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Opening the Asia-Pacific Weeks 2007 – Speech by Minister of State Gernot Erler

10.09.2007 - Speech

The Asia-Pacific Weeks are a unique series of events covering politics, economics, science, and culture, as well as creative and artistic themes, which will turn Berlin into a window on Asia for the next two weeks.

Governing Mayor,
Minister Wan,
Ambassador Ma,
Dr Hambrecht,
Professor Limbach,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you very much for inviting the Federal Foreign Office to open this year's Asia-Pacific Weeks.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier would have loved to have been here.

But unfortunately he has been called away to another appointment at short notice.

He is very sorry not to be able to join you now, and sends his apologies and greetings to you all.

I would like to extend his, or perhaps I should say "our" best wishes to the Governing Mayor and to all participants in the Asia-Pacific Weeks, which are this year celebrating their tenth anniversary.

I hope this anniversary is a great success!

The Asia-Pacific Weeks are a unique series of events covering politics, economics, science, and culture, as well as creative and artistic themes, which will turn Berlin into a window on Asia for the next two weeks.

They also give us an opportunity to take our ideas and designs to Asia – an opportunity that is enthusiastically seized, as a brief look at the rich and varied programme shows.

The Asian boom has also made it into the Federal Foreign Office. Indeed, the priority theme at this year's Ambassadors Conference, which brings together the Heads of the German Missions from around the world, was "The rise of Asia – opportunities, options and challenges".

Without going into too much detail, we can provisionally sum up how we see things.

  • First: Asia-Pacific is changing the world. This conclusion reflects word for word the motto chosen by this year's Asia-Pacific Weeks in Berlin. In other words, developments in Asia have an impact far beyond the region itself – they are felt in Europe, Africa, America and the Middle East.
  • Second: The rise of Asia is not a distant dream. It is happening now. And the changes that it brings can already be seen.
  • Third: Asia is an issue that touches on almost all policy areas, both domestic and foreign. Our way of dealing with it must be suitably holistic.
  • Fourth: The challenges created by the rise of Asia are interconnected with the big issues for the future of mankind. One particularly good illustration of this is climate change. Such issues can only be successfully tackled if we work together with our partners in the Asia-Pacific region.

We do not want our policy on Asia to be purely passive, always one step behind the breakneck pace of development achieved by the Asian countries. We want to have a hand in directing these developments, together with our European partners – not least because we are an export nation, and every fifth job in Germany depends on exports. This means shaping globalization and realizing that this is a key task of politics – in particular, let me add, of foreign policy. The Cabinet came to similar conclusions at its special meeting in Meseberg.

Investment in the future and domestic reforms are so important because they are the only way in which we can make sure that we stay internationally competitive, having become more so once again. Globalization has to be managed for the good of the people in all our countries. One very important factor is sustainability. Sustainability means thinking of future generations, not just our own. The importance of this is obvious when it comes to protecting the environment and the world's finite resources. But it also applies to education and training, and attracting investment to Germany.

What does a sustainable policy on Asia look like in practice?

Let me answer this question by making just three points.

Firstly, our policy on Asia is designed in such a way that we are able to "sit at the table" there, at the well-spring of the forces of globalization – in Asia itself.

  1. To this end we launched various initiatives during the German EU Presidency with the aim of giving the EU and thus Germany, too, a greater say in developments there. These enable us to propose European and German solutions in Asia and to enter the "competition of ideas" that the Asia-Pacific region wants the world to join. The Federal Foreign Minister went into great detail about this at last week's Ambassadors Conference, both at the opening on 3 September and at the Business Forum on 4 September.
  2. In our cooperation and dialogue with Asia we have focused attention on the issues I've just mentioned, which are commonly referred to as "soft issues" – education, training, work and employment, the environment, energy and science. These and other vital issues for the future have long been a regular feature on the agendas of meetings with our Asian interlocutors, both at bilateral level, with China, India, Japan and south-east Asian and Pacific countries, and at multilateral level, in the European-Asian framework, for example at ASEM, the Asia Europe Meeting. On this note, I hope you will permit me a short aside. I would like to say right now what a special pleasure it is to launch this year's Asia-Pacific Weeks together with the Asian guest of honour, Mr Wan, the Chinese Minister of Science and Technology.
  3. Europe and Germany have much to offer when it comes to these key issues for the future. Europe's economic clout and strong innovation, its cultural wealth and creativity are also admired in Asia. Europe and Asia are thus attractive partners for each other. They are a good match, because each has something to gain from the other.

Secondly, we are pursuing an active external economic affairs policy in the Asia-Pacific region. While continuing to push for multilateral trade facilitations under WTO auspices, in the first half of 2007 we also initiated bilateral EU negotiations on free trade agreements with ASEAN countries from south-east Asia, as well as with India and South Korea. For we want to help German and European companies profit from the developments in Asia and ensure that they are not disadvantaged in any way in comparison with competitors from the region and in face of the growing number of bilateral free trade agreements in Asia. In this context, let me comment briefly on the key questions of product safety and intellectual property. Notwithstanding our desire to further develop trade and economic relations, we will continue to demand that our partners fully comply with their WTO obligations, including those on product safety. Problems for foreign trading partners and direct investment are also caused by inadequate protection of intellectual property, customs duties, high localization costs and market access barriers for services and public procurement. We do have a comprehensive framework for economic dialogue, especially with China – in addition to the Joint Ministerial-Level Economic Commission, there are numerous working groups on specific issues such as trade, the environment, energy, competition policy, customs cooperation, the protection of intellectual property, all of which provide an opportunity for these matters to be discussed. At the same time, we ourselves are also responsible for ensuring that imported products are safe. This is a responsibility we have to face up to.

Thirdly, and just as importantly, we are proponents of a value-based Asian policy. As part of our diplomacy with Asian countries, we highlight core European values such as democracy, the rule of law, human rights, good governance, civil liberties and basic rights. They are in our view crucial for social and economic prosperity. Economic growth with social safeguards, which not only gives people jobs, but good jobs, equals sustainable and thus stable growth that ultimately benefits everyone.

The range and number of events organized this year as part of the Asia-Pacific Weeks – as described in the dense 50-page programme – give a first impression of what we can look forward to.

For the next two weeks, Berlin will be the place to come face-to-face with the Asia-Pacific region; to meet Asia's people and be introduced to their ideas, which are so often amazing and fascinating.

On this note, let me wish you an enthralling and eventful journey through the fourteen days of the Asia-Pacific Weeks in Berlin.

Thank you.

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