Dr Yeo Lay Hwee, Director, EU Centre in Singapore
03 Jul 2012
Shaw Foundation Alumni House Auditorium, National University of Singapore, 11 Kent Ridge Drive, Singapore 119244
Dr Yeo Lay Hwee, Director of the EU Centre in Singapore, delivered the Special Lecture for the 2012 ModelAsia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) held in Singapore from 2-7 July. Co-organised with the National University of Singapore Sociology Society (NUSSS), the ASEF University Alumni Network (ASEFUAN) and the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), the theme of the Model ASEM Summit followed that of the 9th ASEM Summit to be held in Vientiane, Laos in November 2012 -“Friends for Peace, Partners for Prosperity”.
In her lecture, Dr Yeo gave an overview of the history of ASEM, beginning from the rationale behind its conception in the mid-1990s, to the present day. As she pointed out, the most common criticism of the ASEM process is that it is nothing more than a ‘talk shop’ and the lack of visibility. However, supporters of ASEM cite the rapid enlargement of ASEM from 26 partners to 48 partners in less than two decades as a reflection of ASEM’s attractiveness. Come November 2012, ASEM will admit three more members – Norway, Switzerland and Bangladesh – bringing the membership to 51.
Indeed, given such a diverse membership across Europe and Asia, ASEM’s dialogue has been broad but not deep. ASEM remains essentially an informal inter-governmental process to promote dialogue and mutual understanding of the positions of each other, where its member states are not pressured into making binding agreements. But as Dr Yeo observed, it is now harder for ASEM even to maintain the informality and encourage real dialogue because of the rapid enlargement. The danger with this enlarged membership is that ASEM will be fated to remain an entity without a clear identity and suffer from a lack of focus, among other challenges.
What then can be done to address the challenges that ASEM face, and can ASEM be transformed into a 21stcentury networked entity that could truly play a part in strengthening Asia-Europe partnership for peace and prosperity? These questions made for an interactive question-and-answer session with the young audience of Model ASEM participants and other guests. They presented ideas as to how the ASEM processes, both in style and substance, could be further tweaked to achieve its mission.