PSPD People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy
An Overview of the ASEM 2000 People's Forum
- 2001.01.31 (00:00:00)
An Overview of the ASEM 2000 People's Forum
International Cooperation Committee of the ASEM 20
Until the 1990s European Union (EU)-Asian relations were characterized by bilateral exchanges between EU, as a whole and constituent states, and a handful of countries in East and South Asia. There was a tenuous relationship between EU and Burma, but after political upheaval and human rights repression in 1988 and 1990, the Burma question became a thorny issue in the relationship between the EU and ASEAN.
A European Commission report, entitled 'Towards a New Asia Strategy' came out in July 1994, which became an important source for advancing the bilateral relations. The Prime Minister of Singapore responded to this by proposing a meeting of European and Asia leaders, which was agreed by the European side. In his response the Singapore PM pointed out that there was a missing link in the triangular relationship between Asia, US and EU. A basic concept of ASEM was also agreed upon by the ASEAN.
On the part of EU the ASEM was perceived as a sort of countermeasure to counter the relatively close ties between US and Asia via Asia pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), from which EU had been completely excluded. Therefore ASEM provided EU with a measure to find the missing link with Asia and a stake in economic prosperity in Asia. In turn, on the part of Asia the ASEM was viewed as a healthy antidote to the increasingly dominant presence, culturally as well as economically, of US in the Asian region.
Stakeholders in ASEM
The ASEM comprises the Heads of States and governments from 10 Asian countries and from 15 member states of the European Union plus the president of the European Commission. They are summit participants. These are as follows:
Asia: Brunei, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam
Europe: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, UK, EU Commission
In addition to these there are Foreign Ministers" meeting and the two European Commissioners responsible for external affairs, including some Asian countries which are not members of the Summit. To this are added civil servants, key decision makers and diplomatic corps.
On the Asia side it seems that there is much interest in ASEM in general in terms of drawing potential investors in Europe to Asia. Asian countries are keenly aware of the possible impact of EU expansion and the European single currency. With regard to security concerns there is limited, if any, interest in Europe.
ASEM in historical context
1) ASEM I
The first ASEM took place in Bangkok in 1996. Among the topics discussed in Bangkok were the Asia Europe Business Conference, the Asia Europe Environmental Technology Center, the Asia Europe Business Forum, the Asia Europe Foundation, the Asia Europe University Program, and a plan of the Trans-Asian Railway network by Malaysia. The meeting also discussed the Asia Europe Cooperation Framework, economic and youth exchange programs, ministerial exchange program, study group on technological cooperation, customs agreement on customs service and procedures, drug trafficking and Mekong River Basin development plan.
2) ASEM II
The ASEM II was held in London in 1998 against the backdrop of ongoing Asian economic crisis. Some of the proposals mooted in the ASEM I were discussed and adopted. These included the Asia Europe Cooperation Framework and the Trade Facilitation Action Plan and Investment Promotion Action Plan including the Investment Experts Group. The Asia Europe Environmental Technology Center was launched, whilst the Asia Europe Young Leaders Symposia were agreed. The Asia Europe Center was set up in the University of Malaya in Malaysia with a view to establishing eventually the Asia Europe University. The Asia Europe Business Forum gained a new ground when it received an official endorsement to go ahead with specific dates and venues. It was also emphasized that developing and cooperating policies in infrastructure, energy and environmental sector should be given a priority. In addition to these official projects there were also some other initiatives which were either begun or proposed with some discussion. These include: Asia Europe Vision Group, promotion of children"s welfare, Asia Europe Small and Medium Size Enterprise, enhancing and expanding educational links, Asia Europe Information Technology and Telecommunications Program, climate change and sustainable development, community health care, Asia Europe Forum of Governors of Cities and Asia Europe Agricultural Forum.
3) ASEM III
The ASEM III was held in Seoul in October 2000. The leaders of Asia and Europe agreed to step up efforts to build the Trans-Eurasia Information Network. The objective of the network is to link Asia and Europe via a web of information and research projects. It was viewed that the direct Asia European high-speed communication line is essential to maximize bilateral benefits, as is the business-to-business e-commerce between the two continents. Under the project, the ASEM leaders agreed to first connect Korea with the Trans-European Network-155, a pan-European education and research network, and to subsequently link other Asian countries to the system. It was agreed that an experts" meeting on the IT project in early 2001 in Korea would be held to discuss technical and practical matters, including cost-sharing, acceptable use policy, joint research activities and future plans.
The two-way trade and investment exchanges through continued efforts of the Trade Facilitation Action Group and the Investment Promotion Action Plan were elaborated. A concrete action plan was agreed on for the period of 2000-2002, which includes the simplification of customs clearance procedures and the standardization and deregulation of investment incentives, procurement, quarantine, intellectual property rights and business travel.
Government representatives agreed to make joint efforts for the launch of the new World Trade Organization found at the earliest possible date. In this respect they also agreed to extend full support for the early admission of China and Vietnam in the WTO. They also pledged joint efforts to stabilize and strengthen international financial systems, for which they suggested imposing both indirect and direct regulations against heavily leveraged institutions. They put similar emphasis on financial and corporate sector restructuring in each member state as a means to pursue financial sector stability. In addition, the ASEM leaders agreed upon a concerted effort for the early stabilization of global oil prices.
The Seoul ASEM was dominated by economic concerns as has been the case before. For example, the Korean president asked for efforts for the co-prosperity of of Europe and Asia through economic cooperation and exchanges. The participants were then briefed by Asia Europe Business Forum offcials on the forum"s efforts to boost private-private and private-government level economic cooperation over the past two years. Some asked for the extension of the ASEM Trust Fund for an additional two years. The ASEM III agreed to encourage its member states to assist in developing information technology in less advanced countries. All member states were asked to annex their trade barriers and report them to the Senior Officials Meeting on Trade and Investment, probably starting in July 2001.
Shortcomings of official ASEM process
1) Question of civil society participation
The official process has been reluctant to recognize, let alone seek advice of, NGOs or, the non-profit sector as a whole. There are numerous NGOs in the two regions which are devoted to human rights, development, women, environment, indigenous people"s rights to land and culture.
The voice of these groups has been virtually excluded from the official agenda. The ultimate reason for this negligence should be found in the inherent business-orientated ethos and structure of the ASEM itself. Other reasons may include general rejection of civil society involvement in the inter-governmental talks on the part of official process, some Asian countries" objection to invite NGOs, not much reference to NGOs in official documents produced so far and the closed nature of the summit process.
There is no mention either of the contribution of parliamentarians in the Chairmen"s Statements of both ASEM I and II. At the sessions no parliamentarians were invited to the process. The European Parliament was left to its own devices to organize the Asia Europe Parliamentary Partnership which had no input to the ASEM. This has significantly hindered the process in which the voice of civil society can be channeled to the official talks of the ASEM.
2) Composition of Membership
The problem of membership has remained unresolved. In the ASEM II the membership of Burma and other potential new members including Indian sub-continent was not discussed. European side has maintained that membership to ASEAN does not necessarily imply automatic membership to ASEM for certain political conditions have to be fulfilled to participate in the dialogue. This political implication seems particularly applied to Burma and Cambodia. The question of membership will remain a point on which consensus will need to be reached sooner rather than later.
3) Redundancy of ASEM activities
There are some obvious overshadowing, overlap or replacement of the existing EEC-ASEAN Cooperation Agreement on the bilateral agreements with the North East Asian countries. There have been concerns also that a possible overlap between ASEM and EU-ASEAN can exist. There came a reaffirmation on the part of EU that ASEM should not dilute the existing EU-ASEAN relations. However, there are areas which certainly overlap with activities in bilateral agreements with North East Asian countries and the EEC-ASEAN Cooperation Agreement like cooperation over illicit drugs, the AEETC with the Regional Institute for Environmental Technology, the existing work of the Commission with SMEs.
Rationale for the ASEM2000 People"s Forum
Against the backdrop of these "problems" ASEM 2000 People"s Forum was set up in late 1998. The Forum was envisaged to promote People"s Agenda. For this purpose the ASEM 2000 People"s Forum International Organizing Committee was formed with a view to facilitating a substantive participation of civil society organizations and networks in Asia and Europe in the ASEM 3 process. The Organizing Committee was drawn from a wide network of civil society organizations in Korea, and other countries in Asia and Europe. There gathered a strong interest from NGOs, citizen"s and community organizations, women"s networks, trade unions, academia and media. It was argued that civil society was essential partner in the ASEM process which would draw together the concerns of civil society in both regiions. It was also aimed to provide broader and possibly alternative approaches and perspectives on issues of trade, investment, economics and security for realizing sustainable development and comprehensive human security.
It was suggested that civil society participation would also strengthen the ASEM process as a whole - the governments and the people in the ASEM countries - to develop policies which will meet the multi-faceted needs of the society and people.
In spite of the official ASEM process" indifference to civil society as indicated above, organizations of civil society and NGOs have engaged with the ASEM process including the holding of a parallel People"s Forum in Bangkok in 1996, in London in 1998, and eventually in Seoul in 2000. These activities have been sustained through the development of the Asia Europe People"s Forum, a network of people"s organizations and NGOs in Asia and Europe who cooperate on a range of concerns and initiatives common to both regions.
The official ASEM process is built on three pillars:
1) Promoting economic cooperation
2) Fostering political and security dialogue and
3) Reinforcing cultural links between the peoples of both regions.
It was clear, however, that it was the development of the economic pillar that has been highlighted within the ASEM. The Trade Facilitation Action Plan and the Investment Promotion Action Plan have been finalized and launched at ASEM 2 in London. The rapid development of the economic pillar of ASEM reflects today"s global rush towards free market economics, and policies that tend to benefit powerful elites at the expense of workers, communities, the environment and human rights. Unlike APEC, the official ASEM process does include possibilities for political and security dialogues within its framework - however these have been largely absent in ASEM official processes.
Goals of the ASEM 2000 People"s Forum
The project aimed to bring together civil society organizations and NGOs, to engage with their governments in a series of activities in Asia and Europe. For NGOs and People"s Organizations, ASEM provides both a challenge and opprtunity for direct engagement with the substantive issues of Asia Europe relations. Specifically this project aimed to:
1) advocate for a transparent and accountable ASEM process, with mechanisms for civil society participation;
2) bring together representatives of civil society from each ASEM country within ASEM and to establish consultative and participative mechanisms for strengthening input in to the ASEM process;
3) provide information and analysis on the emerging policy issues which are being shaped by ASEM; and
4) accelerate the process of re-thinking the major changes that are shaping both Asia and Europe and to develop a more strategic response to ASEM on a people-to-people basis.
Preparation towards ASEM People"s Forum
A number of preparatory activities were undertaken by organizations of civil society from both Asia and Europe during 1998-1999. Korean civil society organizations and NGOs hosted an International Peace Conference in August 1999 where a number of participants came from Europe. Immediately after the Conference, a preliminary ASEM 3 preparation meeting was held. During the concluding months of 1999 and January 2000, Korean civil society movements and organizations developed the Korean organizing committee for the ASEM 2000 People"s Forum. During October and May 1999, an Information and Advocacy Initiative was undertaken in eight countries in Europe in which eleven delegates from Asian countries and six delegates from European countries participated. Meetings were also held with officials of the European Commission and with the European Parliament. Two NGO Conferences were organized during the year in Germany - in Berlin in March on the occasion of the ASEM Foreign Ministers meeting and in Berlin in October during the Economic Ministers Meeting. A series of workshops were jointly organized by Asian an European peace movements on the theme of 'Asia Europe Cooperation on Alternative Security Strategies' during the Hague Appeal for Peace in May and delegates from Korean Peace Movements were hosted by groups in six countries in Europe during November and December 1999.
Framework and theme of the ASEM 2000 People"s Forum
The ASEM 2000 People"s Forum was organized on the theme of 'People"s Action and Solidarity Challenging Globalization'. The consideration was to sustain a People"s event prior to and during the official ASEM 3 - to start off with the Conference/workshops prior to the official ASEM and to have cultural activities during the official event.
The Dates of the Forum:
October 17: arrival and registration
October 18: plenary and workshops
October 19: Plenary and workshops, media conference and cultural event
October 20: ASEM 2000 Seoul Action against globalization
October 21: Korean DMZ Eco-peace Valley tour
The organizing body for the event is the ASEM 2000 People"s Forum International Organizing Committee. In relation to the Forum thirteen theme areas were set up and run which included:
Labour, Agriculture, Trade, Poverty & Development, Culture, Women, Peace & Security, Human rights, Environment, Media, Adolescence/Youth, Spirituality & Globalization. Each of these theme workshops was coordinated by a designated organization in Korea, Asia and Europe.
An on-going process was planned and implemented to ensure maximum participation of people"s voices and concerns in the preparatory activities. A process of wide-ranging consultation was underway throughout the ASEM countries which culminated in a 'People"s Vision'. There were also two advocacy/lobby tours in Europe and Asia. The objective of the tours was:
1) to highlight the concerns of civil society in relation to both the ASEM official process itself and towards the direction and agenda of ASEM 3;
2) to stimulate a public debate in parliaments and in the media on ASEM; and
3) to profile the cutting edge issues which are being put forward as a 'People"s Agenda'.
As has been indicated so far the absence of social dimension within the official ASEM process was viewed by many as a major hindrance to genuine participation of people to the ASEM. So despite the absence of the encouragement by the official ASEM process, the civil society organizations of Asia and Europe networking through the Asia and Europe actively sought to expand the channel between civil society and ASEM process. As a result the ASEM 2000 People"s Forum called for a creation of the means to bring into reality the recognition and commitment already made by the partner governments as contained in the official statements.
'Social Forum', linking the civil society and the official ASEM process and institution, was envisaged to be a coordinating hub for the participation of the civil society representatives in the various ASEM meetings and programs.
'Social Forum' was proposed to be an independent body, incorporating the contribution, initiatives and vision of the Asia Europe People"s forum. The Forum was expected to be recognized by the official ASEM process as a competent channel of communication and interaction between the civil society orgnizations and the official ASEM process. The Forum was devised to be constituted by a set of principles and rules of participation, engagement, and consultation.
The role of Social Forum was to facilitate and coordinate the participation and engagement of civil society organizations in the ASEM process by organizing the participation of civil society representatives in the meetings and programs of the various levels of the ASEM process to present the views of the civil society. It was also suggested that the Social Forum could present the opinions of the civil society to the various levels of the ASEM process on the various issues being considered, undertaken, or promoted by the official process, while ensuring that the ASEM process will develop policies that respond to the multi-dimensional needs of the peoples in Asia and Europe. It was argued that the participation of the civil society through the Social Forum will enhance the ASEM process to meet its stated goal of 'reinforcing the partnership between Europe and Asia in the political, economic, cultural and other areas of cooperation' by enhancing 'mutual understanding and awareness through a process of dialogue' between peoples and governments of Asia and Europe. In the event the official ASEM process did not take this proposal from civil society and decided not to discuss the Social Forum in its official summit in Seoul.
The ASEM 2000 People"s Forum adopted a People"s Vision on which concerns of civil society organizations in Asia and Europe were summed and addressed. The fundamental principles of the Vision states that 'ASEM provides both an opportunity and a responsibility for our nations. As Asian and European organizations, networks and citizens committed to working for a more just and equal world, we call on Asian and European leaders to join with us in building a new relationship'. Four fundamental priciples for this includes:
1) the promotion of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights as agreed in international human rights and humanitarian law;
2) the promotion of environmentally, socially and economically sustainable patterns of development;
3) greater economic and social equity and justice including equality between men and women; and
4) the active participation of civil society organizations in the ASEM process.
To enable this ASEM should become more transparent and accountable to national parliaments.
Finally the People"s Vision identifies some areas to which the above principles could apply, which includes:
1) workers, democracy and development;
2) women, democracy and development;
4) an end to the sexual exploitation of children;
5) strengthening civil society - human rights, democracy and self-determination
6) arms trade
7) environment and economic development
8) trade and investment for sustainable developmental, social and economic development;
9) responses to the economic and social crisis; and
10) "peopling" the ASEM process.