The EU hosted and chaired the ASEM Senior Officials' Meeting on 22-23 June. The main purpose of the meeting was twofold:
- to set a new tone and seize opportunities for ASEM to enhance its role in a context of accelerating global change;
- to prepare the upcoming 13th ASEM Foreign Ministers' Meeting, to be held on 21-22 November in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar.
There was a strong turnout from all ASEM partners, at senior official level, highlighting the importance that Asian partners and the EU and its member states attach to the ASEM framework.
Former President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, was the dinner keynote speaker. His messages on the revival of the EU project and the need for enhanced Europe-Asia cooperation in today's 'a-polar world' (one shaped by globalisation but with no one in charge) were carefully crafted and well-received. Moreover, in collaboration with the EEAS, Friends of Europe organised a well-attended public debate on the new sense of purpose for ASEM. The event summary is here:http://www.friendsofeurope.org/global-europe/business-ties-geopolitics-give-momentum-asem/
Main outcomes of the SOM and APGC:
Senior Officials discussed and agreed that recent international developments have enhanced the importance of ASEM as key component of the rules-based international order. In turn this meant that ASEM should move with the times by ensuring efficient working methods and substantive agendas, focused on strategic challenges where ASEM can make a difference.
SOMs discussed and agreed on the need for ASEM Chair Statements to be significantly shortened by highlighting key principles and concentrating on issues that have effectively been discussed by Ministers while avoiding renegotiating issues that are already being dealt with in other, especially UN fora. The role and prerogatives of the Chair were underlined, to capture the consensus, or if this proves elusive, to describe in a factual manner the views expressed on the areas where full consensus could not be reached.
The SOMs also covered the issues to be discussed at the 13th ASEM FMM to be structured around three broad clusters:
- global challenges (e.g. SDGs, climate change, rules-based trade);
- common security challenges (counter-terrorism, de-radicalisation, maritime security, cyber security and cyber freedom);
- regional and international issues (in and around Europe, Asia and the wider Middle East, as well as cooperation on Africa).
All agreed on the importance of allocating ample time for informal dialogue, making optimal use of retreats and bilateral meetings.
The SOM was preceded by the 1st ever meeting of the ASEM Pathfinder Group on Connectivity. The meeting started with short presentations including from Commission colleagues and the EIB, around four clusters:
- Transport and the link to the preparations for the ASEM Transport Ministers Meeting in September in Bali Indonesia;
- Customs and trade facilitation, building on the ASEM work on customs and the preparations for the Economic Minister Meeting in September in South Korea;
- Digital issues including a read out of the High Level Forum on Digital Connectivity held in Qingdao China;
- Investment Financing and quality infrastructure.
This was followed by an in-depth exchange on forging a definition of Connectivity 'that meets the needs of ASEM'. The APGC agreed on the following common elements: to work for a broad and inclusive definition covering the three ASEM pillars, including both 'hard' and 'soft' aspects and with a wide geographical coverage. ASEM work on Connectivity should build on already existing regional cooperation, avoiding duplication of efforts.
Key principles for the comprehensive definition were discussed and agreed: respect for international rules and standards, transparency, level playing field, mutual benefits based on consultation on an equal footing, transparency and the rule of law.
On this basis, work will continue during the 2nd meeting of the APGC in September (back-to-back with the next ASEM SOM) to arrive at a formal definition of Connectivity in time for the ASEM Foreign Ministers Meeting in November in Myanmar.