Europe Pivots East, European Leaders Trek To Vientiane, Laos     Print

By The European Institute

The U.S. is not the only country that is “pivoting to Asia.” A heavyweight contingent of Europeans including Francois Hollande, Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti and European Union President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso is assembling in the unlikely site of Vientiane, Laos, for a two day summit with Asian leaders.

 

Meeting was opened today by Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Secretary-General Surin Pitsuwan and President Barroso. The meeting is the ninth Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM), an organization that has taken on new importance and high level interest as trade relations between the EU and Asia have grown, and continue to grow, dramatically. Trade between the EU and the ASEM nations (which includes ten ASEAN countries of Southeast Asia as well as China, Japan and South Korea) has increased by 50 percent in the last six years, according to Barroso.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao added gravitas to the meeting, although his remarks that Europe needed a clear and reliable plan to solve EU’s debt crisis qualified, in diplomatic code, as a “full and frank” exchange.

Past meetings of ASEM have been soured by concern over human rights abuses in Myanmar, a member of ASEAN.  But with the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and others, Europeans are enthusiastic about investment in Myanmar and about stepped up relations with ASEAN and ASEM.