Representatives of 39 delegations met in Hanoi from October 7 to 9 to attend the V Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) [1], which was an initiative of France and Singapore on the occasion of the Bangkok Conference [2]in 1996; delegate meet every three years [3]to have a global political dialogue. ASEM also holds regular meetings of the Ministers of Foreign Relations and topical seminars.

The 5th meeting was characterized by the admission of ten new member states of the European Union and three Asian States: Cambodia, Laos and, with a particular status: Burma. The purpose of the summit was to enhance the Euro-Asian ties so that both parties could find an alternative to the extremely-American-oriented relations. The Asian states were represented by high-level delegations (except Burma) and two diplomatic heavyweights made the trip: Japanese Primer Minister Junichiro Koizumi and China Primer Minister Wen Jiabao. On its part, Europe sent German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and French president Jacques Chirac.

The political strategy implemented by the “four industrialized” went beyond the ASEM. For instance, Gerhard Schröder visited India (not a member of ASEM) and Jacques Chirac visited China.
The chancelleries tried to present all these contacts as a purely economic matter but the truth is that politics was behind every move and participants wanted to form alliances to face the American activism.

As a prelude to the ASEM, Jacques Chirac quickly visited the city-state of Singapore and he met there with the new Primer Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, the son of the first president after the independence, Lee Kuan Yew, who was his personal friend. In terms of effectiveness, this stop could seem superfluous for both men had to be in Hanoi the next day. However, the visit was useful to reaffirm the ASEM French-Singaporean parenthood to define a common strategy and to assess the activities of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASIEF), a cultural institution based in Singapore [4]. After the recession of 2001, Singapore has recovered and achieved a growth of a 12.5% in the second quarter of 2004 thanks to an essentially based-technology production.

Jacque Chirac and Vietnamese President Tran Duc Luong in Hanoi, under the bust of Ho-Chi-Minh

In Hanoi, Jacques Chirac recalled France’s commitments with Viet Nam. But, above all, he denounced the American “sub-cultural imperialism” by giving a “Phnom Penh-de Gaulle-style-speech” to a student audience. The French President talked about the notion of “cultural diversity” he had already submitted to UNESCO with Canada’s support and passed by 185 States in 2001. He hopes to ratify it in 2005 in an international convention with the support of numerous states, including Saudi Arabia.

“Cultural Diversity” is considered a political response to the American domination and not an international transposition of the “cultural-exception” political-economic concept or a simple “dialogue of civilizations”. It is not about challenging culture commercialization or defending from a possible “clash of civilizations”, it is about preserving cultural pluralism from a “sub-cultural imperialism”.
The admission of new members to ASEM has allowed it to integrate the new members of the European Union and those of ASEAN, which is an organization with similar purposes on the Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, the Europeans refused to grant Burma the condition of being a full member in this concert of nations. It had been agreed that the dictatorship would not be represented by its prime minister but by one of its delegates, U Tin Winn, and some delegations were not even present at Burma’s admission ceremony. Thus, Jacques Chirac went to visit an archeological site in downtown Hanoi showing his interest for the cultural patrimony and killed two birds with one stone. Gerhard Schröder went to inaugurate a new Goethe Institute to ratify Germany’s cultural contribution. The British, who were represented by a simple secretary of state, John Prescott, seized the opportunity to denounce the crimes of the junta and, above all, to sabotage the meeting which was too anti-American for the British taste. The European commission was drawn into this and with the support of a resolution of the European Parliament, it tried to change the course of the meeting by focusing on the Burmese problem.

But, no matter what, ASEM, where the freedom of speech has been more evident since the U.S. quit it, was able to seduce new candidates. Russia, India, and Pakistan could join it soon despite Malaysia’s reluctance. With the purpose of keeping the foreign ministers in contact, the President of The Philippines, the pro-American Gloria Arroyo, proposed the establishment of a Permanent Secretariat for ASEM. This proposal was immediately accepted and its responsibility was given to the delegation of the host power before the UN, Viet Nam at present, and Finland in 2006.

Gerhard Schroeder and Tran Duc Luong

Several topics were discussed during the Meeting, presided over by Vietnamese President, Tran Duc Luong: cooperation (the widening of the gap between the haves and the haves not), security (the war against terror, the no proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, transnational crimes), sustainable development (climatic change, pollution).
China’s Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, urged delegations to enhance ASEM to focus on similar viewpoints and form coalitions to destroy US plans, especially at the WTO. He was also in favor of rebalancing international relations and implementing deep UN reforms.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi increased his bilateral contacts to find support to his application of being a permanent member of Security Council. He got the support of the French-German duet but failed to get the others’. Chancellor Schröder was luckier for his idea was to double the number of the Security Council permanent members (currently China, the U.S., France, the United Kingdom and the Russian Federation) by offering a seat to Germany, Brazil, India, Japan, and to a great African power (South Africa, Egypt or Nigeria). This system would neutralize Washington’s power.

Japan, which has suffered the effects of being an American protectorate, has been at a difficult crossroads: on the one had, its submission to Washington and, on the other hand, riots demanding the immediate withdrawal of the American bases.
The prime minister of Malaysia, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, granted several interviews to the press to deny the American accusations, which claimed he was corrupted by Saddam Hussein and by people close to Jacques Chirac so that he defended the Iraqi interests at the UN.
However, the important thing was the approval of the Declaration of Hanoi which affirmed the need to enhance cooperation and the Declaration on the Dialogue between Cultures and Civilizations, a real mockery to the American influence.

[1See the official web site of the V Asia-Europe Meeting

[2The archives of the Bangkok Conference can be consulted at the web site of the Conference

[3The previous meetings were held in Bangkok (1996), London (1998), Seoul (2000) and Copenhagen (2002)

[4See the official web site of the Asia-Europe Foundation