ASEM at twenty: The challenge of connectivity [OP-ED]

22 September 2015

by Shada ISLAM: Asian and European leaders will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) at their Summit in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, next July. ASEM has come a long way since its launch in Bangkok in March 1996. Even as leaders take stock of past achievements, however, the ASEM Summit in 2016 must upgrade the Asia-Europe partnership by setting it on a renewed and reinvigorated track for its third decade.

ASEM today is more energised and vibrant than at any time in recent years, with governments seeking new ideas to ensure ASEM's relevance in an increasingly inter-dependent and inter-connected world. The economies, societies and people of Asia and Europe are ever-more closely linked. Compared to 1996 or even ten years ago, there is now a stronger EU-Asian conversation on trade, business, security and culture. More than in the past, two-way trade and investment flows are vital to the security, well-being, growth and development of both Asia and Europe.

Although launched in the last century, with its focus on connecting countries, regions, businesses and people, ASEM is a relevant 21st Century construct. Asia-Europe connectivity is now a fact of life. And enhancing these networks through stronger institutional, infrastructure, digital and people-to-people linkages is rightfully emerging as a central element of efforts to revive and renew ASEM.