Speech of Foreign Minister Bert Koenders at the ASEM meeting

Speech of Foreign Minister Bert Koenders at the ASEM Foreign Ministers' meeting (Luxembourg, 5 November 2015).

Check upon delivery. This speech is only available in English.

Madam Chair, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The Netherlands has a long complex and common history with Asia. Dutch merchants and adventurers were already passing through Asian waters in the early 17th century. So for us, ‘connectivity’ between Europe and Asia has deep roots. And still today we serve as a gateway to Europe for many Asian partners.

The Netherlands has always seen the importance of ASEM through the prism of connectivity. During the first 20 years since ASEM came into being, the ties that bind us have grown in number and in scope. There is a growing Eurasian community that not only shares many interests but also faces many common challenges. This connectivity between our countries will become even more important over the next 20 years. We better be prepared.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Now that ASEM’s 20th anniversary is approaching, I would like to share some thoughts about its future. What role can ASEM play?

First, ASEM should continue to be an informal political meeting place for Asia and Europe. Strengthening relationships and exchanging ideas are essential to our community. I told you already how interlinked our Eurasian continent is. We also face many common challenges. It is important that the governemnts involved cooperate constructively. Let me mention a few areas.

• In the field of peace and security, our societies are increasingly intertwined. The downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 is a case in point. Regional conflicts have far-reaching spill-over effects. In today’s world, the line between national interest and international unrest is paper-thin. Our national security depends on international stability and the rule of law. The Netherlands is committed to the promotion of a well-functioning, rules based international legal order.

• On migration, we are witnessing - in recent times - unprecedented movements of people flocking to Europe. Asia has its own migration challenges. In the Mediterranean and Andaman Sea respectively an integrated approach is needed that combines security, humanitarian relief and economic development. We can usefully exchange experiences and should uphold basic principes, such as non-refoulement. ASEM partners should give full support to the UN system assisting refugees.

• We also need to share ideas about countering violent extremism. A Foreign Terrorist Fighter knows no boundaries, they can hold the nationality of a European country, use a country in Asia as transit and ultimately end up fighting in Syria. We cannot stop this unless we exchange information: we need to work together through fora like the Global Counterterrorism Forum and learn from each other to develop local and tailor-made solutions that work. As incoming co-chair of the Forum, The Netherlands will actively promote not only the sharing of best practices but also the implementation of these.

• In addition to addressing the FTF problem in the GCTF we also act more on the front end of radicalization: prevention is the key. It is in our joint interest that we prevent young teenagers who are easily influenced – by friends but also through for example social media – from radicalizing. Youngsters that radicalize in our country can also pose a threat to the safety in your countries, and vice versa. Within the GCTF we work together in not only combatting todays terrorism but also preventing tomorrow’s violent extremism.

Second, we should focus more on economic development and connectivity. Issues like infrastructure development, trade facilitation, a level playing field and the rule of law are especially well suited for discussion and cooperation in ASEM. But we should always be wary of duplication. We should not strive for a mini UN or a pseudo WTO. ASEM should add more common challenges to its agenda, like inclusive growth, governance, and disaster risk reduction and management. I am encouraged to see many initiatives of so-called tangible cooperation giving substance to that cooperation. Let me mention concretely here the High Level Meeting on Disaster Risk Reduction and Management to be held next year in Vietnam, of which the Netherlands is a proud co-sponsor.

Third, I’d like to mention the importance of people-to-people contacts for the future of ASEM. ASEM is first and foremost about our people, who live in an increasingly connected world. The Asia-Europe Foundation, under the ASEM umbrella, facilitates scientific and cultural exchanges. I would like to see many more activities that bring people from Asia and Europe together. That doesn’t mean that ASEM should run all those activities, but it can provide the inspiration. Its endorsement could become the quality mark, if you like, for Asian-European civil society exchanges.

Business people for instance. Let me mention in this framework the initiative of the Dutch embassy in Vietnam called 'The future is green', which supports Public Private Partnerships in the area of sustainable food production and watermanagement.

Educational exchanges are key. Every year thousands of Asian students study in The Netherlands. The other way around, we have 'The Netherlands Asia Honours Summer School', which sends Dutch students to China every summer.

Finally, we look forward to an inspiring and future-oriented ASEM Summit in Ulaanbaatar next summer, and to deepening Asian-European cooperation in the coming decades.

Thank you.