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Thursday, 19 October, 2000, 13:47 GMT 14:47 UK
Is Asem running out of steam?
French leader Jaques Chirac arrives in Seoul
Asem was set up to build bridges between Asia and Europe
By Shada Islam

The Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) was set up four years ago to build bridges between continents with often seemingly little in common.

Anti Asem protester
Seoul is bracing for anti-globalisation protests
But as leaders from the 25 member countries meet in Seoul, some fear the forum is already running out of steam.

Asem was launched as Europe's response to the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (Apec) forum which reinforces America's ties with Asia.

But most participants now agree there is a growing sentiment of Asem fatigue among the 10 Asian members and the 15 European Union states.

However, finding a central idea for the third summit has not proved as easy as in the past.

Economic crisis

The first summit in Bangkok in 1996 was clearly a landmark meeting in launching the process of EU-Asia co-operation, with Asia's "miracle" economies saying they were willing to share the secrets of their success with an old and tired Europe.

Police on patrol in Seoul
Asem is the biggest event in Seoul since the 1988 Olympics
The 1997 financial crisis put an end to that education.

By the time they gathered again in London in February 1998, it was Europe's turn to support and stand by Asia's then crisis-hit economies.

Asia may have clawed its way out of the recession faster than many anticipated but there is growing concern the recovery has prevented countries from completing much-needed economic and political reforms.

Oil

Europe, for its part, is worried about the declining fortunes of its single currency and preoccupied with institutional reform and eastward enlargement.

Prime Minister Zhu Rongji and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder
China's Zhu Rongji greets Germany's Gerhard Schroeder
EU officials argue that these changed circumstances in both regions could actually make this Asem summit more interesting.

Instead of preaching to each other, the EU and East Asia can tackle a range of issues which pose a challenge to both regions.

Europe and Asia for instance have a common concern about rising oil prices and their impact on world economic growth.

The meeting in Seoul could therefore send an Asem "message" to oil-producing nations of the need to ensure a steady supply of oil at reasonable prices.

Shared problems

Uncontrolled immigration, trafficking in drugs, the sexual exploitation of women and children and money laundering are other challenges facing both Europe and Asia in equal measure.

Asem leaders are therefore planning to launch new initiatives to co-operate in these areas, instructing their police, customs and other agencies to work together to stop international crime.

Life in the age of information technology is another important issue of common interest, with both Europe and Asia worried about the digital divide within their societies and coping with the internet revolution.

South Korea has suggested the summit should launch a Trans-Eurasian Information Super Highway which will allow researchers in both Asia and Europe access to rapid information on the two regions.

There is a joint French and South Korean initiative to increase scholarships for students who want to study in each others regions.

Promises

The EU also wants the summit to strengthen its political dialogue with Asia, reinforce trade and investment relations and start discussions on increased co-operation in areas like education and consumer protection.

Strengthening participation in Asem by the private sector and non-governmental organisations is also seen as important.

The two sides are set to sign a co-operation framework treaty promising closer Asia-Europe in these and other areas.

But making new promises is easy. Asem's challenge will be to turn Seoul's pledges into action.

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See also:

19 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Seoul braces for protests
19 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
UK and North Korea forge ties
13 Oct 00 | Asia-Pacific
Kim Dae-jung: Korean peacemaker
04 Apr 98 | Asem 2
Confident conclusion to summit
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