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Now that it is entering its 21st year, Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) may be said to have come of age. Therefore, it was only appropriate that on the threshold of attaining majority, ASEM should have broken new ground by holding the Media Dialogue on Connectivity. This was in Guangzhou from May 9-10, 2016.
It was not an event, but a landmark shift to give new thrust, as the theme underscored, to Promoting Public Awareness and Partnership. It ranks as a shift because it comes after two decades of: the multiple processes generated by ASEM; the emergence of connectivity as the focus area for Asia-Europe cooperation; the implied recognition that for connectivity to be complete in concept and content requires media as a partner if not as a pillar; and, flowing from that recognition, the conviction and resolve to take the first step of a Media Dialogue by creating a platform.
The platform has not come done a day too soon, although it was most timely. It took place on the eve of the 11th ASEM Summit to be held in Ulaan Baatar in July 2016.
ASEM, as an informal process of dialogue and cooperation, takes place at: summit-level meetings attended by heads of state or government; ministerial-level meetings; and, senior officials-level meetings. These meetings are on foreign affairs, finance, trade, the economy, environment, and science and technology. Discussions are centred round three pillars: the political; the economic and financial; and, the socio-cultural, educational and intellectual, which has subsumed the media so far. The objective is strengthening the relationship between Asia and Europe in a spirit of mutual respect and equal partnership.
Established on March 1, 1996, ASEM's first summit in Bangkok was attended by 25 Asian and European countries, the EU Commission, ASEAN, China, Japan and South Korea. Subsequent expansion saw the number of members rise to 53 at the 10th summit in Milan in October 2014. India, Pakistan and Mongolia joined ASEM at the 6th summit in Helsinki in September 2006.
The last two years saw initiatives towards the promotion of Asia-Europe connectivity like the Think Tank Symposium, the Industry Dialogue on Connectivity, Symposium on Eurasia Transport and Logistics Network, and Seminar on ASEM at 20 -The Challenges of Connectivity.
In the last two decades and particularly in the last two years which saw so many initiatives, there appears to be a growing realization that while connectivity is high on the agenda, it is not only about physical structures and linkages. Connectivity is also about connecting to people and media; and, this is an aspect to which ASEM has not paid adequate attention.