Singapore – One is a fast-developing region. The other is rich in natural resources, especially the much-coveted black gold. After years of neglecting each other, Asiaand Middle East are finally ready to rediscover each other in a serious way.
The inaugural Asia-Middle East Dialogue (AMED), which was held in Singapore this week, attracted 200 officials, academics and opinion-makers from more than 40 countries.
"We can no longer interact only at the margins," said Singapore Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who first mooted the idea of a meeting between the two regions, in his opening speech at the conference on June 21.
During the three-day gathering, participants discussed politics, security and economic issues, social and cultural trends and compared notes on political reform inAsia and the Middle East.
On the issue of terrorism, some participants said relying on force alone would not be sufficient to fight terrorism. They believed that the key issue was to strike the right balance between the military and other ways of combatting terror.
The meeting ended with a slew of proposals to bring the two regions closer together, such as establishing a business forum and facilitating cross-listing of Islamic products on capital markets, and sharing best practices in counter-terrorism.
The proposals are not binding on the governments but they will be considered by three working groups that will meet between now and 2007, when the next conference is held in Egypt.
The delegates were under no illusion that AMED would be able to get pass the talkshop stage quickly, with one Singapore Foreign Affairs Ministry official saying that achieving the goals of AMED is "a process, and not an event".
Still, some delegates told The Straits Times that they were optimstic about AMED's future.
Dr Ahmed Salem Saleh Al-Wahishi, Yemen's Ambassador to Indonesia and Singapore, said: "It’'s time to look East and extend hands for cooperation between both of the regions. And this opens a fantastic chance of a prosperous future for both regions."
* A successful first step to closer ties (The Straits Times, June 23)
* SM calls on Asia and M-E to engage each other fully (The Straits Times, June 22)