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Asian and European leaders will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) at their summit in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, next year. 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.

The omens are good. ASEM today is more energised and vibrant than at any time in recent years. Governments in both regions seem to have discarded earlier inertia and lack of interest in ASEM in favour of a more constructive and upbeat approach. The ASEM summit in Milan in October 2014 and the meeting of foreign ministers in Delhi in 2013 injected new momentum into the Asia-Europe relationship by reviewing and simplifying ASEM’s content, procedures and outreach. Still, more needs to be done. In the years ahead, governments must strike a satisfactory balance between using ASEM as a dialogue forum and meeting demands for enhanced action-oriented cooperation on selected themes of common interest.

Above all, ASEM needs a new over-arching 21st Century narrative and raison d’etre which connects it to a broader global conversation on living and working together in an interdependent but increasingly anxious age. Asia and Europe face a growing list of common concerns ranging from climate change to tackling pandemics and combating violent extremism. The two regions economies are even more closely linked than before. A fragile security environment in one region prompts unease and tensions in the other.

Exploiting ASEM’s full potential therefore is about more than just improving the channels of communication between Asia and Europe. It is also about providing global public goods, better governance, managing complexities and tensions and working together in trying to shape a new world order. More than ever before, ASEM’s focus should therefore be on Asia-Europe cooperation to tackle wider regional and global challenges. It must also increase civil society involvement in ASEM in order to increase its visibility and relevance in the long-term.

This discussion paper explores the relevance and importance of ASEM in a rapidly-evolving and often volatile global order and looks at efforts under way to revive ASEM through the introduction of new formats and a sharper focus on content as well as through enhanced engagement with civil society and the media. It makes policy recommendations for energising the Asia-Europe partnership and ensuring that leaders hammer out a new blueprint for reviving ASEM at its 20th anniversary summit in 2016. The paper underlines the author’s view that ASEM is a vital element of Asia-Europe cooperation and global networking but needs a rethink – and a new narrative to make it relevant and credible in an unpredictable and complex “no polar” world.

The full text of the policy paper may be accessed through the link below: