Asia-Europe ministerial meeting begins

Asia-Europe-MeetingGurgaon, Nov 11 : Foreign ministers of Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) countries began their two-day conclave here Monday in one of the biggest diplomatic gatherings this year in India.

Foreign ministers of 36 Asian and European countries, deputy foreign ministers of 12 countries and two vice ministers are participating in ASEM - a gathering of 49 countries and two international organisations - the European Commission and the ASEAN Secretariat.

The conclave is taking place at the Oberoi Hotel in this booming suburb of New Delhi that is part of what is called the National Capital Region and has become a major business hub.

Addressing the inauguration, Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari said: “ASEM can lead the way amongst the numerous multilateral frameworks that exist today to respond to common challenges at the regional and global levels. Many of these fora are seeing important success and I see no reason why ASEM cannot assume a leading position amongst these.”

The ASEM grouping is dedicated to bringing Asia and Europe together. It represents about 60 percent of the world’s population, 52 per cent of the global GDP, and 68 percent of world trade.

Ansari said in the world faced with a degree of unprecedented sophistication in non-traditional security threats which transcend national borders and traditional response patterns and necessitate greater cooperation, the strategic importance of the Asia-Europe partnership is evident.

He said there is need “to optimise the potential of the grouping with a sense of greater urgency. We should endeavour to take it beyond being a forum for political dialogue only, make it reach out to the people of Member States and create wider stake-holding amongst economic partners and civil society. We should invest its outcomes with tangible deliverables”.

Ansari said with ASEM reaching “significant maturity of approach and purpose, it is, perhaps, time to take its processes beyond the confines of diplomatic space to involve civil society, industry and media”.

The theme of the 11th ASEM Foreign Ministers' Meeting is ‘ASEM: Bridge to Partnership for Growth and Development’.

India as chair of the ASEM is “trying to push for a fresh approach that would reorient discussions of ASEM meetings from dialogue towards actual tangible cooperation, thereby taking ASEM to the next level of maturity," external affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin said earlier.

ASEM, he said, "traditionally has been focused on three dimensions - political dialogue, economic collaboration, and socioeconomic cooperation”.

Some specific areas of cooperation have been listed by India for the meeting, which include renewable energy, water management, skill development, food safety issues, as well as disaster management and mitigation.

India was invited to join the ASEM in 2007.

India's External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid, as the host, will chair the ministerial meeting and also hold several bilateral meetings on the sidelines. He is to meet Sartaj Aziz, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's advisor on foreign affairs and internal security, Tuesday.

The ASEM ministerial meetings are biennial and alternate with summit meetings. A summit meeting was held last year in Laos and this year India is hosting the foreign ministers' meeting. The next ASEM summit is set to be held in Brussels in autumn 2014.(IANS)