Civic Bodies Should Express Themselves Peacefully during Seoul ASEM Period

Article excerpt

The third Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) will be held in Seoul for two days, starting Oct. 20, and heads of state from 10 Asian and 15 European nations, as well as the leadership of the European Commission, in addition to some 3,000 delegates, will attend.

The idea of ASEM was first introduced in the early 1990s, when European countries began to turn their attention to economic cooperation with Asia's newly emerging industrialized countries, such as Korea and Singapore. Asian countries also started to recognize the need for stronger ties with Europe during that period.

ASEM was first convened in Bangkok in 1996, in accordance with the 1994 proposal for its creation by Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

The Seoul ASEM is important because it is being held when improved inter-Korean relations have expanded the horizon of economic activities to the entire Korean Peninsula, including a railway linking Europe and Asia as a new ``silk road.'' This is also a golden opportunity to consolidate the partnership between Korea and the EU, and ascertain Korea's position as to a trade hub in Eurasia connecting the two economic continents.

The growing economic power of Korea will certainly necessitate exchanges and cooperation with Europe.

Korea sold goods worth $20.24 billion, or 15.5 percent of Korea's total exports, to the EU, and purchased $12.629 billion, or 10.6 percent of total imports, from the EU in 1999. Trade has grown continuously.

From 1998 to 1999, the EU's investment in Korea surged 117 percent and reached $6,259 million, a pace which surpassed that of Japan and the United States.

Given that, Korea urgently needs to expand exchanges and cooperation with its EU and Asian partners in ASEM, that would help it attain the level of world-class nations.

However, trade unions and civil organizations, including international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), plan to stage protest rallies to disrupt the meeting, causing increased anxiety. Moreover, domestic trade unions are likely to take advantage of the ASEM meeting to protest against the restructuring process in Korea.

These developments are a reminder of last year's failure of the opening ceremony of the WTO ministerial meeting in Seattle, due to demonstrations, and the shortened schedule of the IMF/IBRD general assembly meeting, held in September in Prague, less than two months ago. …