Intensive dialogue with Asia: Foreign Minister Westerwelle at the ASEM summit in Laos
On 6 November the ninth ASEM Summit of 51 European and Asian countries taking place in Vientiane, the capital of Laos, came to a close. Bangladesh, Norway and Switzerland were taking part for the first time as ASEM members. The gathering brought together a large number of heads of state and government as well as ministers from both continents. Germany was represented by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who was on his eighth trip to Asia this year.
Family photo of the ASEM Summit
© Free of charge provided copyright is acknowledged: Photothek / Th. Imo
Germany’s Foreign Minister believes the ASEM Summit was very important, “for it shows that the two regions of Europe and Asia are now connecting more closely,” he explained. That went in equal measure for economic issues and political coordination between the two regions. Speaking at the end of the summit, Westerwelle noted that in addition to their interest in investment and economic cooperation, both regions appeared, judging by the broad spectrum of topics covered, to have now reached “the next stage of consciously pursuing strategic cooperation at the political level.”
In a joint final statement, the 51 countries attending the summit in Vientiane voiced their desire to work together even more closely with a view to promoting peace and international understanding as well as sustainable development and trade liberalization. This was in line with the Summit motto “Friends for Peace, Partners for Prosperity”. Together ASEM member countries wield considerable clout, for they account for roughly 60% of global GDP, the world population and global trade.
ASEM summits are held every two years alternately in Asia and Europe. There are also regular ASEM ministerial meetings. The next summit will take place in Brussels in 2014.
The Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM) is an informal forum for dialogue between Europe and Asia as well as a framework for cooperation over a broad front: the spectrum ranges from politics, business, culture and the environment to topics such as migration, human rights, the fight against terrorism etc. ASEM was launched in 1996 in Bangkok by the then fifteen EU member states and ten Asian countries.
ASEM partners are currently the EU member states and the European Commission, the ten ASEAN member states – Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam – and the ASEAN Secretariat, along with the People’s Republic of China, Japan, South Korea, India, Pakistan and Mongolia, as well as since 2010 Russia, Australia and New Zealand and now also Bangladesh, Norway and Switzerland.
Westerwelle calls for free trade and confidence in Europe
51 countries round a table: ASEM Summit in Vientiane
Financial and economic issues – including trade liberalization, which both sides regard as an important topic – were high on the summit agenda. “I’m keen to see Europe and Asia more closely linked by free trade agreements,” Westerwelle noted on the margins of the conference. “Protectionism hinders growth, greater free trade generates growth.” Not only in Europe but also in Asia there was tremendous economic potential waiting to be tapped, he pointed out. After the summit he said there now seemed to be a greater desire for more free trade.
The Federal Foreign Minister urged ASEM partners also to have confidence in Europe and the eurozone. “Things in Europe are clearly getting better,” Westerwelle insisted. Important measures to tackle the European debt crisis were now beginning to work. That meant Asian investors, too, could have new confidence in Europe, he added. The summit had shown that confidence in Europe was once again on the rise, Westerwelle said at the end of the gathering. His impression was that there was keen interest to see Europe, which was Asia’s biggest trading partner, once again in a position “to do more for global growth and help solve the world’s political problems.”
Growth in Asia spells opportunity
Foreign Minister Westerwelle and French President Hollande at the ASEM Summit
Asia’s strong growth in recent years has greatly benefited the German economy and helped secure large numbers of German jobs. “The pace of globalization in Asia is faster than anywhere else,” the German Foreign Minister pointed out. Over the past decade Germany’s exports to Asia have increased by around 9% a year – twice as fast as with the rest of the world. The ASEAN countries alone have a population of around 600 million. Rising prosperity in these countries will boost consumer demand. New infrastructure, machinery and technologies will be needed as well as investments in renewable energies, well qualified manpower and better health care. This all spells tremendous opportunities for German business. But it was also in Asia’s interest “to develop stronger and closer links with Europe, a region of huge economic importance,” Westerwelle stressed.
- Website of 9th ASEM Summit in Laos 2012
- European Union and Asia/Pacific regional organizations
- Federal Foreign Office: country information on Laos
Last updated 06.11.2012