Interregional Linkages in a Changing Global System
Edited by Peter W. Preston and Julie Gilson
Chapter 6: Europe-Asia: the formal politics of mutual definition
Julie A. Gilson INTRODUCTION The Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) presents a new kind of partnership between novel partners. Its purpose, as the European Commission restated in April 2000, is to ‘establish a new relationship between the two regions’ and ‘build a comprehensive partnership among equal partners’.1 Since it began in 1996, ASEM has been criticized for its inability to be more than a mere talk shop2, whilst simultaneously fears over greater ‘institutionalization’ have been voiced from both groups of participants. Ostensibly, then, ASEM is a no-win arrangement for its participants, for either it continues to function as a casual clubhouse and takes no major decisions or else it deepens its institutional roots, to threaten vested interests already existing within each region. In fact, ASEM raises several interesting questions about the nature and purpose of institutionalized relations and needs to be examined in its own right. It conducts its affairs as an explicitly region-to-region grouping, whilst at the same time (to date, at least) dispensing an ‘Asian way with western agenda’, thus accommodating within its own framework apparently contradictory modes of decision making and failing to problematize the difficult issues which the discussion of such modes of behaviour should provoke. ASEM began life as an informal channel of communication between the heads of state or government of its 25 participating countries (plus the president of the European Commission), and a host of practitioners involved at other levels of activity.3 Designated from the beginning as an informal armchair dialogue that was not to...
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