour still exists, even the fight against infectious disease like HIV-Aids is extremely difficult. But some of Myanmar’s problems are a threat to its neighbours too, and to the whole international community: Myanmar produces and traffics drugs and is the origin of many immigrants, particularly to Thailand, because of the gap between its poor economic performances and the successful South East Asia economies.
Italy has been active on the Burmese issue both at bilateral and at multilateral level. The Italian Government has often put Myanmar in the agenda of its bilateral talks with other big players in the region. Italy is also part of the UN Informal Working Group on Myanmar that met twice this year, first in Tokyo in February then in New York just a week ago. More important, Italy is particularly active in the framework of the EU’s policy towards Myanmar. As you may know, the EU has adopted since 1996 a common policy, translated into a paper, called the EU Common Position on Myanmar, which is renewed every six months. This Common Position includes sanctions, like visa bans, freezing of assets and arms embargo etc. The recent detention of Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and the other restrictive measures enforced by the Burmese military government, are forcing us to react accordingly, and we are thinking of strengthening our sanctions and, at the same time, sending a political level European mission to Yangon to stress our support to Aung San Suu Kyi and the dialogue process.
A particular importance we obviously attach to China. It is a country going through deep and very fast transformation, more and more aware of its capacity and of the significant economic results obtained within the last 20 years. It is also a country with a strong desire to open up its doors to western Partners and, most of all, a country which is aiming at achieving an external image able to match with its growing international role. The erosion of the traditional mechanisms of social protection, the increasing unemployment, the widening gap between urban and rural population, coastal and internal areas, not to mention the serious problems connected with ethnic minorities, as well as the objective difficulties in modernizing a system still, up to a certain extent, quite rigid, are all factors which could be considered extraordinary challenges for the new political leadership.
The latter has also been facing, in the last few months, the unexpected emergency of SARS pandemic.
The forthcoming Italian Semester of Presidency of the European Union is offering us an occasion for deepening the strategic partnership between Europe and China, which will reach its momentum with the visit of Prime Minister Berlusconi to Beijing. The latter, scheduled for the end of October, would include both a multilateral event, that is the EU-China Summit, and a bilateral visit.
Bilateral relations are quite dynamic in all fields, from the political to the cultural realm, in cooperation for development as well as in the scientific and technological co-operation.
Nevertheless, the greatest potential for developing the Italian-Chinese relations actually lies in the economic and commercial sector.
This strategic orientation has brought the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to establish the so called “Tavolo Cina”, a coordination round table between public and private sector.
On a parallel level, the dialogue with China requires, also from the political point of view, a flexible and balanced approach. As you know, the Chinese economic liberalization does not always correspond to a similar political liberalization, based on the respect of human rights. There are also a number of topics upon which the Chinese authorities are extremely sensitive, such as the situation of Taiwan and the Tibetan issue. In addition, the Italian Parliament is particularly pro-active and sensitive on these same topics too: hence, on the one hand, it becomes imperative to gather all energies in order to not to miss the significant opportunities offered by the challenging Chinese market; on the other hand, the political relations should be cultivated with a great deal of flexibility, aiming at maintaining a certain amount of firmness on some fundamental principles without hurting the Chinese government and, of course, in the light of our recognition of the “One China Principle”.
Finally, last but definitely not least, the Korean Peninsula. Let me remind briefly that Italy has been the first G7 country to establish diplomatic relations with the DPRK, thus opening the way to others EU countries. Needless to say, our policy towards Pyongyang has always been strictly coordinated with Seoul.
We followed with extreme attention the escalation in the North Korean nuclear crisis and the rigidity shown by the Pyongyang regime vis à vis international pressure aimed at restoring the international legality. The North Korean nuclear issue constitutes a threat to international peace and stability. North Korea's compliance with its non-proliferation commitments is a matter of concern for the entire international community.
Since the beginning of the current crisis, Italy stressed how, first of all, some sign of good will would have been needed from DPRK in order to restart dialogue and set the grounds for future negotiations.
However, we considered that international pressures such as economic sanctions could lead to serious and unpredictable consequences. Before the suspension of fuel deliveries to Pyongyang, last November, your Government shared our view that such a gesture could contribute to isolate an already exhausted country and exacerbate the crisis. Facts confirmed our fears. The deterioration of the DPRK economic situation is accelerating and possibly some humanitarian gesture could help to lower the tension.
The discussion process launched by the trilateral meeting held in Beijing on 23 and 24 April 2003 is a step in the right direction. Italy, as well as the other G8 countries, calls for this process to continue and to be opened up to the other countries most directly concerned, starting with the Republic of Korea, Japan, Russia and the EU. We look with great interest at the recent information about a new, forthcoming meeting, open up to five participants, being in the pipeline. Nevertheless, we still believe that, in the future, Russia and the EU should play a role to; and we will do our best, during the Italian Semester of Presidency of the European Union, in order to make it happen, hoping that Seoul will look with favour upon such a scenario.
We also support the Peace and Prosperity Policy pursued by the Republic of Korea, as well as all ongoing contacts between the DPRK and South Korea. This is aimed indeed at fostering the reconciliation process between the two Korean entities, which should be regarded as the only guarantee of peace and stability, both political and economic, for the Peninsula and the whole region in the long term.
Recently, Italy also agreed with the South Korean proposal to include in the Final Declaration of Evian, together with a strong condemnation of North Korean violations of non proliferation commitments, some words which would show the G8 support to the trilateral dialogue USA-China-RPRK, to the continuation of the reconciliation process between the two Koreas and to the Seoul policy towards Pyongyang.
Nevertheless, the situation is still unsure. The European Union has always been considered by Pyongyang as a more reliable and generally more understanding counterpart than the US. Nevertheless, in spite of all efforts which have been made (in particular by Italy, supported in particular by the Commission and by Germany, and stimulated by the role played by Seoul), the EU’s action has not proved truly effective in the process of crisis solving. Possibly, the perplexities shown by some Partners on this matter have contributed to the uncertainty about the possible European role.
Italy considers that the major international players in this area– South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the EU – could provide a guarantee framework to bilateral agreements on security matters between Washington and Pyongyang. This kind of solution should prevent from the recurrent crisis, which would continue to mark the relations between the United States and North Korea, in an exclusively bilateral agreement system.
For the moment, a more assertive European role could be carried out, concentrating upon economic cooperation and humanitarian aid, aiming at helping a population which is going thorough great hardship and fostering the country to open up to the world: for its part, Italy already significantly contributed, in the last two years, in humanitarian aid to N. Korea..
The EU contribution should anyway come side by side and interact fruitfully with the special role of South Korea: stable and lasting peace in the Peninsula is the only condition able to guarantee a true political and economic stability in the region.