The Asia-Europe Meeting, ASEM, is holding its fifth
summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Friday and Saturday with 39
delegations participating. Talks are scheduled on such issues as
trade, the Korean peninsula nuclear crisis, Iraq, United Nations
reform, disease control and cultural diversity.
However, events have
been marred by differences of opinion concerning the inclusion of
Myanmar in the body.
On Thursday, ASEM announced the inclusion of 13 new members.
Three are ASEAN countries -- Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar -- and
10 are EU members: Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia,
Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Slovenia, Malta and Cyprus.
It is ASEM's largest expansion since it was founded
in 1996, and the newly enlarged body now covers 40 percent of world
population and 50 percent of world GDP.
The Europeans have opposed the admission of Myanmar
because of its allegedly poor human rights record, but Asian
members believe it is their prerogative to choose whom to admit
within the Asian sphere.
The EU had originally threatened to boycott the summit, but a
compromise was found when the country agreed to send a lower-level
Some observers have pointed to the different
agendas of the two regions as a stumbling block in terms of
achieving concrete results. "Europe hopes to increase its influence
in Asia and focuses more on political issues while Asia pays more
attention to expanding economic growth," said a former Chinese
diplomat in Europe.
Human rights and democracy have been already at the
heart of some differences between Asians and Europeans in the past.
Some analysts say that political differences over Myanmar have
almost paralyzed ASEM, and other bilateral political differences
could also be sparked between the EU and individual ASEM partners,
over human rights as well as the lifting of the EU arms embargo on
China is expected to become an increasingly
important player in the ASEM framework, helping Asian members in
such areas as keeping European interest anchored in Asia; and
benefiting European counterparts by, for example, helping to
control smuggling, human trafficking and other cross-border
Launched in March 1996 in Bangkok, ASEM -- the
brainchild of former Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok
Tong -- has met four times at summit level since deciding to
hold meetings once every 18 months, alternating between Asia and
Europe. Previous ASEM summits have been held in London, Seoul and
(China Daily, Xinhua News Agency October 8,