Since the inception of the ASEM process in 1996, Asia and Europe have kept their biennial appointment with remarkable regularity. Both regions have grown out of a long and turbulent history, both pride themselves of age-old traditions and both present a wealth in cultural diversity. They have a common predilection for organised and structured relationships between nations, which by experience fosters security and stability. Both regions also strive for an economic model that is balanced between consumption, saving and investment and which can be sustainable over the long term. Similarly, both regions consider human development as central to their policies as well as favour multilateral and equitable governance of the world, rather than spheres of influence and relationships based on power.
The ASEM8 Summit, which took place on 4-5 October 2010 in Brussels, Belgium, was the eighth privileged occasion to give expression to the common views of Asia and Europe. Representing 58% of global population, 50% of global GDP and over 60% of global trade, this gathering sought to inspire the world community. Indeed, a month later, the first G-20 meeting to take place in a non G-8 country gathered in Seoul, Republic of Korea. This meeting aimed at helping to shape the policies required in the face of the financial and economic crisis. A few weeks later, the 16th Conference of the Parties of the Climate Change Convention met in Cancun, Mexico, pursuing efforts started at the Copenhagen Summit of December in 2009.
In Brussels, ASEM Leaders addressed these and other global challenges and also focussed on the relationship between the two regions. They sought to strengthen their political dialogue, enhance their trade and investment relationship, expand people to people and cultural exchanges and further develop ASEM as their common strategic asset. Russia and Australia joined in the proceedings for the first time, after the ASEM Leaders welcomed the membership of Australia, New Zealand and Russia.
In the lead-up to this Summit, preparations were intense. Under the principle of ‘issue based leadership’, one of the most dynamic features of ASEM, Asian and European partners were able to organise a dozen events of high relevance to then evolving Summit agenda. The process of collectively defining the agenda was done in all transparency and through an inclusive process of consultation involving every ASEM partner.
In addition, the Summit also featured other constituent parts of the ASEM process. The Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF), the Asia-Europe Business Forum (AEBF), and the Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership Meeting (ASEP) were held in parallel to the gathering of Heads of States and Governments. ASEM’s only institution, the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), also organised the Connecting Civil Societies of Asia and Europe conference on the margins of the Summit.
Host country Belgium certainly played its part and was enthusiastic about all these initiatives. These endeavours were evidence of the spirit of dialogue and cooperation, which makes ASEM so worthwhile.