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Asem 2 Saturday, 4 April, 1998, 14:56 GMT 15:56 UK
Asem 2: Guide to the issues
Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre in London, the summit venue
The second Asem (Asia-Europe meeting) took place in London from April 2-4, 1998. It included the first EU-China Summit. NewsOnline provides this simple guide to the issues at stake.

  • The first ASEM was held in Bangkok on March 1-2, 1996 and established a new forum for countries in the two regions to increase co-operation. ASEM 3 is scheduled for Seoul in 2000.

  • The participants are: From Asia - Brunei, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. From Europe - the 15 members of the EU and representation from the European Commission. Participation may be extended in the future.

  • Prime Ministers or Heads of State of countries attended, along with foreign ministers and trade or finance ministers. One goals of ASEM is for a more informal style than most conferences with less of a set agenda and more room for discussion. Two senior Asian leaders who did not attend the summit are President Suharto of Indonesia and President Fidel Ramos of the Philippines. Indonesia's controversial new vice-president, B.J. Habibie, is attending in his place

The Agenda

The Asian economic crisis was the main topic for discussion in London with the EU stressing that Asian governments must continue with their efforts at economic restructuring and also ensure greater transparency on the political front.

Without such reforms, EU leaders warned, the recovery of Asia's economies will be more painful and take longer than expected.

European governments were anxious to use the ASEM meeting to repair their damaged image in Asia.

Many Asian leaders - and most of the people in Asia - believe that the EU has been slow to respond to their financial problems.

While the region was being buffeted by its currency storms last year, EU governments seemed unworried by Asia's plight and more concerned about whether the crisis would affect their own plans to launch the single European currency, the euro, on January 1, 1999.

It is now clear that the euro is safe, and Europe has the time to focus on Asia.

The strong political signal is part of a separate Asem statement on the financial crisis. It will be supplemented by other Asem initiatives in the field of technical assistance and trade.

Some European governments believe that Europe can improve its visibility and standing in Asia by appointing a special "envoy" to the region.

The roving ambassador's job would be to analyse the needs of Asian countries, especially in the financial sector, to coordinate Europe's response.

There have been suggestions that Alexander Lamfalussy, a top Belgian banker and former head of the European Monetary Institute, has the right qualifications for the job.

But there are indications that the British government is not too keen on the idea.

Business links

Business played a major role at the summit with a business forum run by the DTI and the "Powerhouse UK" which aimed to promote exports. This met at a separate venue and fed into the main summit at the Queen Elizabeth Centre.

The UK promoted "Planet Britain" which aims to put Britain on line to the 18-30 age group in Asia.

This project is part of a wider campaign, "UK in Asia" which will run up to and beyond ASEM. It is aimed at getting rid of the "old fashioned and uncompetitive" perception of the UK in Asia and develop a more "modern, vibrant image" in line with the "Cool Britannia" campaign.

Other issues

The first Asia-Europe summit focused on

  • Drugs
  • Firearms and counterfeit goods
  • Preventing commercial fraud and customs offences.

Call for action on forest fires
Call for action on forest fires
All of these issues are came up again, with two more playing a greater role.

Britain proposed a number of initiatives on child welfare and all the countries agreed to look at methods of greater co-operation to deal with environmental problems, in the wake of El Nino and the Indonesian smog.

Human rights

Burma did not attend the ASEM summit, even though it was admitted to the ASEAN group in the summer of 1997.

Despite this, a number of NGOs including the Burma Action Group and the World Development Movement are planning campaigns and protests over the situation in Burma and its admission to ASEAN.

Human rights were be brought up at the China EU meeting, but without much emphasis.

Cultural Issues

ASEM 1 agreed to set to up an Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) in Singapore to "promote exchanges between think-tanks, peoples and cultural groups'.

The foundation was launched at the ASEM foreign ministers meeting in February 1997 and is aimed at complementing the business side of the relationship by improving intellectual and cultural ties.

Britain will contribute at least $1 million over 3 years to ASEF. A number of other initiatives came out of ASEM 1, including scholarships for foreign students, young leader's symposia and cultural and arts programmes.

Britain is also working on a special scheme to help Asian students studying in UK ease their financial burden and continue their studies. Many students have been hit heard by the depreciation of their currencies against the dollar and pound.

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