Stanley's blog

Wen Jiabao and Nato Kan, the prime ministers of China and Japan, discussed, in the wings of the ASEM Summit in Brussels, the tensions following the 7 September maritime incident near the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku islands. They will have further opportunities to talk when they meet later this month in Hanoi for the East Asia Summit, and in November in Yokohama for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum summit.

However, this does not mean that the issues of an apology from Japan and mutual claims for compensation are still outstanding. Both countries maintain their claims of sovereignty over the islands, but Japan has de facto control.

It is important to remember that there are regular skirmishes and that the significance of the 7 September incident is Tokyo’s reaction by arresting and detaining the Chinese skipper of the fishing boat.

Japanese Prime Minister Nao Kan handled the incident maladroitly. It remains uncertain why Beijing demands an apology and compensation, despite a diplomatic victory. China’s assertive attitude has raised the alarm of its neighbours and strengthened the American presidency in the region.

There are many formal summits – this week ASEM, EU-China and EU-Korea – at which little happens. However, they do give the opportunity for world leaders to meet informally in wings. There were also EU-China Business and Cultural Summits, attended by the leaders.

The EU-China Summit

This was disappointing. The Chinese were visibly upset at the harshness of the pressure being put on them to allow the yuan to rise in value. Although this issue was not on the Summit agenda, it did poison the atmosphere. The Chinese Prime Minister was not his usual open and diplomatic self. No progress was made on important issues, such as market access, intellectual property protection, public procurement, arms embargo or market economy status. The only progress was with one or two technical subjects, including visa facilitation. Cooperative agreements on Ocean affairs and Year of Youth 2011 were signed.

No press conference was held because the Chinese wanted no Q & A session with the journalists, a condition which, of course, the EU could not accept. One wonders whether the Chinese knew this and used it as a ploy to prevent a press conference which would clearly have been currency dominated and somewhat hostile. At the end of this divisive summit, President Van Rompuy stated that, "This should not impede our joint will to bring the relationship to a higher level. We should be ambitious and make sincere efforts to achieve progress," There was no separate statement from Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao as he left for a visit to Rome. We were relieved of the usual long joint statement. The Joint Press Communiqué contained only 11 paragraphs.

There was a mutual feeling that summits must be better prepared. The Chinese were rightly puzzled why Lady Ashton did not attend. The one hopeful area of closer cooperation is climate change. And a pleasing factor on the European side is how well Presidents Van Rompuy and Barroso worked together.

The ASEM Summit

The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) is the main multilateral channel for communication and dialogue between Asia and Europe. ASEM involves virtually the whole of Asia and Europe. The 45 ASEM partners represent half of the world’s GDP, almost 60% of the world’s population and 60% of global trade.

ASEM government leaders meet at Summits every two years – alternating between European and Asian locations. The ASEM 8 Summit took place on 4-5 October in the magnificent setting of the Royal Palace. The meeting was attended by the heads of states and of governments of 48 Asian and European countries (including newcomers, Australia, New Zealand and the Russian Federation) the Presidents of the European Council and the European Commission and the Secretary-General of ASEAN. .

The overarching theme of the two day Summit was “Quality of life, achieving greater well-being and more dignity for all citizens”. European Council President Van Rompuy chaired the Summit.

Issues discussed included: improving global economic governance; sustainable development (economic development, social cohesion, environmental protection, future Asia-Europe sustainable development cooperation); global issues (piracy at sea, fighting terrorism and combating transnational organized crime, disaster prevention and disaster relief, human security, human Rights and democracy, dialogue of cultures and civilizations, reform of the UN system, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament); regional issues; people-to-people relations between Asia and Europe, visibility and the future of ASEM. (see chair’s statement )

ASEM’s usefulness as a forum allowing informal contacts and discussions between leaders is valuable. Apart from the Wen- Kan meeting, consultations were also held on preparating for the G20 summit in Seoul in November and the meeting on climate change in Cancun. The next ASEM summit will be organised by Laos and held in 2012.

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