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The Future of ASEM and its Vision for the 21st Century

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For two decades ASEM has played a key role as a forum for dialogue and cooperation connecting Asia with Europe. ASEM’s value and continuing importance in today’s politics and inter-regional relations is uncontested. Nevertheless, as an informal forum ASEM is destined to evolve along with a transforming global environment. Since its inception in 1996 the forum has significantly changed. More specifically, it has substantially enlarged, adapting itself to an increasingly multipolar world, a growing European Union and a more interdependent Asian region.

The impressive growth of newly emerging Asian economies and the increasing interdependence between Europe and Asia in the early 1990s, along with the creation of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), constituted the backdrop of the need for Europe to re-think, re-evaluate and hence re-launch its relations with countries from the Asian region. At the same time, economic and political developments in Asia served as the foundation to build stronger and closer relations with European partners.

Following these developments ASEM was launched in 1994 and it was supported by ASEAN and the EU. Once the initiative was endorsed by the European Council in June 1995, European and Asian countries engaged themselves in building a new partnership aiming at promoting political dialogue, deepening economic relations and strengthening cultural ties. Within this framework, further impetus was given to the process, during the Hellenic Presidency of the EU in 2003.

ASEM has so far met many of its objectives by facilitating direct contacts between European and Asian leaders, encouraging people-to-people understanding and exploring new areas of cooperation in the political, economic and social sectors.

Over the last few years ASEM is covering much more ground, reflecting newly emerging global challenges (such as migration and climate change to name a few) that Asia and Europe need to tackle together. It is to be noted that ASEM has gone to great lengths to strengthen coordination and to translate the informal dialogue process into tangible policy. Driven by biennial Summits, ASEM has created a unique platform enabling dialogue on a wide variety of issues between European and Asian partners. We should not lose sight of this achievement, having also in mind that the added value of the forum resides in its informal character which should be preserved. For that reason, it would be meaningful to try to work on a more structured agenda for ASEM Meetings, making them more productive and result-oriented placing particular emphasis on sectoral issues. Just to mention a recent positive paradigm, we are particularly satisfied that the 5th ASEM Education Ministers’ Meeting (ASEM ME5) held in Riga, Latvia, on 27-28 April 2015, stressed the significant role of education in today’s rapidly changing labour market. Taking initiatives and promoting sectoral cooperation in education and vocation can be proven quite beneficial for young people as well. At the same time, we are very pleased that ASEM has paid particular attention to issues such as Science and Technology.

In this context, Greece has constructively engaged in ASEM’s initiative, along with China and Singapore, for establishing the “ASEM Cooperation Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation” (ACCSTI), which was conceived, as a platform for policy dialogue, experience-sharing between Asian and European universities, institutes, agencies and other scientific entities. Greece is willing to play a leading role in the establishment of a Regional Coordination Mechanism, and we are extremely interested in being the European host of this Centre.

With a view to obtaining concrete results and safeguarding this important added value of the process, it is imperative for the Senior Officials, under the Ministers’ guidance, to concentrate their efforts on the following issues: a) regular follow-up, evaluation and monitoring of the progress on a series of initiatives already launched in previous Summits, Ministerial Meetings and Conferences, b) drafting an Action Plan, preferably for a two-year period, to facilitate the monitoring of the initiatives, c) preparing targeted informal meetings towards a better coordination between the Asian and European partners, d) enhancing coordination among various ASEM stakeholders. The positive convergence of these factors could substantially transform ASEM into a more effective and operational forum, providing also the opportunity for further tangible results in the cooperation between the two regions.

In today’s inter connected world, non-state actors are increasingly active and influential. The ASEM process has recognised this and has developed initiatives to foster dialogue and better understanding between the two regions, by enabling strong interaction and effective participation of civil society, business representatives and academia. By taking advantage of its unique characteristics, ASEM can further enhance people-to-people contacts and provide a variety of socio-cultural links. The interaction of several actors undoubtedly sets the groundwork for establishing stronger links and cultivating relations based on confidence between peoples of Europe and Asia.

To this extent “connectivity” could become a flagship for further progressing ASEM function and effectiveness. Both Asian and European partners have decided on a number of concrete projects to covering different aspects of connectivity, either hard connectivity that is physical infrastructures, transport, energy, or soft connectivity, including people-to-people links. Connectivity should be conceived as the engine for growth, trade and inclusive development for Asian and European countries.

Being at the crossroads between East and West Greece provides the natural gateway between Europe and Asia while constituting at the same time a factor of stability in the region. Given its vast experience and know-how acquired by its membership over 35 years in the EU Greece can only play a positive role in connecting Asia with Europe and promoting active cooperation between the two continents in many sectors to the benefit of both sides.

By concluding, I would like to stress that in order for ASEM to be able to provide added value, it has to maintain its informal character, strengthen its coordination mechanisms, increase civil society input, improve the quality of its profile and finally, prepare an Action Plan which would outline the key issues for dialogue and joint initiatives in the years ahead.

First published in Asia-Europe Foundation

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Diplomacy

Soft Power Dynamics in Middle Eastern Conflict

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The Middle East is synonymous with eternal conflict as being at the cross-point between Africa, Europe, and Asia.

The paper intends to understand how the power could be derived from the cultural roots in a world filled with pre-existing biases based on religious values, nationality, and interpretation of history.

Palestine receives strong international support through social media by sharing its pain and grievances increasing its soft power that hampers Israel’s international relations. A new question emerges can the soft power paradigm be used to resolve the problem?  

The roots of the Middle Eastern problem are driven by historical-religious literature which shows the Middle East to be the historic homeland of Jews and they wanted to get back to their original homeland due to two-millennium long suppression that finally ended up as the holocaust.

Israel continues to emphasize and promote stories related to Second World War which help them gain the legitimacy to exist as a state. It is also remarked that the holocaust may have been a decisive condition for the creation of a Jewish state but this action would have occurred sooner or later.

One of the biggest strengths for Israel and its legitimacy comes from the Biblical literature which has some historical stories in it and mentions Israel and Judah in the Middle East providing American Christian Support which seems to be dropping as a result Israel needs to work on its soft power.

A similar strength can be found in Quran for Israeli as Surah Al-Ma’idah in Chapter 5 verse 12 states about the Children of Israel and verse 21 explains that they are “destined to enter and not to turn back else they will become the loser.” These verses motivate Israeli for their cause which raises an interesting phenomenon that some pro-Israeli media would use Quranic verses to gain legitimacy.

History needs to be studied to understand how and where the differences between Jews and Muslims started. Originally there was a peaceful relation between Jews and Muslims but Jews refuse to acknowledge Muhammad a non-Jew as one of the prophets of God which caused the relationship between Jews and Muslims to deplete.

Finally, Banu Qurayza a Jewish community allied with Qurashites against Prophet Muhammad that caused Medina to suffer a war-built hatred towards Judaism.

However, even after looking at the differences Muslims, Christians, and Jews are Abrahamic religions maintaining their base Judaic-monotheistic tradition as both Roman Catholics and Arab previously had polytheistic culture and Israel has indirectly benefitted from this historical fact.

Israel could benefit from various religions by showing show respect to the leaders of Abrahamic religions and even maintain an apologetic attitude on behalf of some of the members of the Jewish community which may have conducted villainous actions as per some stories based on other religious doctrines.

The tower of one’s ego can prohibit supporting the national interest which could only be achieved by becoming softer to gain soft power.

It is argued that the ancient Philistine is related to present-day Palestine. Palestine as a result gets associated with David and Goliath or Samson’s struggle with Philistine. However, the term Palestine is more complicated which had developed in the period.

There are also claims that the Syria Palaestina was constructed as a punishment for Bar Kochba Revolt in 135CE while the name Palaestina given to the region seems to be older than Bar Kochba Revolt and even older than the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

The image of the Israel and Palestine conflict is connected towards mythical combat between David and Goliath. David was an inexperienced youth who later became king of Israel and defeated a giant from ancient Philistine called Goliath.

Some actors who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause have also connected Palestine with David who was weak at the beginning of the story while they perceive Israel as an unjust giant and the toughest fighter in the region.

The Middle Eastern conflict goes beyond religion and history as it has multiple dimensions due to multiple crimes against humanity causing people to be refugees that inflict social, political, and economic damages.

A medium to obtain soft power is by resolving the humanitarian crisis and Israel being perceived as a perpetrator tampered with its national image.

Israel as an economically advanced country with large spending power can establish economic institutions to raise funds in providing education, training, and employment to victims of that conflict regardless of their religion, ethnicity, gender, or political views who have been scattered around the world which would help Israel gain legitimacy.

The economic recovery of the war victims can minimize some damage enforced upon the national image but there is a strong opinion that the Palestinian community lacks legal rights as being in Israeli jurisdiction. So, political rights might have to be secured to the Palestinians while they have to live in Israel for Israel to create a positive national image.  

The Israeli government also create an option for the Palestinian community to have the right to return, granting them protection in Knesset (Israeli Parliament), while promoting Arab Israeli politicians, and can even reflect how they have shaped the Israeli government in the international arena to build Israel’s soft power.

Finally, the last piece of the puzzle is the social affairs which are closely tied to the soft power paradigm.

There is a clear fear that the Jews are eclipsing the social identity of the Palestinian people but in reality, they are closely linked as Arabic language and Hebrew are Semitic languages, their scripts have common Aramaic ancestry, and Halaal and Kosher dietary cultures are also similar.

There should be an effort to study the similarities to build unity and to study unique qualities as to appreciate one another’s differences. Israel could also create Cultural Relations Centers around the world that promote both Jewish and Palestinian language, culture, and cuisine to create respect and solidarity. 

There can also be the production of television programs, movies, digital applications which could allow people to understand the Middle Eastern community.

Tel Aviv is the center for the development of many technological advancements and carries great potential to build creative applications and visual storytelling that could help spread awareness about the Middle East.

On the other hand, the Palestinian Authority could request the Israeli government to provide scholarships in various Israeli Universities which could enhance their credential for making effort to create a peaceful world as well as proposing exchange programs by inviting Israeli students to visit regular Palestinian colleges and working spaces decreasing bitterness.

The Palestinian Authority could also pursue Israeli investment in core-Palestinian settlements that could create employment as well as mutual dependence allowing Palestine to grow with a greater bargaining power while maintaining a symbiotic relationship.

Culture, history, and institutions can be combined to create harmony. A key aspect to gain soft power and legitimacy is by becoming softer by showing respect to the opponents while appreciating and accepting others’ viewpoints.

Therefore, the study of religion, history has to be conducted from a neutral perspective that can be trusted by all international actors and could serve as a uniting factor while maintaining an apologetic attitude towards historic mistakes. There needs to be an effort to provide economic and political compensation for the victims which have caused notoriety in the international arena and finally the culture of the two competing communities needs to be celebrated through cultural institutions to build trust and harmony.

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Diplomacy

Biden-Putting meeting: Live from Geneva

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19:00 The places of the flags on the Mont Blanc bridge on which President Biden and President Putin will pass to reach the meeting venue on Wednesday usually hold the flags of the different Swiss cantons. Not today. The American and Russian flags have been placed to welcome the two leaders. 

18:00 A day before the Geneva summit: Hotel Intercontinental where the American delegation and probably President Biden himself is staying, how the city looks like a day before the meeting, what are the security measures like, why isn’t the UN involved and are the usual protests expected?

Iveta Cherneva with live video political commentary from Geneva one day ahead of the Biden-Putin Summit

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Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

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In recent years, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, have been trying to bolster their ‘Soft Power’ in a number of ways; by promoting tourism, tweaking their immigration policies to attract more professionals and foreign students and focusing on promoting art and culture. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has taken the lead in this direction (in May 2017, UAE government set up a UAE Soft Power Council which came up with a comprehensive strategy for the promotion of the country’s Soft Power). Under Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman (MBS), Saudi Arabia has also been seeking to change its international image, and it’s Vision 2030 seeks to look beyond focusing on economic growth. In the Global Soft Power Index 2021, Saudi Arabia was ranked at number 24 and number 2 in the Gulf region after the UAE (the country which in the past had a reputation for being socially conservative, has hosted women’s sports events and also hosted the G20 virtually last year)

Will the promotion of cricket in GCC add to its Soft Power?

   One other important step in the direction of promoting Soft Power in the GCC, is the attempt to popularize cricket in the Gulf. While the Sharjah cricket ground (UAE)  hosted many ODI (One Day International )tournaments, and was witness to a number of thrillers between India and Pakistan, match fixing allegations led to a ban on India playing cricket at non-regular venues for a duration of 3 years (for a period of 7 years from 2003, Sharjah did not get to host any ODI). The Pakistan cricket team has been playing its international home series at Sharjah, Abu Dhabu and Dubai for over a decade (since 2009) and the sixth season of the Pakistan Super League is also being played in UAE. Sharjah has also hosted 9 test matches (the first of which was played in 2002).

 Sharjah hosted part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) tournament in 2014, and last year too the tournament was shifted to UAE due to covid19 (apart from Sharjah, matches were played at Dubai and Abu Dhabi). This year again, the UAE and possibly Oman are likely to host the remaining matches of the IPL which had to be cancelled due to the second wave of Covid19. The ICC Men’s T20 World Cup to be held later this year (October-November 2021), which was actually to be hosted by India,  could also be hosted not just in the UAE, but Oman as well (there are two grounds, one of them has floodlights). International Cricket Council (ICC) is looking for an additional venue to UAE, because a lot of cricket is being played there, and this may impact the pitches. The ICC while commenting on the possibility of the T20 World cup being hosted in the Middle East said:

, “The ICC Board has requested management [to] focus its planning efforts for the ICC Men’s  T20 World Cup 2021 on the event being staged in the UAE with the possibility of including another venue in the Middle East’

GCC countries are keen not just to host cricketing tournaments, but also to increase interest in the game. While Oman has a team managed by an Indian businessman, Saudi Arabia has set up the SACF (Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation) in 2020 and it has started the National Cricket Championship which will have more than 7,000 players and 36 teams at the school level. Peshawar Zalmi, a Pakistani franchise T20 cricket team, representing the city of Peshawar the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which plays in the Pakistan’s domestic T20 cricket league – the Peshawar cricket league —  extended an invitation to the SACF, to play a friendly match against it. It’s owner Javed Afridi had extended the invitation to the Saudi Arabian team in April 2021.  Only recently, Chairman of SACF Prince Saud bin Mishal  met with India’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Dr Ausaf Saeed, to discuss ways for promoting the game in Saudi Arabia. He also visited the ICC headquarters at Dubai and apart from meeting officials of ICC also took a tour of Sharjah cricket ground.

GCC countries have a number of advantages over other potential neutral venues. First, the required infrastructure is already in place in some countries, and there is no paucity of financial resources which is very important. Second, there is a growing interest in the game in the region, and one of the important factors for this is the sizeable South Asian expat population. Third, a number of former cricketers from South Asia are not only coaching cricket teams, but also being roped in to create more enthusiasm with regard to the game. Fourth, UAE along with other GCC countries, could also emerge as an important venue for the resumption of India-Pakistan cricketing ties.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if GCC countries other than UAE — like Saudi Arabia and Oman  — can emerge as important cricketing venues, their ‘Soft Power’ appeal is likely to further get strengthened especially vis-à-vis South Asia. South Asian expats, who have contributed immensely to the economic growth of the region, and former South Asian cricketers will have an important role to play in popularizing the game in the Gulf. Cricket which is already an important component of the GCC — South Asia relationship, could help in further strengthening people to people linkages.

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