At the biannual meeting of foreign ministers of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), the foreign leaders of European states showed a lack of engagement through their conspicuous absence from the summit in Hanoi that took place last week.
While the foreign ministers of China, Japan, South Korea and most of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) were present, the foreign ministers of France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain were absent, and almost two-thirds of the EU 27 sent junior officials.
This seeming lack of interest on the part of European foreign ministers sapped the force of ASEM’s pronouncements on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the political prisoner and symbol of democracy in Myanmar, and its condemnation of the North Korean nuclear test.
Contrast Europe’s low-level appearance, and its equally low profile in Phnom Penh, where EU foreign ministers are currently meeting their counterparts from ASEAN, with the last meeting in Hamburg, where foreign ministers from China, Japan, India, Pakistan and almost every other Asian nation showed up, and the conclusion that commentators have reached is that European rhetoric about being a player in international affairs is still directed toward a domestic audience, rather than about reaching out to its global partners.
It’s not the first time that EU foreign ministers have failed to attend an Asem meeting, especially ones that are held in Asia. Despite the pro-Asia rhetoric, Europe’s political leaders have yet to show that they want a real political and economic discussion with their Asian counterparts. As a result, Europe’s relations with Asian countries remain largely uninspiring.
Significantly, with Europeans failing to take centre-stage in Hanoi, China was in the spotlight with many observers applauding Beijing for taking what they considered a strong position on North Korea and Burma. Pressure from Beijing is widely seen as key to resolving both issues, and China, a permanent UN Security Council member, is being looked to for leadership on a range of other issues.
ASEM may be an unwieldy grouping, with 45 participants and it will become even more so with the admission soon of Russia and Australia — two nations that are European in culture and Asian in geography. Meanwhile, some large Asian countries, such as Bangladesh, remain on the outside.
Bernama, Indonesia Supports Increasing ASEM Membership , 28 May 2009, http://www.bernama.com/bernama/v5/newsworld.php?id=414275
Dawn.com, EU’s interaction with Asia , 30 May 2009, http://www.dawn.com/wps/wcm/connect/dawn-content-library/dawn/news/world...
New York Times, Where’s Europe? , 27 May 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/28/opinion/28iht-edbowring.html?_r=1