Asia-Europe Meeting


[dropcap font=”0″]A[/dropcap]SEM or the Asia-Europe Meeting is a cooperation forum for Asian and European countries. It was initiated to strengthen dialogue and interaction between Europe and Asia, the two pivotal regions in the world. The ASEM is a process of dialogue and cooperation involving 30 countries Europe, 19 countries from Asia, as well as member states of EU and ASEAN, making a total of 51 partners.
ASEM does not have secretariat office, however, the coordination team involves one from member of ASEAN and one from representative countries of Asia, while one from European Union and one representative country of Europe, totally 4 groups.  A member of ASEAN and a member of EU take the permanent seats, while the two representative members are alternately selected.
The ASEM has emerged after  the leaders from Europe and Asia have seen the possible benefits  from promotion of cooperation between the two regions due to changing situations in 1990s.
In November 1994 during an official visit , French president Jacques Chirac discussed with Singapore premier Go Choke Tong to establish ASEM  for holding a forum for informal meeting of leaders from Asia and Europe. Europe Commission issued the paper ‘Towards a New Strategy for Asia’ in July 1994, and it could pave the way for ASEM. Mr Chris Patten, the last Hong Kong Governor of the United Kingdom and later worked at European Commission, took a key role for the establishment of Asia- Europe cooperation.
The inaugural ASEM Summit was held in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1996 and since then the meeting of Heads of State or Government has been organised every two years alternately in Asia and Europe. While ASEAN Summit could be held after the bloc was first founded, the ASEM convene its summit together with its establishment. This is the prominent character of ASEM. Foreign ministers of ASEM meet during the year when ASEM Summit is not held in Asia and Europe alternately. Late, ministerial meeting of ASEM have been held every year, together with biannual high-level meeting of foreign affairs ministries. The meetings of economic ministers are also held every two years with occasional meeting of financial ministers. The topics in these meetings include not only issues of Asia and Europe, but also global matters such as anti-terrorism, trade negotiations and future collaboration.
ASEM is different from ASEAN and EU. While the meeting between ASEAN EU is just concerned with  the blocs, ASEM covers ASEAN, EU, members of ASEAN and EU or the countries located in Asia and Europe regions. As Myanmar is a member of ASEAN and it is also located in Asia region, it is a member of ASEM. Therefore, President of Republic of Union of Myanmar is scheduled to attend the 10th ASEM Summit which will be held in Milan, Italy, on 16 and 17 October this year.
The participation of Myanmar in ASEM is very meaningful. Myanmar President will represent for not only Myanmar, but also the ASEAN as an rotating chairmanship of the bloc. During two decades, ASEM meetings could widen the cooperation of Asia and Europe in the fields of politics, economy, monetary, finance, culture, education, culture and youth issues.
There have been many remarkable events in the history of relation between Myanmar and ASEM. ASEM was established in 1996 and Myanmar becomes a member of ASEM in 1997. Since 1996, Myanmar encountered pressure and restrictions of EU due to the political situations of southeast Asia country.
The second ASEM was held in London in 1998, with the participation of seven members of ASEAN, China, Japan, South Korea, and 15 members of the EU. The European side, especially the EU, expressed their strong disapproval of the inclusion of Myanmar in the ASEM. On the other hand, the ASEAN demanded the presence of all of its ten members in the meeting.
At that time, the ASEM had not taken shape yet. And Myanmar had not yet signed the ASEAN-EU Protocol 1980. The signing of the protocol would mean entering into heated discussions on democracy and human rights issues. At that time, Myanmar was deemed a blockage in Asia-Europe relations. The ASEAN had never yielded to demands made by European countries for the exclusion of Myanmar from the ASEM. In addition, the bloc displayed their unity by responding that no member of the ASEAN would attend the meeting if Myanmar’s participation was ruled out. As the EU preferred the participation of its new members in the ASEM, it unavoidably had to allow all new members of the ASEAN. Even so, the European side limited Myanmar’s participation in various ways. They did not allow Myanmar to take part in discussions; they used Myanmar’s former name, which was Burma; and they wanted Myanmar to send only its foreign minister instead of head of state. Myanmar, together with its ASEAN members, demanded equal partnership. At ASEM-related meetings, Myanmar elaborated on its constructive political progress. External elements who were against the Myanmar government at that time took advantage of that dilemma in pressing Myanmar.
Thus, Myanmar could send its foreign minister to the ASEM, which took place in Helsinki, Finland, in 2006. The same thing could be said for ASEMs in China in 2008 and in Belgium in 2010. Since 2006, Myanmar has participated in foreign ministers’ meetings, finance ministers’ meetings and economic ministers’ meetings.
With full support from the ASEAN, Myanmar had to overcome lots of obstacles to join ASEM. Europe presented Myanmar delegates with more difficulty in getting entry visas than Asia did, when the meetings were organized there.
Every obstacle Myanmar had encountered is now a thing of the past. Myanmar delegates enjoy encouragement and support in ASEM. The EU is now all in favour of Myanmar’s democratic reforms. Better relations between Myanmar the EU will help cement not only the relations between the ASEAN and the EU but also the cooperation with the ASEM. At the time of the newly elected government, President U Thein Sein himself attended the ninth ASEM for the very first time, which took place in Vientiane, Laos, on 5-7 November 2012. President U Thein Sein received a warm welcome extended by leaders of European countries as they showed enormous interest in and enthusiasm about the ongoing democratic reforms in Myanmar. In addition, they gave the Myanmar president informal meetings. Among them were leaders from Luxembourg, Denmark, Italy and Finland. Myanmar’s foreign minister was not an exception too. Thus, ASEM has turned out to be a forum that strengthens not only the relations between Asia and Europe but also the relations between Myanmar and Europe.
President U Thein Sein is scheduled to attend the 10th ASEM, which will be hosted in Milan, Italy, from 16 to 17 October. It will be the first time Myanmar will ever participate in ASEM to be held in Europe. As a summit that draws representatives of nearly 50 countries from Asia and Europe, ASEM will definitely help Myanmar improve its relations with the international community and vitalize its democratic reforms.

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