Traditionally, the political dialogue is a key element of the ASEM process. High-level meetings held as part of ASEM, at Heads of State and Government as well as at Foreign Ministers levels, have allowed the development of a genuine dialogue on the main political issues of concern to ASEM partners. ASEM has become a privileged framework where Asian and European countries can discuss major global issues on the international agenda, such as terrorism, Weapons of Mass-Destruction (WMD), migrations, dialogue of Cultures and Civilisations, environment, Human Rights, or the impact of globalisation. ASEM is also a privileged process where regional developments can be addressed in a non-confrontational way.
ASEM political pillar's activities focus on international crisis, security, multilateralism. In addition it seeks to open up the dialogue with policy-makers from Europe and Asia.
The ASEM political pillar offers a privileged dialogue platform to address international and regional issues. It provides with additional consultation opportunities in an informal setting. It is worth noting that, for instance on North Korea, all the key partners are around the ASEM table, hence allowing ASEM to develop a substantial dialogue on the situation on the Korean peninsula.
ASEM Leaders and Ministers have regularly exchanged their views and occasionally taken a common stance on international and regional developments of common interest. On certain issues, when deemed appropriate, ASEM Leaders and ASEM Foreign Ministers have endorsed separate political declaration. It was for example the case on the Middle East Peace Process and India-Pakistan relations when the situation in the region was rapidly deteriorating (Foreign Ministers Meeting of 4 June 2002 in Madrid).
At the Foreign Ministers Meetings in Bali in July 2003 and in Kildare (Ireland) in April 2004, ASEM Foreign Ministers discussed regional developments including the political situation in Burma/Myanmar. Ministers discussed recent political developments in Burma/Myanmar. The Ministers called on the Government of Myanmar to release Daw Aung San Suu Kyl and other NLD partners and ensure them freedom of political activities. They called upon Burma/Myanmar to resume its efforts toward national reconciliation and democracy. Subsequently, ASEM 5 and 6 Summits saw discussion on the latest situation in Burma/Myanmar, North Korea, as well as the situation in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the Middle East.
ASEM political pillar has worked towards reinforcing the multilateral system and promoting a Asia-Europe dialogue on key-issues. The ASEM Foreign Ministers Meeting 3 in Beijing (24-25 May 2001) agreed to further develop ASEM dialogue in the fields of arms control, disarmament and UN reforms. In fact, the ASEM political dialogue can facilitate the streamlining of the international agenda, and enhance multilateral co-operation. One prime example of this ASEM co-operation is the decision to hold consultations on an had hoc basis before sessions of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly at the appropriate level in New York or other agreed places to exchange views on relevant agenda items. A first informal meeting of the Ambassadors of ASEM partners to the UN took place on 7 September 2001 in New York before the planned UN General Assembly. Other informal meetings in New-York, at Ambassadors level have taken place since. The ASEM 4 Summit (Copenhagen, 22-24 September 2002), drawing on the positive experience of the consultative meetings of ASEM partners at the United Nations, has decided that ASEM partners should continue this political dialogue, by establishing an ad hoc informal consultative mechanism enabling ASEM Coordinators and Senior Officials to exchange views on significant international events.
Pursuant to 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, the fight against international terrorism has become a priority in the political dialogue among ASEM partners. At the ASEM 4 Summit (Copenhagen 2002), Leaders have underlined their determination to fight international terrorism, while underlining the need to address the root causes of the emergence of terrorism. They pledged to work closely together to combat this threat to global peace and security, sustainable economic development and political stability. It was stressed that the fight against terrorism should be based on the leading role of the United Nations and the principles of the UN Charter. Leaders have adopted the ASEM Copenhagen Declaration on Cooperation against International Terrorism and the ASEM Copenhagen Cooperation Programme on Fighting International Terrorism. Actions are planned under the 2002 ASEM Copenhagen Cooperation Programme including, inter alia, organizations of seminars, greater Europe-Asia cooperation at the UN level (accession and implementation of existing international counter-terrorism conventions and work towards the finalisation of UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism and Convention on Nuclear Terrorism), increased cooperation on customs, air and maritime security, money laundering.
Specific activities are now being undertaken. A Seminar on counter-terrorism was held in Beijing on 22-23 September 2003 during which ASEM partners reaffirmed the need to cooperate in the context of the United Nations, and on issues such as money-laundering. The next conference will be held in Germany in October 2004. Furthermore, an ASEM anti-money laundering project is being implemented.
ASEM political dialogue has been active in the field weapons of mass destruction and non-proliferation. At the ASEM Foreign Minister in Bali in July 2003, Ministers exchanged views on the issue of Weapons of Mass-Destruction and agreed to issue a separate Political Declaration on the prevention of the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and their means of delivery. This Political Declaration reaffirms the importance of comprehensive and non-discriminatory implementation of relevant international conventions, in particular the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention and Chemicals Weapons Convention, IAEA safeguards agreements and relevant protocols.
The ASEM spirit of promoting open exchanges applies also to sensitive issues like Human Rights. On the occasion of the 1st meeting of ASEM Foreign Ministers in 1997 in Singapore, Sweden and France had suggested that informal seminars on human rights be held within the ASEM framework. Titled the ‘Informal ASEM Seminar on Human Rights’ series, the aim of this initiative has been to promote mutual understanding and co-operation between Europe and Asia in the area of political dialogue, particularly on human rights issues. The seminar series is co-organised by the French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute (delegated by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs), the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines and the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), which has acted as a secretariat of the seminar since 2000.
15 seminars in this series have been organised so far since 1997. The experience of the Seminars convened thus far have shown the usefulness of the chosen formula: a climate of confidence and mutual understanding, in accordance with the ASEM spirit, has grown stronger during this process; the topics selected by the Steering Committee, which focus on issues of common interest to the two regions, have made high quality discussions possible; the high level of participation of the ASEM partners shows the strong interest of the partners for these meetings.
ASEM political dialogue has initiated parliamentary contacts whereby partners of Parliament from ASEM countries can develop more direct contacts. The Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership (ASEP) was set up to facilitate such contacts, with its first meeting held in Strasbourg (France) on 1996. The European Parliament has also followed the ASEM process closely.
Environmental issues have become important on the international agenda, and ASEM has developed a genuine dialogue on international environmental issues. ASEM partners discuss key environmental issues, in particular on the future of the Kyoto Protocol and climate change, on the follow up of the World Summit for Sustainable Development, and on the general multilateral framework. At the ASEM Environment Ministerial Meeting in Lecce (11-12 October 2003), it was stressed that ASEM should be used to develop consultations among partners ahead of major international conferences on environmental issues. It was also agreed to hold an "ASEF Asia-Europe Environment Forum" as a venue for informal ASEM consultations with civil society. Thus, on environmental matters, ASEM shows its capacity to foster dialogue on global issues and link with multilateral discussion as well as promote co-operation with civil society.
Migration has become a topic of discussion in the ASEM context following an ASEM Ministerial Conference on Cooperation for the Management of Migratory Flows between Europe and Asia which was held in Spain in April 2002, at the initiative of China, Germany and Spain. The Conference agreed on a follow-up including an exchange of information on flows of migrants and migration management, cooperation in improving the quality and security of travel documents, fighting forgery of documents, setting up networks of immigration and consular liaison officers and meetings at expert and director-general level.