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Partners in peace, prosperity

Partners in peace, prosperity

A girl flashes the peace sign during a rally to show support for the signing of an agreement by the Philippine government and Muslim rebels to end a 40-year insurrection on the island of Mindanao that killed more than 120,000 people. Photograph: Reuters

The ninth summit of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), opening today in Vientiane, Laos, brings together 51 leaders from Europe and Asia.

Sixteen years after the launch of this forum of dialogue and co-operation, Europe, Asia and the world have changed significantly.

Asian nations have become strong economic players, lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and gaining self-confidence on the world stage.

In Europe, countries from the East and West have joined forces in an enlarged European Union, turning it into the most ambitious and developed political expression of our continent in its history.

Globalisation, interdependence, redistribution of power and pressure over natural resources are among the key trends shaping the 21st century.

Against this scenario, European-Asian relations are today more relevant than ever.

It’s not surprising that five of the EU’s strategic partners are ASEM participants with which we meet regularly and at the highest levels.

On the occasion of the Vientiane summit, we will be visiting Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, and we will have numerous bilateral meetings with our fellow Asian leaders.

Building on these close relations, our discussions in Vientiane during the next two days will focus on three key objectives.

First, we need strong, sustainable and inclusive growth. The world economy has undergone its most testing time since the 1930s, following the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2007.

The economic and financial pressures in Europe are just one part of a broader set of global problems.

The EU is taking the necessary steps to reduce public debt, ensure a healthy banking system and lay the foundations for sustained growth and a stable currency, but others need to do their part.

In particular, we look to Asian countries to consolidate their public finances, rebalance their growth model as appropriate and work with us to support a sustained global recovery.

Second, to foster growth, we must support world trade. This involves fostering domestic demand and avoiding protectionism.

Asia’s trade with the European Union has held up well in the difficult years since 2007 – a tribute to the openness of the EU market and our schemes of tariff preferences for developing countries, the Generalised System of Preferences and Everything But Arms, as well as our efforts in macro-economic stabilisation.

There’s still huge untapped potential, however, in bilateral trade between the EU and Asia.

Free-trade agreements concluded with the Republic of Korea and being negotiated with Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and India (and, in the future, Japan) should help unlock that potential, and we may explore FTAs with other countries.

But the need to support world trade can also be seen in our commitment against protectionism and veiled trade barriers.

We trust that our Asian partners will remain committed to open economies and to the commonly agreed multilateral trade rules.

Third, we need stability and security, and the best way to achieve them is through negotiated solutions and common institutions.

Asia would benefit from stronger institutions to prevent conflict and to tackle non-traditional security threats effectively at regional and global level.

We commend ASEAN for steering the development of wider co-operation initiatives in east Asia in forums such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF)  and the East Asia Summit.

Being a committed Asian partner, the European Union has just acceded to the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Co-operation and is already an active member of the ARF.

We look forward to making a positive contribution to regional debates, and stand ready to share our own experiences in areas such as crisis management, conflict resolution and preventive diplomacy.

The EU brings to Asian partners the world’s largest internal market by value, its partnership as first trading and investing partner and biggest aid donor, as well as its scientific and technical strengths.

As recognised by the recently awarded Nobel Peace Prize, the EU also brings an experience in regional integration and a foreign and security policy aimed at promoting prosperity, peace and stability, together with a system of government based on respect for the rule of law and human rights.

Although the economic aspects of our relationship have been dominant in the past, the political and security dimensions have steadily grown in importance.

The EU is developing broad security dialogues with many Asian countries, focusing on issues such as  piracy, terrorism and cyber crime.

It also helps the consolidation of democracy, co-operating with ASEAN to secure peace in Aceh and contributed to the peace process in the Philippine region of Mindanao.

The ASEM summit will offer an opportunity to address a wide range of issues of mutual interest, to strengthen our co-operation and to launch further joint initiatives.

It will also be an occasion to welcome new colleagues from Bangladesh, Norway and Switzerland – another sign of the continued attractiveness of ASEM and of the strong relationship between the European Union and Asia.

Herman Van Rompuy is president of the European Council. José Manuel Barroso is president of the European Commission.