Asia Europe Meeting has traditionally attached importance to political dialogue

India is trying a new approach to reorient the Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM), whose Foreign Ministers will hold a two-day meeting at Gurgaon from Monday.

ASEM has traditionally focussed on political dialogue rather than on the other two pillars of economic collaboration and socio-economic cooperation.

“As Chair of ASEM, we have ventured to bring about greater balance in the three dimensions. There is support for this approach in ASEM. We hope it will be confirmed by senior officials and Ministers,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin told newspersons here on Saturday.

Also, India has been pushing for a fresh approach that will reorient discussions, from dialogue to actual tangible cooperation. ASEM, like many others, has primarily been a forum for political dialogue where in the past members discussed topical global issues even when principal discussions on these were taking place on specialised fora elsewhere.

This resulted in mere reiteration of national positions on many occasions. India’s attempt is to focus on areas where real progress and actual deliverables can be achieved. The areas of cooperation identified by India and other members are not generic but are relevant to specific needs and look to build capacity in member-countries, according to official sources.

Next week’s meeting will be the biggest international gathering hosted by India this year with 36 Foreign Ministers and 12 Deputy Foreign Ministers having confirmed their participation.

Bilateral talks

As is the case with all multilateral conferences, ASEM will also see several bilaterals on its margins. The first three major interactions from India’s point of view will take place on Sunday.

These are a meeting of Foreign Ministers from Russia, India and China (RIC) followed by separate meetings between External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid and his Russian and Chinese counterparts, Sergei Lavrov and Wang Yi.

While the RIC interaction will see the Ministers exchanging notes on regional and international developments, Mr. Khurshid’s separate interactions will touch on the actionable areas identified during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Beijing last month. The meeting with Mr. Lavrov had to be cancelled due to a change in his flight timing.

Another awaited interaction would be with Sartaj Aziz, Pakistan Prime Minister’s Adviser on Foreign Affairs. The focus for the brief interaction will “flow from the outcome of the last meeting [between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif] when it was decided that for discussions to go forward, there should be peace on the Line of Control,” noted Mr. Akbaruddin.

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