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. Asia Europe Leaders End Summit With Lofty Statements But Promise Little

Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi gives a press conference on the last day of two-day Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM), 11 September 2006 at the Helsinki Fair Centre. Photo courtesy of Gerard Cerles and AFP.
by Rory Mulholland
Helsinki (AFP) Sep 11, 2006
Thirty-eight European and Asian leaders ended a Helsinki summit on Monday with lofty statements on global warming, world trade and the battle against terrorism but they stopped short of making firm promises. On climate change, the final statement of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) said its members were committed to keeping up attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions after the UN's Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

But their only concrete plan to achieve this was to "provide financial and technical assistance to ASEM developing countries in accordance with relevant provisions" of the United Nations' goals on reining in global warming.

With the second day of their summit coinciding with the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks, the European and Asian leaders held a moment of silence in commemoration during a morning session of their talks.

The leaders, who represent nearly half the world's population, discussed threats that both their regions face, ranging from terrorism to pandemics and some of the more negative sides of globalisation.

"ASEM can be instrumental in achieving tangible progress in tackling various forms of crime such as money-laundering, drugs trafficking, illicit arms trading and human trafficking, as well as the financing of terrorism, and corruption," said Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen of Finland, which currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.

But typically, there was no precise plan as to what ASEM would do halt these evils.

Leaders also sidestepped prickly issues such as human rights issues in China and rising European protectionism against Asian imports.

They also included in their final statement a call for World Trade Organisation talks, which ground to an acrimonious halt in July, to be relaunched.

The 25-nation European Union, both curious and cautious about Asia's growing role in world affairs, was hosting leaders from China, Korea, Japan and the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Widely seen as long on talk and short on substance, the 10-year-old ASEM club is still trying to prove its relevance.

Seiji Endo, professor of international politics at Seikei University in Tokyo, said the "raison d'etre of ASEM is its role as a talk shop".

"It's all the more important to have this kind of dialogue, in a world where the sole superpower is a country which thinks military power can solve any problem," he said.

With 40 percent of the world's population, the two regions represented in Helsinki generate about 50 percent of global gross domestic product and 60 percent of world trade.

But the balance of trade is rapidly moving in Asia's favour, in particular due to the meteoric economic rise of China. EU leaders are also keen to rival powerful US influence in a region where a few decades ago several European states still possessed colonies.

And Europe would like to get China, which has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, on its side on issues such as Iran's nuclear programme.

European leaders on Sunday called on their Asian counterparts to help stop workers being exploited and let them profit more from the globalisation that has helped turn Asia into an economic powerhouse.

"To maximise the benefits of globalisation and mitigate its potential adverse impact, there is a need to strengthen the social dimension," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

ASEM agreed on Sunday to bring new members into the club, with invitations to India, Mongolia, Pakistan, Bulgaria and Romania to join in future meetings. The next ASEM heads of state meeting is scheduled for 2008 in Beijing.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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