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Italy and Regional and Multilateral Asian Organisations

The need to strengthen relations between the countries of Asia and the Pacific must also be viewed from a multilateral perspective.

Asia and the Pacific are playing an increasingly key role in the reassertion of the principle of multilateralism. Thanks also the contribution of many of the area’s countries, that principle is being strengthened and peaceful solutions are being sought in major areas of tension such as Afghanistan, where Italy is heavily engaged. The nuclear question in Iran and on the Korean Peninsula, major challenges such as the fight against international terrorism, and issues such as interfaith dialogue, the environment and climate, are just some of the major global concerns at hand.

Italy is carefully observing, and increasingly willing to collaborate with, multilateral regional organisations in Asia and the Pacific, particularly in the context of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) and of the  Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

ASEM is the most important framework for comprehensive dialogue between Europe and Asia, as well as the main multilateral forum for Euro-Asian relations. Founded in 1966, ASEM is distinguished for its multidimensional nature (seeking substantial equilibrium between political, economic and cultural concerns) and its emphasis on equality among member countries.  All 27 EU members and Commission are participants, and Asian members include China, South Korea, Japan, India, Pakistan,  Mongolia, the ASEAN Secretariat and  10 ASEAN members (Brunei, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar).

The 7th ASEM Summit was held in Beijing on 23-24 October 2008 at head of state and government level. The summit was entitled “Vision and Action: Towards a Win-Win Solution”, and consisted of various work sessions dedicated to separate global challenges (food security and natural disasters), the global economy and financial situation, sustainable development (millennium goals, energy security and climate change, social cohesion) and dialogue among civilisations. Prime Minister Berlusconi led the Italian delegation.
ASEM also holds regular meetings at various levels (ministerial, high officials, expert). On 25-26 May the latest meeting of ASEM foreign ministers was held in Hanoi, focused especially on the current economic and financial crisis as well as on the other global challenges on which European and Asian countries have a common interest in establishing dialogue and effective collaboration.
ASEM sector initiatives include Italy’s organisation last March in Taranto of a workshop on “New Technologies for Demining and Human Security”. Participants included representatives of many ASEM members as well as specialised international organisations (UNMAS, ITEP etc.), civil societies and businesses engaged in the production of technologies applicable to the sector. This was the first ASEM workshop organised by Italy on a specific theme with the goal of creating a forum for encounter and dialogue for countries affected by the problem of mines and countries that produce the technologies for eliminating them; to faciltiate contact between technology producers, sector experts and countries involved in resolving the problem on their own soil; and encourage dialogue among countries with the same problem.

Italy is also carefully monitoring the theme of interfaith  dialogue in the context of ASEM, and recently co-sponsored the 5th ASEM InterFaith Dialogue (Seoul, 23-25 Seltember 2009), which gave us an opportunity to assert our commitment to foster this dialogue between Europe and Asia, in pursuance of the line taken in 2007 when we cochaired the Nanking meeting with China (III IFD) and continued last year by co-sponsoring the Amsterdam meeting (IV IFD).

Italy is traditionally highly in favour of regional intergation and we are therefore  ready and fully willing to support this process in Asia, as well as to contribute to it as much as possible by proposing a more intensse collaboration between the EU and ASEAN. On 15 December 2008 the 16th ASEAN foreign ministers meetings was held in Jakarta, where the ASEAN Charter went into effect, giving that regional block born in 1967 a new dimension for strengthening integration and democracy among its 10 member states (Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Cambodia, Brunei, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar). The Charter gives the organisation a legal personality and should be the first step in the creation of an area of free trade within 2015, that will better develop the area’s remarkable economic potential.

The 17th meeting of EU-ASEAN foriegn ministers took place in  Phenom Penh, Cambodia, on 27-28 May 2009. Discussions centred on regional and international issues, non-traditional security, the economic and financial crisis and climate change. The meeting coincided with the first biennial of implementation of the Plan of Action (PoA) and of the “Nuremberg Declaration on an EU-ASEAN Enhanced Partnership”, the former being a plan for developing EU-ASEAN relations and cooperation over the medium term (2007-2012) in such as way as to be mutually beneficial to the parties, whose guidelines were set by the  Delcaration of Nuremberg. The PoA’s main goal is to deepen political dialogue and inter-regional cooperation, using dialogue forums to the fullest. Concerns also include security cooperation, as well as conflict prevention and management, economic cooperation in trade and investments, cooperation on energy security, climate change, environment, sustainable development and cultural and social cooperation through education and contact among peoples, with particular stress on public health, the role of women, handling of emergencies and science and technology.
Satisfaction was expressed at the latest EU-ASEAN foreign ministers meeting for the progress achieved in the PoA’s first biennial, and the Phnom Penh Agenda was adopted, which is a list of activities to be carried out over the next two years (2009-2012), focused especially on energy security, food security and healthcare, the economic and financial crisis, as well as exchange of Europe’s experience in the process of integration.
Finally, it should be noted that Italy’s interest in regional Asian organisations also concerns Asian organisations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the SAARC, ASEAN +3 (meetings of the 10 ASEAN members with China, Japan and South Korea), the East Asia Summit (EAS, consisting of the 10 ASEAN members plus China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand), which are having an increasing impact on economic and geopolitical equilibria on the continent of Asia.