by He Jing, Gao Lu
VIENTIANE, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- European and Asian leaders on Tuesday stressed on enhanced partnership for peace and development at the end of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).
The Ninth ASEM Summit was mandated to discuss a host of issues, but leaders were left with no doubt that closer economic and social integration and a people-oriented ASEM were their chief concerns.
The Vientiane summit, at which leaders from 51 members conducted in-depth discussions on key issues of common concern, focused on enhancing Asia-Europe partnership in order to improve the well-being of their people.
The leaders were determined "to promote dialogue, enhance better relations and develop partnership in all fields, aiming at promoting mutual understanding and confidence, good neighborliness and friendly relations among ASEM partners," as noted in the Vientiane Declaration issued at the end of talks.
The mutual need of both regions will be ever greater as globalization deepens, rapid economic and political changes threaten the old orders, and as the previous global structures and hierarchies change in an ever smaller and more integrated world, the Australia National University (ANU) Centre for European Studies said in its briefing papers.
Under the theme "Friends for Peace, Partners for Prosperity", the summit started with economic debates as the Euro zone crisis deepened and new interventions have become necessary to prevent matters from deteriorating rapidly.
The EU is taking steps needed to reduce public debt, ensure a healthy banking system and lay the foundations for sustained growth and a stable common currency.
The leaders reaffirmed commitment "to achieve sustainable economic growth, social development and environmental protection," the declaration reads.
Attaching great value to its relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the EU is looking forward to expanding its ties further through Free Trade Agreements with ASEAN members, Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, said during an interview last week. "The importance of the platform is to facilitate comparative advantages of the Asian and European sides, so that one's advantage can help the disadvantages of the other side. The two should definitely do some cooperation and collaboration," remarked Dr. Shen Xuhui, associate Professor of the Faculty of Social Science of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Data revealed by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, showed that from 2000 to 2011, the share of the ASEM partners in EU27 exports rose from 22 percent to 30 percent, and in imports from 36 percent to 44 percent.
"In an era of growing interdependence, geographical distance is becoming less and less important. We have a joint interest in fostering sustainable growth and prosperity, to benefit the most advanced as well as the least developed among us," insisted European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.
A platform for dialogue launched in 1996, the talks also took up such issues as food and energy security, climate change and resilience against national disasters.
Leaders of 51 ASEM members called for enhancing "social- cultural cooperation and development to promote greater people-to- people interaction," the declaration said.
On the cultural front, ASEM has done quite a lot in terms of facilitating communication between different countries and regions.
"They have set up a fund which can facilitate cultural and people exchanges among different countries and among the major core members," Shen added.
Despite the achievements, experts say that there is great potential for the interregional forum to expand, particularly regarding scientific and technological cooperation as well as security engagement including the setting up of some mini- institutions within the framework gradually.
The ASEM, which meets every two years, groups 51 members, including the European Commission and the ASEAN Secretariat. Three new members -- Bangladesh, Switzerland and Norway -- joined the framework in the latest chapter.