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ASEM: Who?

How many Europeans know that an ASEM Summit will be held in Brussels on 4-5 October this year, attended by prime ministers or presidents of 45 countries plus the EU/Commission? Indeed, how many are aware of the existence of ASEM, which is distinct from ASEAN?

ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) embraces the 10 ASEAN members (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Phillipines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam); China, Korea and Japan; India, Pakistan and Mongolia; 27 EU Member States plus the Commission; with Australia and Russia becoming members in October, and New Zealand expected soon. It was founded in 1996.

ASEM members account for 12 of the G20 members, 50%+ of world GDP and 62% of global trade. It is not an institution and is better described as a process. ASEM is the main multilateral channel for communication and dialogue between Asia and Europe.

The summits take place every two years, this year’s Brussels Summit will be ASEM 8, and its theme “Improving the Quality of Life”.

Education and research

ASEM’s Trans-Eurasia Information Network is the first large-scale research and education network connecting regional researchers in Asia and Europe. Over 60 million users now have access to improved internet network performance providing mutually beneficial global research collaboration

Other stakeholders

Civil society groups, parliamentarians and the business community meet at the Asia Europe People’s Forum, Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership and Asia-Europe Business Forum, held every two years alongside the summits.

Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF)

The Singapore based ASEF is funded by the ASEM partners and promotes understanding and collaboration between the peoples of Asia and Europe through cultural, intellectual and people-to-people exchanges. ASEF’s outreach to civil society and the wider public and the ASEM InfoBoard, managed by ASEF, provide information on the ASEM programme.

Other activities

ASEM is an ongoing dialogue between Asian and European governments. In the years between summits, many inter-governmental ASEM meetings are held, which maintain the momentum of the Asia Europe-dialogue on political, economic, social and cultural issues of mutual interest to the partners


ASEM is to be encouraged, as it provides the opportunity to bring together Europeans and Asians from all sectors of society and at all levels. Its non-institutional character encourages greater informality, although it does give rise to lack of coordination. The organizational structure needs strengthening, in order to increase coordination, but not at the expense of informality.

Above all, ASEM encourages Asians and Europeans to work together, to increase mutual understanding and to build trust. Our leaders face too much summitry these days, but the bilateral meetings in the shadows of the summit can sometimes be more important than the summit discussion itself.

The rising importance of Asia demands an effective Brussels think tank, dedicated to EU-Asia relations. It also demands greater circulation of the work ASEM does.

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