Much hope but few certainties at the 7th Asia-Europe summit
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that “[n]o-one in Europe or Asia can seriously pretend to be immune [from the crisis]. We are living in unprecedented times, and we need unprecedented levels of global co-ordination.”
“It's a great opportunity for China to show a sense of responsibility,” he added, explaining that the world needs for Asia (especially China, India and Japan) “to be on board.”
“It's very simple. We swim together or we sink together,” he said.
“In 1998 ASEM in London, the European side offered to set up a joint trust fund to help Asian countries get through the financial crisis back then. This time round, perhaps Asian countries could offer assistance, in the form of money or the sharing of experience, to Europe and show that they are not only `good friends' on paper,” said Paul Lim, a scholar with the Brussels-based European Institute for Asian Studies. “And China is in the best position to do so.”
"We need to explore the possibilities for reform of the international financial structure so that we can make joint efforts to stabilise markets,” said a prudent Liu Jianchao, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, without going into any details.
For some experts Europe is likely to ask Asian nations, China first among them, to pump much-needed liquidity into financial markets.
Asian economies have not been as badly affected by the crisis and Beijing is still reluctant to take any major decision, even it does not rule it out.
“Sustainable development requires financial stability. All these topics affect one another,” said Zhu Liqun, director of the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University, adding that “only with mutual understanding will there be trust. And only with trust will there be long-term co-operation.”
“We shouldn't think this is going to be over soon. The key issue for Asian countries [at the moment] is to prevent the banking crisis from turning into a currency crisis. This is going to be a long and cold winter,” said Bank of China Vice-President Zhu Min yesterday.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Qing Gang insisted on the difficulties developing countries face in the current financial crisis. But what is certain is that all Asian economies are affected by the drop in exports induced by the crisis. For this reason Asian governments have introduced measures to protect small companies (which are more vulnerable to the credit crunch) and offered additional support for infrastructure investments.
Indeed, as Joerg Wuttke, president of the European Chamber of Commerce in China, pointed out, “China can only save itself and thus be a certain stabilizing factor in Asia.”
At the summit a string of bilateral meetings will also be held on the sidelines, including the first meeting between new Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso and President Hu Jintao.
Yesterday the two countries announced they were setting up a ‘hotline’ for frequent and timely exchange of opinions on relevant topics.
In addition to financial and economic issues the summit will also address climate change, trade, energy, food security as well as intellectual property, currency and human rights (following yesterday’s award by the European parliament of a prize to jailed Chinese dissident Hu Jia against Beijing’s objections), but experts do not expect any major decision to be taken. (PB)