ASEM in Crisis
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
The two-day ASEM Summit opened and closed without any substantive achievement this past week. This organization composed of ten Asian and fifteen European countries and representing one-third of all humanity, was originally envisioned as a platform to coordinate Asian-European policy as a counter-balance to US unilateralism. However, instead of representing an alternative voice and a moderating force in international politics, this week’s summit demonstrated ASEM’s irrelevance when it comes to matters of global significance. Considering the fact that the press center was practically empty and that very few articles on ASEM itself were featured in newspapers throughout Europe, Asia and the world, the press seems to have recognized that ASEM has become an obscure organization whose policy is determined more by what the US wants than its actual constituents.
Things could have been different. In fact, a resolution was tabled on 22 September by several Asian and European countries including France, Japan and Germany, which declared the principle of a pre-emptive attack illegal and illegitimate. The Spanish daily El Pais quoted Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi citing Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor as an example of the dangers of ‘pre-emptivism’, reminding the world of the ravages of the Pacific War and the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives that resulted from this policy (El Pais, 23 September). However, the motion was thwarted by three of the US’ staunchest supporters: the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain. Ultimately, what came out of the summit was a resolution that stated nothing more than, "Iraq must fully cooperate with the U.N. for implementation of the requirements imposed on it by the international community in the field of disarmament", thereby giving a green light for US plans to remove Saddam Hussein from power, subject the Iraqi people to more devastation, destruction, death and insecurity and finally setting a dangerous precedent in international politics that permits a state to launch a pre-emptive strike against another with or without substantive evidence of the threat posed by the opposite number.
Recognizing that Iraq was a lost cause, ASEM leaders then turned to the issue of North Korea and praised Japan for its recent efforts towards normalization with this "rogue state". In this case, European and Asian leaders "reconfirmed the importance of engaging (North Korea) in the international community through constructive dialogue delivering concrete progress" and communicated that "they hoped the prospects for the resumption of dialogue between the United States and the DPRK (North Korea) will continue to improve" (Gareth Jones, Reuters, 23 September).
The twenty-five countries failed to respond to calls from the NGO community that the EC substantially increase its aid, particularly in the areas of health and primary education, to the poorest countries in Southeast Asia and virtually all of South Asia. According to a joint report issued by ActionAid and BOND entitled, 'Tackling Poverty in Asia,' Asia as a whole is home to almost three quarters of the world's most desperately impoverished people with India and China alone account for about half of the total. Despite the apparent need in the Asia, the report outlined that EC aid to Asia fell to a low of just seven percent of all EC aid money in the late 1990s, and that Turkey, for example, received twice as much EC aid as Bangladesh which has twice the population and about one-tenth the per capita income. Morocco also receives 50 percent more than Bangladesh. Nevertheless, ASEM leaders failed to respond to the critical situation in Asia with EU countries continuing to favor giving aid to middle-income countries (See Jim Lobe, "Europe Urged to Increase Anti-Poverty Aid in Asia", OneWorld US, 17 September).
Perhaps the most important conclusion one can draw from this summit is the overwhelming persuasive power that the US possesses in our world today. European and Asian viewpoints are hardly reflected or respected. This despite the fact that the terrorism, the threat of severe starvation, breakouts in disease and global political and economic instability are real and present dangers in Asia today. These problems are also having repercussions in Europe today as the continent faces massive levels of illegal immigration, drug and human trafficking. In conclusion, it is hard to imagine how such leaders seek to solve these issues without even pretending to consult the local populations and by simply bowing to the wishes of the world’s only superpower.
- Gareth Jones, "EU, Asian Leaders Seek Iraqi Action on Inspectors", Reuters, 23 September 2002
- "EU-Asia Summit Opens, Focus on Terrorism, N. Korea", Reuters, 23 September 2002
- Gareth Jones, "North Korea Dominates Summit of EU, Asia Leaders", 22 September 2002
- Jim Lobe, "Europe Urged to Increase Anti-Poverty Aid in Asia", 17 September 2002
- Gabriel Canas, "Aznar says that Israel also has to comply with UN resolutions", 24 September 2002
- Shuichi Doi, "An ASEM that lacks presence", 25 September, 2002