INTERVIEW WITH XING HUA

Research Fellow & Vice-President - China Institute of International Affairs (CIIS)

ASEM: A STEP BY STEP PROCESS

Laurent Malvezin (LM).- During the Asian Financial Crisis, there has been a lot of arguments among Europeans about the capability of Asia to recover fully from the melt-down of their economies. Today, even if the recovery has been spectacular, doubts remain as to its sustainability, and the interests of the Europeans in the area seem on the wane. Some say that the EU pay less and less attention to the opinion of Asian countries. As an expert on China and European relations, do you agree with such a view?

Xing Hua (XH).- We have first to keep in mind that during the 2nd summit of ASEM, which was held in London in 1998 precisely during the crisis, European countries proved to be helpful and concerned. Not only that, they, in effect, turned their concern into concrete action, setting up the Asia-Europe Trust Fund (1), providing technical assistance to Asian countries' effort in terms of reform of other financial systems

Such an attitude was very much appreciated. Of course, Asian countries realised that the world economy being more and more integrated, the Asian crisis was bound to have some impact on the European economies as well, and therefore the European Union could not ignore it.

Nevertheless, European countries took a friendly posture towards the Asian countries in difficulty. This positive response somehow deepened and boosted the relationship between Asia and Europe. The Asian countries draw two lessons from the crisis: first, the necessity to improve their own industrial restructuring and to reorganise their financial system, second, the necessity to reform the international financial and monetary system. European countries can bring expertise and technical assistance, including to China, to reform our economies and financial systems. Actually, some actions have already been taken in that direction. As regards the international monetary system, the European countries and the Asian countries can cooperate together and make some proposition.

But having said that, we have to take stock of the fact that some European scholars and even politicians do not necessarily share the same analysis on Asian Financial crisis with their Asian counterparts. In Europe and Asia, there is such a proverb: “ build friendship through hard times “. During painful periods of economic crisis or difficulties, the European countries should look carefully at the objective causes of such a crisis in order to take positive actions. If this is done thoroughly, it will enhance a mutual understanding of what happened. It would obviously enhance the relationship between Europe and Asia on trust basis.

LM.- You mentioned the second ASEM summit as a key event in the middle of the crisis. What is the place and importance of the ASEM process in China Foreign policies ? Is it in harmony with the concept of “multi-polarization” that is at the core of the Chinese Foreign policies ?

XH.- First, I would like to emphasise that the involvement of China in ASEM is not accidental nor is it motivated by tactical considerations but the logical consequence of China approach to the new international order.

China is the largest developing country in the world. In the past 50 years, old China has been rejuvenated, achieving unprecedented developments since it implemented the open-door policy, especially in the last two decades. Its global national strength and its international standing have been notably enhanced and raised. The objectives of its fundamental policy are the economic construction of the country and the improvement of people's livelihood. It means, to achieve such a goal, on the foreign front, to carry out an independent foreign policy of peace, and to strive to create a sustained peaceful international environment. For that, we need to promote friendship and cooperation between the peoples of various countries in the world. Thus China is playing an ever-increasing positive role in the international cooperation.

For China, to participate in international cooperation means to take part actively in the UN, the IMF, the World Bank and other International Organisations, but also to get involved in regional cooperational institutions. Why then does China take seriously the Asia-Europe relationship? Because, amongst the world’s three largest economies, namely the US, Europe and Asia, which actually means East-Asia, there was already cooperation between US-Europe and US-Asia on a bilateral basis taking place for many years through effective mechanism. And so the third pillar, Europe-Asia would be reinforced and institutionalised)

Europe in the 1990’s went from being an European community to a European Union,. It has increased its economic standing in the world while the same evolution also occurred in Asia at the same time with the remarkable development of the East-Asian economies (2). Such trends have created a kind of mutual attractiveness between them and led to a common desire of deeper cooperation and relations. Moreover, the Asia-Europe rapprochement may bring additional voices in the arena of international affairs and a more impartial, balanced and stable way to manage the future of a globalized world rather than to rely on one superpower. So the whole process is in line with the concept of multi-polarization.

LM.- You mentioned three economic zones, the US one, the European one and the Asian one. Do you foresee a fourth pillar such as the South American one, which stands to be different from the US one, if only because it is a Latin speaking bloc rather than an Americanised one?

XH.- Indeed, and Latin America and Asia are preparing now to reach a common understanding about institutionalised economic cooperation. Later this year, one scholar of my Institute will attend an International conference on Asia-South America relations in Chile. China is deeply interested and will participate actively in the process.

LM.-While everyone focuses its attention on China-Us relations, has ASEM a special meaning for China?

XH.- We consider that the ASEM process aims at promoting the concept of multi-polarization, but does not constitute any kind of intention to isolate the US. As you are no doubt aware, in addition to the ASEM process, China, and the United States too, are also a member of APEC. Next year, the informal head of states summit of APEC (3) will actually take place in Shanghai.

LM.- Just looking at East-Asia, along with APEC, there are other groupings such as ASEAN, ASEAN+3, ASEM, ARF, some with what is known as their track II related organisations (4). How can all these institutions can work together or simultaneously in the fields of economic cooperation or even political dialogue?

XH.- From now, those who take part in ASEM are the members of ASEAN+3 (5). If East Asia represents Asia nowadays in the ASEM process, it is first because ASEAN has reached an unprecedented level of integration as a regional institution. Furthermore, the initiative of ASEM came from one of the ASEAN members: Singapore. Besides ASEAN members, three other countries of East Asia, China, Korea and Japan have, each of them, a close relationship with ASEAN members.

LM.- But East Asia is not Asia, and so the Asia-Europe summit is not really true to its name. Would China welcome an enlargement of the ASEM to new members of the South Asia Subcontinent, for example, India ?

XH.- Absolutely, China is ready to discuss with the members of both sides of ASEM about the possibility for new members to join the dialogue. If I’m not mistaken, India and Pakistan have already expressed their strong interest in ASEM. China is even not opposed to the entry of countries like Australia, and New Zealand as full members of ASEM, but other countries seem not ready to accept it so far.

LM.- We know that in the foreseeable future, the EU members will increase, and maybe reach 25 or even more. Can an ASEM with 30 members on the one side and 10 members on the other still work in a balanced way?

XH.- We have to negotiate together whether it is possible to reach a consensus on it. Of course, we have to bear in mind that, even now, there are 15 European members, for 10 Asian members, and somehow, a kind of balanced must be maintained in the future.

LM.- A question that a lot of people have often in mind when they talk about EU and Asia relationship, is the vision of an European integration model for Asia. Do you think that Asian Countries in their own Institution-building process can use the so-called European experience as a benchmark ?

XH.- All Asian countries agree that the EU experiment is a unique experience. As a major regional bloc, It has the highest level of integration, the strongest economic power, and has won the respect of Asian countries. But, here we have maybe to distinguish two different aspects of the question. The first aspect deals with each side sharing views from their own experience - the Integration process for the EU, and the regional economic cooperation for Asia. And the second aspect or vision consists in asking if the European model is applicable for Asian countries in their economic cooperation and integration process. I think that the former is possible and feasible, but the latter rather unrealistic. Actually, Europe and Asia have a different history and their present situation each have their own specifics. Perhaps the most relevant point is that the two regions, Asia and Europe, through the EU and ASEAN, are not at the same stage of development, and therefore, for instance, ASEAN integration is built on bilateral and multilateral state-to-state cooperation, rather than purely integration. Moreover, the so-called “European model” is not conceptually or practically as clear as it appears at first glance. Amongst EU members, there are many different views that do not necessarily reflect a unique model or projection of this model. Some countries want to promote the idea of a federal system, while others stand for enhancing cooperation between the sovereign states. In that extent, what is the reality of the “European model” ?

And secondly, I would have to say that in order to effectively get mutual confidence in cooperation, for both sides, maybe European countries should refrain from acting as a teacher vis--vis their Asian partners. The climate would be healthier and the cooperation become more efficient and sustainable if they would discard such a naive attitude.

LM.- Do you have the feeling that sometimes European countries behave like some sort of a paternalistic superpower?

XH.- I would rather express this idea in a more simple way. Yes, it is true, sometimes, among some European scholars as well as politicians, there is the syndrome of the medicine man, which consists in decreeing why and where Asia is suffering from and how to deal with it. Perhaps, before delivering the prescription, European people should be better informed of the realities of Asian countries, their idiosyncrasies and constraints.

LM.- Let us come back to ASEM process. There are three “pillars”, as fundamental areas of cooperation and dialogue: the economic and financial pillars, the political pillar and the intellectual and cultural pillar. In these three domains, what can be done and should be done to give ASEM some new impetus?

XH.- First, let me say that China is an active member at every level of the dialogue, from state leader summits to the second track activities, and their associated working groups dealing with specific research fields. For example, a Sciences and Technologies Ministers meeting was held in China. Regarding the three pillars of the dialogue, the stand of China is very clear and highlights the importance of each of them. The economic cooperation must lead to create a better economic environment, a sustainable development and the basis for cooperation in other field of activities.

Here I would say two words about the political pillar or dialogue. It is a fact that in some areas, such as the notion of security, moral values, development policies, Europe and Asia do have different ways of thinking, or even disagree on such notions. China on this crucial question advocate a step-by-step approach based on mutual respect. China’s understanding of the political dialogue broadly covers many area of research and cooperation: illegal migrations, drugs enforcement, international organised crime etc..

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Notes:

1.- Responding to the economic and financial crisis in Asia, the London Summit in 1998 held a discussion on the crisis and its implication for Asia-Europe relations. Heads of government pledged to keep markets open in the face of any protectionist pressures which might arise from the crisis (the ASEM Trade and Investment Pledge), and agreed to launch an ASEM Trust Fund to provide technical expertise to address the financial and social issues arising from the crisis. They also agreed to establish a European Financial Expertise Network (EFEX) to identify high-level expertise in both the public and private sectors to provide assistance to Asia.

2.- Asian ASEM partners represent 31.5% of the world population, produce 18,9% of world GDP, account for 24% of world wide exports of goods (15.9% of services) and for 17.5% of world imports of goods (22.5% of services). They generate 7.5% of FDI outflows while absorbing 14.5% of FDI inflows (Data 1998).

3.- see Asian Affairs on Asean, avaiable on the website.

4. See organization chart in this issue.

5. In 1996, when ASEM was established, as it was an ASEAN-Europe initiative, the membership seemed a straight forward one. It was bound to be the ASEAN members plus China, Japan and Korea on one side (as the Asia part on it) and the European countries which were EU members. However, ASEAN expended faster than EU did. Since ASEM II, ASEAN has become a ten countries organization among which Myanmar which is unacceptable to some EU countries as a member of the Asian community (see S. Jayakumar about ASEM).

Published in Autum 2000

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