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Asia, Oceania, the Pacific and Antarctica

Tasks and activities of the Directorate General for the Countries of Asia, Oceania, the Pacific and Antarctica

The Directorate General for the Countries of Asia, Oceania, the Pacific and Antarctica (DGAO)—and the MFA in all its various divisions—perceives the need to give new impetus to Italian foreign policy in the Orient, therefore a series of initiatives has been launched involving both individual nations as well as the region as a whole.
Italy has recently emerged on the Asian scenario with renewed dynamism in various sectors, which has not only sparked the keen interest of those nations but has also refocused the attention of Italy’s public opinion, policies, culture and economic forces on that continent and the immense opportunities it has to offer.
The DGAO has sought to understand, encourage and stimulate this process of rapprochement between Italy and the Orient. The sheer size of the Asian continent, the level of the interests at stake and the very structure of System Italy make it necessary to unite the forces of institutional and private operators in an effort to create all possible synergies and to give our initiatives, whatever they may be, impact and real credibility on the competitive Asian scenario. Therefore, it is clear that the recent achievements in Asia are the fruit of a steady, tenacious link between the various Directorates and Services of this Ministry, between the various other Italian ministries, and a fertile coordination between the public and private sectors—and it is in that light that they must be viewed and interpreted. The task of the DGAO is not simply to advance operational proposals and projects, but to coordinate the interventions of the various operators and stimulate an increasingly intense relationship with Asian countries, their leaders and their highly variegated populations. In the context of the aforementioned challenges, this is one of the most complex and fascinating.

Visits by Asian and Pacific Authorities to Italy
The DGAO has worked very intensely on these developments, both in order to foster more high level exchanges and aware, moreover, of the fact that all the countries of Asia and Oceania are clearly requesting this.
As the authorised geographical directorate in this context we have not failed to note the political significance of the considerable number of missions that Asian and Pacific leaders have recently made to Italy, almost as if in response to our increased attention and sensitivity in their regard. The agenda of autumn 2006 was dense with appointments: Australian Foreign Minister Downer, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark, Senior Minister of Singapore Gho Chok Thong, Prime Minister of East Timor Ramos Horta, Indian Trade and Industry Minister Kamal Nath (with a qualified delegation of Indian business persons in tow), and other major Indian missions, and numerous representatives of the government of Vietnam were also received in Rome. In the early months of 2007 Italy also received visits by Vietnamese Prime Minister Dung (25 January), President of South Korea Roh (15-16 February), Afghani President Karzai (16 February), New Zealand Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Winston Peters (2 May), Minister Mentor of the Republic of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew (13-18 May) and Prime Minister of Malaysia Badawi (25-27 June). 
This interest toward Italy seems to confirm the fact that our relations with the nations of those two continents are headed in the right direction, thanks to the above-mentioned initiatives realised not only with the foreign ministry but also with many central and local administrations; these have allowed for the creation of political, cultural and social bridges linking the glorious past of our missionaries and explorers in the Orient with the renewed impetus of Italian policy in Asia and Oceania.
Thus addition cause for satisfaction, in particular for the DGAO, has been the realisation that Italy has once again become a crossroads for the ideas, proposals and requests emerging from Asia and Oceania; and it is necessary now and in the future to maintain and develop this newly reacquired centrality. Indeed our country intends to become the “European gateway to Asia”, as has authoritatively been asserted on various occasions by Prime Minister Prodi and Foreign Minister D’Alema.

Major Thematic Initiatives
Bearing further witness to the priority the Asian continent has acquired in Italian foreign policy, and to the important task of fostering penetration of the Asian market and a deeper knowledge of our country by Asian populations, Italy has launched a series of major thematic initiatives (“Rassegne Contenitore”) of a cultural and economic nature. Promoting an updated and detailed image of Italy in Asia through major cultural and media events such as the “Year of Italy” in China, the “Italian Spring” in Japan, and the “Italian Rainbow” in Vietnam, has become one of the DGAO’s main and most visible enterprises. Most important is the highly innovative nature of the “Italian Spring” in Japan, the organisers of which decided to flank the cultural and artistic aspects representing the Japanese public’s traditional attraction for things Italian (Leonardo’s “Annunciation” was exported for the first time ever for the occasion), with some of the more compelling aspects of Italian technology, in a marriage of the classic and contemporary capable of making new inroads in the collective Japanese imagination.
In close association with other MFA Directorates and all the other ministries and embassies directly concerned the DGAO promotes and coordinates the various and multiple aspects of these events, which have met with widespread critical and popular success in the countries in which they have taken place. The DGAO has gained a wealth of experience in this sort of endeavour and tends to orient the MFA’s efforts toward innovative contexts with enormous political, economic and socio-cultural potential. In this regard a workshop was organised in March 2007 dedicated specifically to the methods used in the organisation of these types of initiatives in the Asian world, in order to examine how the experience thus far gained might be applied to other geographic areas.
The increasingly close relations between Italy and the countries of Asia and Oceania are not traceable only to the central government and ministries but are also being cultivated at regional and local levels, where the DGAO and the MFA has organised a series of  joint initiatives (e.g. the “Dragon and the Butterfly” cultural festival dedicated by the Province of Rome to Vietnam and held in Rome in 2006 and 2007, the success of which went well beyond the most ambitious of expectations).

Other Large-Scale Initiaitves
A broad range of political, economic, social and cultural initiatives with the countries of Asia and Oceania organised over 2006 and 2007 are described in detail in the following pages.
In this context special mention should be made of the attention directed in September 2006 by Minister D’Alema to the Asian and Pacific ambassadors accredited in Italy through the organisation, for the first time ever, of a Working Luncheon in their honour at Villa Madama, during which the priority placed by Italian foreign policy on the Orient was underscored, and a comprehensive overview of the Italian government’s political approach was supplied to the mission heads present. This was an innovative gesture that was highly appreciated by the representatives of the countries of Asia and Oceania, who fully grasped its symbolic meaning and value. 
Equally innovative was Minister D’Alema’s decision to personally chair a series of coordination round tables dedicated to cooperation in all sectors with leading Asian nations such as India, China and Japan. Finally, in the context of strengthening the Italian presence on the Asian and Pacific continents, the decision was made to organise two “Asian and Pacific Day” celebrations to be held in Rome on 24 November 2005 and 30 November 2006. 
These events provided an opportunity to raise interest in the countries of the Orient to which Italy is bound by ancient historic ties and with which it intends to pursue the path of mutual awareness and cooperation undertaken over a century ago. The “Asia and Pacific Day” initiative has become a successful annual event for the celebration of our relations with those nations—a success that is bound to grow as a reflection of our flourishing relations with the Asian continent as a whole.

Conference on the Rule of Law in Afghanistan
The DGAO adopted a special multilateral format in its most important achievement of 2007: the organisation of a Conference on the Rule of Law in Afghanistan. The country members of the Joint Coordination Monitoring Board (JCMB), a group set up after the 2006 Conference in London, were invited to take part in the conference, which was held in Rome on 2 and 3 July 2007. Preparations for the event required a considerable effort on the part of the DGAO due to the complexity of the event itself as well as the particularly pivotal political and social topics of discussion. The participation of 26 delegations from 23 countries and organisations (23 JCMB member countries and 3 donors), in addition to representatives from academic spheres and the civil society, delegates from over 20 organisations, implementing agencies and NGOs, was evidence of the objective complexity of an event that also boasted the authoritative presence of Afghani President Hamid Karzai, Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon, Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado (representing the EU duty Presidency), EU Commissioner Benita Ferrero Waldner and NATO Secretary General de Hoop Scheffer.

last update: 30/09/2013

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