The establishment of ASEM as an inter-regional forum aims to develop mutual cooperation between Europe and Asia. ASEM subsists in the excess of the tendency in economic growth in the Asia-Pasific, configuration change in political mapping and international trade as well as Asia’s increasingly spiraling role in the economic development of the region in which it becomes a main factor for Asian and European leaders to cooperate with each other and set up the ASEM cooperation forum.
Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) was established in Bangkok, March 1996, during the ASEM1 Summit. ASEM is a process of dialogue currently constituting 10 ASEAN countries and 6 other Asian countries known as NESA (Northeast, and South Asia), i.e. Japan, South Korea, China, India, Pakistan and Mongolia as well as the ASEAN Secretariat, Russia, Australia and New Zealand. In total, ASEM-Asia is constituted of 17 partners, while ASEM-Europe is represented by 28 partners consisting of 27 UE countries and the European Commission.
The consolidation of these two regions carries out a big potential to advance a new world management balance, world peace, and increase the welfare of more than 3 billion people, as well as increase friendship through acquaintance and a leveled understanding with the people of the regions mentioned who are known to have a very high level of civilization in the world. This “unique” relationship is what encouraged the spirit of “unity in diversity” among the partners.
With the potential of these Asian and European countries in the ASEM cooperation, Indonesia expects that in this second decade, ASEM’s agenda not only continues to put forward a process of dialogue but also emphasizes on a more concrete (action oriented) cooperation that is based on equality and mutual benefits.
2. Brief History
a. Political Background
The end of the cold war that was marked by the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the early decade of 1990 brought a significant consequence to international relations. Ideology contiguity, as occurred in previous times, no longer became an important consideration when countries or groups decided to further relations with one another. Many countries with different ideological and political backgrounds could intensively cooperate to achieve their national interests. The establishment of ASEM in 1996 also disregarded the ideological and political background of their members.
The formation of ASEM was prompted by the awareness of the need of a stronger relation between Asia and Europe when compared to North America and Europe that are consolidated through the Trans-Atlantic cooperation, and North America with Asia in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) body. The demand of strategic interests to build a cooperation framework in various fields of priority amidst the process of rapid change and tightening competition also serves as reinforcement in forming the ASEM cooperation. The cooperation process in the ASEM framework reflects an evolution progressing towards a balanced and equal partnership.
b. Economic Background
With the establishment of ME and ASEAN, in 1974 both organizations officially affiliated with the signing of the Joint ASEAN–EC Study Group. The Joint Study Group holds an annual meeting that aims to increase economic cooperation and trade between both parties. Through this Joint Study Group, ME has also taken part in funding a number of activites in ASEAN, such as the regional integration project, ASEAN trade promotion in Europe, the seminar on increasing foreign investment, and the building of facilities in the ASEAN port. Four years later, the year 1978 to be exact, with a purpose to increase cooperation between the two parties, ME with ASEAN agreed to hold ASEAN–EC Foreign Minister Meeting that is held once every two years.
In its development, the membership of UE in ARF also proves that Europe is giving more attention to Asia. UE’s attention towards Asian countries (ASEAN) has experienced rapid growth since the 1980s. There are several reasons why Europe’s concern towards Asia escalates. First is the economic growth of Asia. One of the Asian countries that succeeded in developing its national economy by manners of industrializing post World War II is Japan. Japan’s success with its ”state–led export” is followed by the success of other Asian countries, such as South Korea, Singapore and Hongkong, in building their national economy. If they were often known as ”the Newly Industrializing Countries”, there is now a new term for Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philliphines and China: “the New Tigers of Asia”. In further development, India also experienced the same economic growth. The economic development that often occurs in many Asian countries has influenced Europe to increase cooperation in the trade and service sectors.
Next is the concern about APEC. In 1989, 12 countries in the Asia and Pacific region set up a cooperation forum known as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). In its development, Europe (UE) felt threatened with the existence of APEC. UE began to have worries about its presence in Asia that was increasingly left behind compared to the US. Because of this, UE worked on strengthening its position in Asia. In order to do so, UE approached ASEAN, which it believed had a significant influence among Asian countries as regional organization cooperation. Through cooperation with ASEAN, UE expected to gain a stronger position to cooperate with other Asian countries. In addition, UE hoped to anticipate attempts to control the Asian continent from the US, Japan as well as China.
The third point is the composing of a new strategy. In 1994 UE composed a strategy entitled ”Towards a New Asia Strategy”, containing a prediction from the World Bank stating that half of the global economic growth originates from East Asia and Southeast Asia. The economic performance of Asia that has increased significantly will of course increase its role global issues. Because of this reason, since then, the European Union found it necessary to give a higher priority to Asia compared to previous times.
c. Social and Cultural Backgrounds
The characters of the members of ASEM that differ in political ideology, economic performance and social cultural richness display a uniqueness of their own. Such diversity has been accepted as a cultural fact of the bond between Asia and Europe. Besides this, Asia and Europe have had a long historical bond, even though it is tainted with unpleasant memories of colonialism. The Philliphines was colonialized by Spain in the 16th century. Indonesia was colonialized by the Netherlands in the 17th century. Singapore was also under the trade-colony of Britain in the outset of the 19th century, as well as Myanmar and India. Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam are part of Indochine-France in the 19th century. The opium war between China and Britain, and then France, also in the 19th century, was an economic conflict impaired by cultural differences.
Apart from the bad side of the history, the long relation is an important modal for people in Asia and Europe to understand each other and work together. As evidence, since the colonialization era, many European orientalists develop an understanding about Asia, while centres of Asian studies also develop rapidly in Europe. Likewise, communities in Asia have also absorbed various cultural aspects of Europe, including language issues as well as social-political structure. For example, the Republic, is a favourite choice among countries that have recently declared independence in the Asia region. With the modal of cultural aspect for centuries, ASEM has a big opportunity to build a comprehensive and multi-cultural cooperation between Asia-Europe in order to achieve regional peace and world peace.
3. ASEM Process
What is meant with the ASEM process is the answer to the question how a decision is taken collectively for ASEM members. As a process of dialogue, the ASEM process works based on a basic consensus to build a new partnership that is comprehensive for a greater growth in the passion of equality that is mutual. However, resulted recommendations are non-binding. Besides that, ASEM also serves to complete the working process that has been done in bilateral and multilateral forums that prevail. Hence, there are correlations between resulted recommendations and existing agreements in another forum.
In brief, ASEM works based on the characteristic that it owns, i.e. informality: emphasizing on process, not formality; multidimensional: provides the same weight in fields of politics, economy, culture and other fields; equal partnership in creating a dialogue process and a wider cooperation; and unity in diversity, acknowledging diversity in culture in Asia and Europe as an asset for dialogue and cooperation.
In the construction of its organization, ASEM has 3 main pillars in its cooperation, i.e. (1) political-security, (2) economy-trade-investment, and (3) culture as well as other fields. The three pillars aim to increase the relation of the two areas based on mutual respect and equal partnership. For example, the ASEM process also discusses issues that become a mutual interest for both areas, such as the UN reform, weapon of mass destruction, terrorism, migration, WTO negotiation, etc.
The ASEM Summit meeting is held every two years alternately in the Asian continent and the European continent. The Summit is the highest dialogue media attended by Head of States/Governments partners of ASEM. After it was held in Bangkok (1996), the Summit was then held in London (1998), Seoul (2000), Copenhagen (2002), Hanoi (2004), Helsinki (2006), and Beijing (2008).
In its process of development, ASEM’s partnership increased. In the ASEM5 Summit held in Hanoi, 8-9 October 2004, ASEM’s membership extended to 10 new UE members and 3 ASEAN countries, i.e: Cyprus, Czech, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.
In the ASEM6 Summit in Helsinki, Finland, 10-11 September 2006, members of ASEM increased from 45 partners, consisting of 17 Asian partners (ASEAN member countries including Japan, PRC, Republic of Korea, India, Pakistan, Mongolia, and ASEAN Secretariat) and 28 European partners (UE + European Comission).
In the commemoration of the 10 years of ASEM as well as the execution of the ASEM6 Summit, ASEM leaders agreed to focus on the main agenda of the cooperation, among them are: substantive areas of cooperation, strengthening institutional mechanism, and extending membership. It is expected that ASEM partners can carry ASEM cooperation initiatives to a more concrete direction. As an illustration, for the first 10 years, ASEM has conducted 107 cooperation initiatives, where 12 initiatives reside in Pillar 1 (politics and security), 51 initiatives reside in Pillar 2 (economy – trade), and 44 initiatives reside in Pillar 3 (social cultural).
In the ASEM7 Summit held in Beijing on 24-25 October 2008, the leaders agreed to focus on four main agendas: International Economic and Financial Situation, Global Issues (food security, disaster preparedness and management, dll), Driving Sustainable Development, and Deepening Dialogue among Civilization. For the first agenda, i.e. International Economic and Financial Situation, it shows the responsive attitude and concern of ASEM partners in facing urgent global problems. The ASEM7 Summit concluded 3 declarations, i.e Beijing Declaration on Sustainable Development, Statement of the Seventh ASEM Summit on International Economic and Financial Situation, and Chair’s Statement.
The 8th ASEM Summit was held in Brussels, 4-5 October 2010. The meeting brought up the theme “Quality of Life” and was marked with the formal reception of Russia, Australia and New Zealand. This brought the number of ASEM partners to 46 and also with ASEAN Secretariat and European Comission.
The meeting discussed several topics that are of mutual interest among ASEM partners, including “global economic and financial governance”. Sufficient allocation of time for the topics showed the partnering countries high concern and commitment to work together to face the issue.
ASEM8 produced 2 documents, i.e. “Chair Statement of the Eight ASEM Summit” and “Brussels Declaration on More Effective Economic Global Governance”.
Under the Summit, the ASEM process was held in a ministerial-level meeting and a Senior Officials Meeting, SOM, as listed below:
a. ASEM Foreign Ministers’ Meeting (FMM), conducted every two years during the sidelines of the Summit. The meeting is responsible for coordinating the process of dialogue in ASEM and what has been mandated by ASEM leaders in the Summit especially the first pillar (political dialogue and regional as well as international security). The last ASEM FMM9 was held in Hanoi, Vietnam, May 2009, and the upcoming meeting will be held in Hungary in 2011.
b. ASEM Senior Officials' Meeting (SOM) held minimum twice a year to execute the FMM mandate and give inputs for the next ASEM FMM.
c. In recent years, ASEM cooperation in the three pillars continues to develop, especially in the running of ministrial-level meetings that has produced many cooperation initiatives, among them:
- ASEM Finance Ministers’ Meeting is held every two years, the last one was held in Madrid, Spain, 17-18 April 2010. Besides that, ASEM Deputies Finance Ministers’ Meeting is also held every two years and it reports the results to FinMM.
- ASEM Economy Ministers’ Meeting is held every two years, the last one was held in Rotterdam (2005). Indonesia planned to be the host of the 7th EMM meeting in 2007/2008, but the execution of the 7th EMM in Indonesia was cancelled due to the lack of participation from ASEM partners in the event.
- ASEM Culture Ministers’ Meeting is held every two years. The first was held in Beijing (2003), then Paris (2005), Kuala Lumpur (2008), and the last was held in Poznan, Poland, 8-10 September 2010. Indonesia will be the host of the 5th ASEM CMM in 2012.
- ASEM Environment Ministers’ Meeting is held every two years and the last one was held in Copenhagen (2007), before the previous one in Lanzarotte, Spain (2003) and in Beijing (2001).
- ASEM Information and Communication Ministers’ Meeting, held every two years and firstly held in Hanoi (2006). In SOM ICT held in the European Comission office in Brussels at the end of 2007, it was agreed that Laos would be the next host in 2008, but the ministerial-level meeting was cancelled from the host’s side.
- ASEM Labor Ministers’ Meeting, is held every two years and the first was run in Berlin (2006) then Denpasar, Bali (2008) carrying the theme “More and Better Jobs – Strategic Cooperation and Partnership to Promote Decent Work and Global Labour Market to our Mutual Benefit” and resulted in the Bali Declaration. The last meeting was held in Leiden, the Netherlands, 13-14 December 2010.
- ASEM Education Ministers’ Meeting was held once a week and the first meeting was held in Berlin (2008), continued with the second meeting on 13 – 15 May 2009 in Hanoi, Vietnam, as well as the third meeting that will be held on 9-10 May 2011 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
- Several ASEM ministerial-level meetings held for the first time are:
(i) ASEM Energy Ministers Meeting for the first time in Brussels, Belgium, on 17 – 18 June 2009.
(ii) ASEM Transportation/Transport Ministers Meeting held for the first time in Lithuania on 18 – 20 October 2009.
d. Several SOM meetings under ministers meeting are routinely held such as SOM Trade and Investment, SOMTI, which is held twice a year and reports its results in the ASEM Economic Ministers’ Meeting. In 2008, SOMTI is held in 15-16 April 2008 and discusses several main issues under the pillar ASEM economic cooperation. As mandated in KTT ASEM8, the next meeting will be held in the outset of 2011 in Brussels, Belgium.
e. Asia-Europe Business Forum (AEBF) is held annually and convenes business practioners in both regions and reports to the ASEM Summit.
f. Several other ASEM meetings in the form Conference, Seminar, Workshop, Dialogue, Forum, Training, Initiative etc. (such as: Counter Terrorism, Biometrics, HIV/Aids, Energy Security, Migration, Interfaith etc).
ASEM does not have a secretariat. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and a line of senior officials (SOM) coordinates and in doing so are assisted by the coordinators of ASEM (currently Laos is assigned for ASEM and Japan is assigned for ASEM-NESA, while the Presidency of UE (Hungary), and the UE Commision is the coordinator for Europe). Indonesia was once the coordinator for ASEM-ASEAN since the ASEM5 Summit (2004) until the ASEM6 Summit (2006).
4. ASEM Development
The ASEM Process Enters its Second Decade
Up to 2010, Indonsia has actively participated in executing several ASEM programs in the three pillars (politics, economy, and social cultural).
In 2009, in attempts to create an increase in concrete cooperation in ASEM, Indonesia became the host of the ministerial-level meeting in 2008, i.e. Labors Ministers’ Meeting in Bali, 2008. The meeting resulted in the Bali Declaration and also resulted in a number of concrete follow-up actions in the form of cooperation project initiatives.
In 2008, cooperation in the social cultural pillar was also encouraged, this is seen from the various activities run under the pillar, such as the 3rd ASEM Cultural Ministers’ Meeting in Kuala Lumpur; the ASEM Education Ministers Meeting, in Berlin; the ASEM Tourism Forum, in Hanoi; the ASEM Seminar on Cultural Diversity in Hanoi. For the 2009 period, such activities under the pillar will continue to be reinforced.
Next, as stated before, what becomes the eye of attention for Indonesia in regard to ASEM cooperation is related to efforts in increasing concrete cooperation (action-oriented) that is mutually beneficial, especially in the area of trade and investment. For that purpose, Indonesia steps forward to encourage a more intensive dialogue in order to increase concrete cooperation in ASEM, among them is the holding of the Labor Ministers and Economy Ministers in Indonesia in 2008. However, due to the lack of participation from ASEM partner countries, it was cancelled.
Indonesia’s commitment in its second decade of concrete ASEM cooperation includes among them focusing on attempts to strengthen SME in both regions. For that Indonesia fully supports and actively participates in the first ASEM SME ministerial level meeting held on the end of October 2007 in Beijing, also participating in the SME product exhibition in Qingdao, China, where the execution was held back to back with the ministerial-level meeting. Besides that Indonesia also held the Development Dialogue Forum Indonesian SMEs in regard to ASEM in Banten in the past 2007. This forum aims to share experience in each ASEM partner country in developing SME in its own country.
The Issue of Extending ASEM 2008 - 2010
The issue of extending ASEM in 2008 - 2010 has rebloomed with the requests of participation from Australia and Russia. In the SOM meeting before the 7th ASEM Summit meeting, China delivered the volition of Australia and Russia to unite under one ASEM partner. In regard to this issue, in the Chair Statement, ASEM leaders request foreign ministers to discuss the issue of extending partnership in the upcoming meeting.
The Foreign Minister Level Meeting in Hanoi, 25 – 26 May 2009 has declared that SOM Leaders can determine the modalities for the formal reception of Russia and Australia in regard to the cooperation framework of ASEM in the 8th ASEM Summit, Brussels, 4 – 5 October 2010 and decide the criteria for extending ASEM in the future.
Indonesia in regard to the extending of ASEM supports the joining of Asian and European countries everywhere with consideration that the participation of the country can bring positive values for the development of the forum. However, Indonesia emphasizes that participation must be based on a consensus of partnering countries and not on a block-to-block basis.
The ASEM SOM meeting in Madrid, 25 January 2010 concluded in a joint statement from SOM ASEM on the modality of the formal reception of Australia and Russia as well as the extension of ASEM with the following main elements:
a. ASEM SOM agrees to set up a “third category” as a temporary management for the reception of Australia and Russia;
b. ASEM will maintain a regional coordination mechanism that consists of 4 coordinators, 2 per region;
c. SOM will continue to enforce the fulfillment of the FMM9 mandate, especially in formulating the criteria, principle, and procedure for the extension of ASEM in the future based on the Asia Europe Cooperation Framework (AECF) 2000.
The third category itself is a proposal from Singapore that aims to accommodate countries that are not completely a part of Asia or Europe. The third category is entitled to a special name, is temporary and is not precedence for the extension of ASEM in the future.
In September 2009, New Zealand delivered its volition to participate in the ASEM forum. Furthermore, following the approval of the third category mechanism as the modality for the formal entrance of Australia and Russia in the ASEM forum, New Zealand then delivered its wish to use the same corridor.
In the ASEM SOM meeting in Brussels, 14-15 July 2010, ASEM partners agreed to accept New Zealand through the third category in KTT ASEM8 as in the case of Australia and Russia.
Bangladesh in August 2010 delivered their official petition to participate in the ASEM forum. This was discussed in Asian ASEM SOM, in Phnom Penh, 26-27 August 2010. Principally, Asia partner countries embrace the entrance of Bangladesh into ASEM but the time was too close to KTT, the formal acceptance of Bangladesh could not be processed. ASEAN partner countries, including Indonesia believed that time is needed for the process of accepting a country.
In the 8th ASEM Summet in Brussels, 4-5 October 2010, Russia, Australia and New Zealand were formally accepted into the ASEM forum.
The entrance of these three countries was seen to add weight and influence of AEM in the international scope. However, on the other hand, it becomes a challenge for ASEM to prove itself as an effective forum in developing cooperation in Asia and Europe as well as fixating its role in the international scope.
5. ASEM and RI’s Foreign Politics
For Indonesia’s foreign politics, ASEM is a “bridge” built to lessen the gap between the two regions. ASEM is also one of the media for Indonesia to strengthen its position among Asian countries and cooperate with Europe (UE). Cooperation in the field of economy is a field that is enforced through ASEM. In order to support this, Asia Europe Business Forum (AEBF) was set up with members of business practicioners from ASEM countries. Between AEBF and the official ASEM forum a dialogue is facilitated with hopes that harmony is achieved between the policymakers and business practitioners.
Among them ASEM is used as a media to strengthen Indonesia’s ability in facing regulations/standards stipulated by UE and also in facing WTO regulations. In regard to this, Indonesia entwines cooperation in a project entitled “Trade Related Technical Assistance” worthy of more than 11 million Euro; making use of grants bestowed by the UE as much as 10 million Euro and having the rest taken cared by donations from Indonesians.
Besides through the ASEM forum, execution of the cooperation is also conducted through a bilateral path so a cooperation that is strengthening and complementing is created. Cooperation with Italy in SME, for instance, is an example of a cooperation that was built.
In the meantime, cooperation in social and cultural areas is one pillar cooperation used by Indonesia, among them to enhance HR and understanding about the diverse culture of ASEM member countries. The programs that are currently run among them include interfaith dialogue, human rights seminar, networking among universities, sending youth/university students etc.
In line with Indonesia’s commitment to increase concrete cooperation in the ASEM cooperation, in 2008-2010, Indonesia became the co-sponsor and participated actively in various ASEM programs in its three pillars (politics, economy and social cultural).
For the 2009 period, Indonesia became the host of 3 (three) ASEM events, i.e ASEM Interfaith/ Intercultural Retreat for Religious Leaders, ASEM Seminar on Empowerment of Local Community in the use of ICT, dan ASEM Conference on Harmonization of Competency Standards.
For the 2010 period, Indonesia became the host of 4 (four) events, i.e.:
1. 2nd Preparatory Senior Official Meeting for the 4th ASEM Culture Ministers Meeting, Solo, 15-17 April 2010;
2. 2nd ASEM Development Conference, Yogyakarta, 26-27 May 2010;
3. ASEM Forum on Information Communication Technology Research and Development Cooperation, Bandung, 20-21 Juli 2010;
4. 1st ASEM Governors and Mayors Meeting, Jakarta, 27-29 October 2010
For the development of the forum, Indonesia continues to participate actively in each event initiative held by the ASEM partners. Through such participation it is expected that Indonesia can open opportunities available in the ASEM process, especially in concrete cooperation areas that give benefits for domestic development process. (Update: 3 Juli 2015)