Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the opening of the Ambassadors Conference at the Federal Foreign Office

03.09.2007 - Speech

Federal Foreign Minister Dr Frank-Walter Steinmeier has invited the heads of Germany's missions abroad to attend the seventh Ambassadors Conference, taking place in the Federal Foreign Office from 3 to 6 September. The conference focuses on “The rise of Asia: Opportunities – options – challenges”

Mr Secretary-General,
Members of the German Bundestag and the European Parliament,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to welcome you all to this year's Ambassadors Conference.

I extend an especially warm welcome to Mr Ong Keng Yong, Secretary-General of ASEAN. Mr Ong, thank you very much for being with us today and for agreeing to speak to us on Asia, the focus of our Conference.

Many thanks also to the “T'ang Quartet” from Singapore which has tuned us into Asia so beautifully.

I am looking forward to this Ambassadors Conference. It is a first-class opportunity to pool this Ministry's expertise and discuss the direction of our foreign policy – particularly of course looking from the outside.

This is more important than ever as globalization affects us all. What happens today in Shanghai or Bangalore has implications for Frankfurt and Stuttgart. The major topics for the future – migration, climate protection, energy security, the fight against HIV/AIDS – have long ignored borders.

Taking it further, there is a link between the internal and the external, between the reform efforts at home and the scope we have for giving foreign policy the profile we want. How things are at home largely defines how we present ourselves as Germans and Europeans abroad, to the world, how others see us and also partly dictates how we see ourselves.

We can be happy here. What German federal governments have launched in the last three or four years by way of reform projects speaks for itself: labour market reform, subsidy cuts, budgetary consolidations, just as examples. Germany has re-assumed its role as Europe's economic engine. Now we need to further strengthen the foundations of the upturn as this also underpins foreign policy.

As does the fact that we have brought Europe back on track. Our EU Presidency was a success. On the reform treaty, a central priority, which takes on key elements of the constitution, we took a leap forward at the European Council in Brussels at the end of June – contrary to almost everyone's expectations. Some work is still to be done – in the Intergovernmental Conference which has been underway since late July. Yet the direction has been set. This is a clear message to our partners.

We took another huge step on climate protection during our G8 Presidency. The prospects for the Kyoto follow-on conference in Bali at the end of the year have improved. I'm intrigued to see just how much everything is in flux. It's great. Climate protection as our priority means a clear commitment to our responsibility in the global world.

That's why we chose Asia as the focus of our Ambassadors Conference. Asia's economic and political rise shows globalization as if in a crucible – with chances, challenges and consequences for us all. Even today, globalization almost has an Asian face!

Two-figure growth rates, huge export surpluses, growing investment in both directions speak for themselves. In future, three of the five economic powers will come from Asia.

Asia is also drawing closer together politically. ASEAN is a good example. Japan's G8 Presidency next year and the Olympic Games in Beijing will focus global attention on Asia.

Asian states are engines of globalization. Yet at the same time, we also find poverty, development deficits, regional rivalries over influence and resources, plus, as we are seeing in and around Afghanistan, on the Korean Peninsula or in the South China Sea, high-danger zones. Global security risks such as the proliferation of nuclear weapons, fundamentalism and the risk of failed states show their face especially in Asia, too. It is a continent whose prime feature is diversity and which cannot be reduced to a lowest common denominator.

But Asia shows us more clearly than anywhere else that the world is changing, distances are getting shorter, that some of what more recent history and geography prescribe is losing its resonance, that new things are emerging, indeed have to emerge.

But what does that mean for German and European foreign policy? Let me present five theses all showcasing that Europe and the Asian states are strategic partners in our global modernity.

Firstly, we see that even today Europe is a partner in Asia which doesn't merely wield power but wants to convince with ideas and solutions.

Our foreign policy has to make clear what Europe can offer Asia in future in terms of a cooperative partnership.

We shouldn't be too modest here. Joseph Nye described the weight of Europe's soft power and it was an Asian statesman who recently told me that the Europeans have what many Asian societies want: democratic state structures, infrastructure, civil rights, leading firms, high education and social standards, a wealth of culture. That is something we can score with in Asia.

But that doesn't mean we can sit back and relax. But we for decades wanted to see the rise of Asia and other countries in what we used to call the Third World and invested considerable amounts to this end. We are benefiting from this – in the form of competitively priced goods, falling inflation and growing productivity. It's crucial that we maintain the competitiveness of our also socially balanced European model. To do so, we need to remain ready and able to reform and at the same time improve the social conditions which opened the way to our prosperity both politically and economically. Politically, by increasing Europe's ability to act. Economically, by accepting the pressure to adapt emanating from Asia and further developing our own social model.

We have to take seriously the anxieties about globalization that we see here in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, triggered by the new pressure of competition. But no country would be as badly effected by protectionism as our own. In the first six months of 2007 alone, German companies sold goods to the value of 480 billion abroad. That is why free trade is essential for us. We all benefit.

Yet free trade has to go both ways. Artificial setting of exchange rates, restrictions on capital flows and the amassing of currency reserves create the danger of global imbalances. Our strategy based on partnership therefore has to be one of cooperation and transparency in the sense of economic global citizenship within international trade and financial organizations.

Secondly, shared problems need shared solutions. Europe and Asia need to become partners in a global resource and sustainability agenda.

Climate protection and energy supplies have become the issues defining our future which we cannot tackle without involving Asia. Even today, China is the largest CO2 emitter. Also turning to other sustainability questions – education, health, migration, security – it's simple: the more coordinated, the more effective. As many of my talks confirm, all these issues have long been on the radar in Asia.

Decision-makers are therefore facing conflicting priorities. Growth is important for us in Europe and is even more so in the developing states of Asia. Of course, we Europeans have to practise what we preach. However, a confrontational approach on climate policy following the principle of perpetrators on the one hand and victims on the other is also too simplistic.

But we Europeans can advocate European problem-solving. Firstly, outstanding German and European technologies in environmental technologies and expertise in research. Secondly, our experience on decoupling economic growth, the use of resources and CO2 emissions. Finally, diversifying the resource base and increasing energy efficiency to avoid dependencies.

Europe has a clear profile here as a problem-solver: politically, technologically, interculturally. We can rely here on a solid yet not fully tapped pool of dialogue instruments, for instance the EU process with ASEAN or ASEM.

One example is the last EU-ASEM Foreign Ministers Meeting in Hamburg at the end of May which was able to provide major climate-policy momentum for Heiligendamm. Or energy dialogue with China and India, the consultations on demography with Japan, the dialogue on social and education issues in the ASEM framework. We need to build on this.

Thirdly, if Europe wants to be relevant in Asia, we have to become a political partner. But who is whose partner? For Asia, this question is much more difficult to answer than Kissinger's famous question in Brussels about Europe's telephone number.

Despite globalization processes, Asia remains an interface of diverse, competing spheres of influence and interests, different political systems, different cultural and religious values. Even just given their size and growth rates, China and India will change the structure of power and influence in Asia. Conversely, economic integration has opened the way for political rapprochement and arrangements in the region. A recent example are inner-Korean developments following the six-party-talks.

The potential for regional cooperation is great, yet models on how to use it are lacking. It is the states of Asia themselves who need to develop these. The European route, going as far as communitarization of entire policy spheres in the EU, is one which cannot be transferred to Asia. There is no system of collective security but variable structures of multilateral or bilateral agreements and dialogue processes, mainly following the key players who ensure their own scope for action is not restricted.

Yet there is an unmistakeable interest in our blueprints for effective multilateralism. The interest is growing the more interlinked trade and resource flows become. We should oblige here because balancing interests and plurality are our speciality. It is especially in the interest of the mid-size Asian powers that we show that multilateral give and take and institutional frameworks can prevent conflicts and strengthen synergies.

Here, ASEAN is for us a choice partner. The EU has now had 30 years of cooperation with ASEAN. The organization is the regional motor for cooperative security relations in Asia, including the related fora such as the ASEAN Regional Forum, the East Asia Summit or ASEM. I am delighted that during the German Presidency we were able to launch a new, very concrete stage of cooperation with the Nuremberg Declaration. It is also encouraging that the ASEAN states are now working on a Charter on enhanced cooperation. This too, is a first step towards a political architecture.

Wherever cooperative structures emerge in Asia, we Europeans should see ourselves as partners. We are talking here about increased cooperation, for example observer status which the EU now has in the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and awaits in the East Asia Summit. If we become stakeholders in Asian processes, Europe's cooperative experience can perhaps even become part of Asian solutions.

This also holds true for security policy in the narrower sense. Now we are still at an early stage here but a start has been made with the successful ESDP Aceh mission with five ASEAN Member States. Also given the geographical distance, cooperation with Europe does bring value added on the topics central to increased integration on security policy.

This should also be part of constructive burden-sharing with the United States in Asia. As a Pacific power, the United States is Asia's direct neighbour and is and will remain an important factor in the region. The question of how to jointly shape globalization is Asia also needs to be more of a priority as part of the transatlantic agenda. I saw for myself last week in California just how much sustainable energy supply and environmental protection need to be included in the pool of shared transatlantic tasks in Asia.

One remark, fourthly, on China, India and Japan, the continent's heavyweights: influence and economic strength necessitate increased responsibility.

We need to pursue clear goals in our strategic partnership. A major part of this is integrating India and China in the regional and international context, flanked by our long-standing close cooperation with Japan as a G8 partner. What we need to do is develop an architecture for performing the major global tasks together with Japan, China and India. How and under what conditions this will happen will be the key strategic task of the coming decades.

To my mind this, too, must be a process geared to dialogue and stability. Here, there is no such thing as “all or nothing”. We will have to deal with Asian governance blueprints just as Asia's up-and-coming powers have to deal with the acquis of the 20th century. There may well be red lines on both sides, yet diplomacy in the 21st century has to ensure that we join in tackling shared problems.

That won't always be easy. The stronger Chinese profile very much helped to resolve the nuclear crisis with North Korea and bring about the Darfur Resolution in the Security Council in late July. That's great.

Yet some of what Chinese diplomacy is doing in its quest for resources in Africa and Asia is geared solely to pursuing its own interests in the very traditional sense. Those who say Africa awaits the arrival of the Chinese need only look at the African Union's new conference centre in Addis Ababa. China arrived long ago! I have seen this for myself on all my trips to Africa. This should be to Africa's advantage. Therefore we need to see and accept this as a challenge to our own policy on Africa. That is one of the many reasons why I worked during our EU Presidency to overcome the reservations which had persisted for years about an EU-Africa Summit.

Given the occasional rumblings in the European-Chinese engine, commentators have used the phrase “the honeymoon's over”. But that can also mean that we are entering a more realistic phase of relations. We need to take stock soberly and looking to the future while identifying central policy fields which can shoulder real strategic dialogue between Europe and China, and Europe and India. Not least on our respective roles as drivers of global change.

Fifthly, we have to responsibly draw up a framework and rules for dialogue with Asia.

Europe is based on values rooted in the Enlightenment and tolerance. This is not something we will deny in dialogue with Asia. But there is no contradiction between European values on the one hand and supposedly Asian values on the other. Much of what Confucius wrote could just have easily been penned by Plato or Thomas of Aquinas and the cultures of Asia and Europe have fed one another through the millennia. We are certainly not talking about unbridgeable cultural differences à la clash of civilizations. The largest democracy in the world has been in Asia for more than half a century: India!

Conflicts of interests, the parallel existence of opportunities and tensions can only be resolved if we are ready and able to engage in dialogue. There are traditions of mutual enrichment between Asia and Europe which we need to tap.

Part of this is that we meet the standards we expect from others. This is the light in which to see our commitment to human rights, the respect of the law, responsible policy in Africa and elsewhere. Only civil rights can guarantee individual freedoms and social prosperity in the long term.

This is the backdrop to cultural, education and scientific exchange with Asia. We are becoming ever more integrated and this needs to have a strong cultural dimension. Even today, Asia provides by far the largest number of foreign students in Germany. German culture and science are held in high esteem in Asia. Similarly, we welcome the increased cultural-policy activities in Europe on the part of China and other Asian states. It is an opportunity to deepen mutual understanding and we want to use it.

Governance based on law, multilateral integration and balancing cooperative security interests: these are the maxims of our foreign policy – not just in Asia. But there is often a close link between realizing these maxims and our policy in Asian states.

Parallel to the policy of dialogue and maximum integration, we have the extended security concept in cases of failing states and societies, human rights violations, international terrorism. That is why there are German troops in the NATO Mission in Afghanistan.

In just a few days, the German Bundestag will be looking at the extension of the Afghanistan mandate. Despite significant progress – reconstruction is moving forward, although not as quickly as we would perhaps like – Afghanistan remains dependent on our help.

The security situation in the country has not improved since last summer. Yet, the Afghan Government is increasingly assuming leadership on reconstruction. Advances are also being made on rebuilding the Afghan security forces. But they are currently not able to ensure security in the country on their own. That is why our soldiers' mission needs to be continued for the time being.

We need to focus more on enabling the Afghans themselves to guarantee security and freedom. I am absolutely convinced that the German Bundestag will shoulder its responsibility here.

Another interface between Asia and Europe is home to the states of Central Asia. With our Central Asia Strategy, we have looked at this important region, defined objectives and interests in the region and devised concrete perspectives for future cooperation, looking especially at energy supplies. This is now being implemented.

Ladies and gentlemen,

To close let me touch upon some other priorities of our foreign policy.

We need to anchor the European approach particularly in the EU's neighbourhood. This is the purpose of the European Neighbourhood Policy which we launched during our Presidency and is geared to both our neighbours in the east and in the Mediterranean region.

Cooperation and partnership are also the hallmarks of our policy on Russia. Economic links are highly developed which stabilizes relations as a whole. I advocate a strategic partnership to anchor Russia as firmly as possible in Europe. This does not exclude occasional differences of opinion or disagreements.

But it is important to keep talking. Also because there are difficult questions on the agenda with Russia – the future of Kosovo, the CFE Treaty and missile defence, to name but a few. Just like on global issues, we need Russia's constructive involvement here. That is what I mean when I talk about needing fresh efforts on the new Eastern dimension.

For some time, there have been cautious signs of new movement in the Middle East – a development very much furthered by the revival of the Middle East Quartet supported by Germany and Europe. This we welcome. The chances of making progress in this absolutely critical field of international politics have also increased with Tony Blair's appointment as Middle East Envoy. We need to use every opportunity we have to build peace.

Both in Asia and the rest of the world, people expect a lot of us. You know this from your own experience.

We can only respond to this with an outstanding Foreign Service. The Federal Foreign Office proved that we have such a highly professional, capable and loyal Service not least during our EU and G8 Presidencies. The missions were a crucial part of the success story and thus I am very grateful to each and every one of you, and to all staff.

This has been recognized in the Federal Government and the German Bundestag. This high regard is reflected in the 12% increase in the Federal Foreign Office budget contained so far only in the Government draft. But hopefully, and this I will fight for, this will soon be included in the Bundestag Budgetary Act. We really do need the additional funds not least in order to tangibly step our cultural relations and education policy which is something especially important to me.

I will do what I can to ensure this is not a flash in the pan. Much lies ahead which will stretch the vigour and energy of this Ministry – Asia is only one such field, albeit a particularly important one. The missions have to be in a position to do their job.

Perhaps we will also have to consider channelling more resources from headquarters to the missions. And, we need to retain our credibility – and therefore continually take a critical look at how to best use our scarce resources.

I am aware of the special demands of the Service. On my trips I have gained an insight into the difficult working conditions in many parts of the world. I would like therefore to pay particular tribute to the spouses and partners who provide support for you and your staff abroad – and what is more don't get a penny for doing so. For this, I express my particularly sincere thanks.

I know what the Federal Foreign Office and all its staff are doing.

Our foreign policy needs you – wherever you are whether in Berlin or in the missions abroad, of which 55 or more than a quarter are in Asia.

Asia – that is the buzzword!

May I now ask Mr Ong, Secretary-General of ASEAN, to take the floor.

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