Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

New Zealand and the Asia-Europe Meeting: Three Years On: Mathew Doidge Finds New Zealand's Engagement with ASEM to Still Be Tentative and Calls for a More Flexible Approach

Academic journal article New Zealand International Review

New Zealand and the Asia-Europe Meeting: Three Years On: Mathew Doidge Finds New Zealand's Engagement with ASEM to Still Be Tentative and Calls for a More Flexible Approach

Article excerpt

Launched in 1996, the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) brings together 51 members (49 states and two regional organisations) in an increasingly dense and expansive dialogue framework. New Zealand joined ASEM at its eighth Summit in 2010, fully fifteen years after its initial expression of interest. Three years on, New Zealand's engagement with ASEM remains tentative. If the most is to be gained from its membership, a flexible approach is needed. There are a range of options open which together offer the possibility of achieving some of those benefits initially conceived, not the least of which is the demonstration of credibility and of commitment to the Asian space.

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New Zealand, alongside Australia and Russia, formally acceded to the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in October 2010. This followed fifteen years of drift, a period during which initial strong interest, derailed by the opposition of Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, subsequendy became less certain as views of the forum's utility to New Zealand dimmed. In effect, by the turn of the millennium, the issue of ASEM membership had been kicked into the long grass, where the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade was happy for it to remain until it became clear in mid-2008 that Australia was pushing strongly for entry and was likely to succeed. This move had wrong-footed MFAT, forcing a rapid rethink of a policy that had rested, among other elements, on a view that New Zealand's non-membership was acceptable given Australia's parallel exclusion. The final volteface and scramble for membership was therefore motivated in large part by a fear of marginalisation, a concern that Australian entry would leave New Zealand in the untenable situation of being the only regional state outside the forum. (1) Three years on, it is worth considering where New Zealand stands in relation to ASEM. Given its less than wholehearted accession, what benefits does it perceive in participation, and to what extent have these been achieved?

The Asia-Europe Meeting was launched in 1996 to strengthen links between Europe and Asia, and to balance those of each of these regions with the United States. While motivated largely by economic concerns--a European interest in benefitting from the Asian economic miracle, and corresponding Asian concerns with access to the European single market--political and cultural co-operation were also prioritised in the establishment of the forum. It was envisioned as a comprehensive partnership, one that was open, transparent and informal in nature, with no binding powers, but which would, nevertheless, pursue concrete results. Since its inception, ASEM's breadth, both in terms of its membership (which has risen from 26 at the inaugural summit in 1996 to 51 member states and organisations) and of its dialogue framework, has increased significantly. At the apex of the structure, providing direction to the process, are the biennial summit of heads of state and government and the foreign ministers' meeting (FMM), below which the forum is divided into three pillars of co-operation:

* political

* economic

* social, cultural and educational.

Dialogue in each of these pillars occurs through a variety of regular and ad hoc ministerial meetings, officials' meetings, working groups, experts' groups and so on. In other words, ASEM is not a purely governmental forum, incorporating instead a range of Track 2 structures and processes alongside those of Track 1. It is this that gives ASEM its remarkable breadth of interaction, with on-going meetings and consultations occurring at a variety of levels on a daily basis. One of the most visible of these, and the only physical ASEM institution, is the third pillars Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), which focuses on intellectual, cultural, and people-to-people exchange, an element differentiating the Asia-Europe Meeting from other international fora and one which has been accorded particular significance by the forum's membership. …

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