VIENTIANE – Resolving the eurozone sovereign debt crisis and boosting the global economy were the top topics under discussion on the first day of the two-day summit of Asian and European leaders that began Monday in Laos.
The biennial Asia-Europe Meeting brings together leaders from 49 Asian and European countries as well as two regional organizations. The accession of three nations — Bangladesh, Switzerland and Norway — was commemorated in a ceremony ahead of the official opening of the meeting.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso are among the leaders attending the gathering in Vientiane chaired by Laotian Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong.
Under the theme “Friends for Peace, Partners for Prosperity,” the only forum of dialogue linking Asia and Europe will also touch on issues of common concern in both regions, including energy and food security, disaster management, climate change, the situation on the Korean Peninsula and the recent developments in Myanmar.
Territorial rows involving China and its neighbors will not be raised due to China’s opposition, a diplomat said Sunday after a meeting of senior ASEM officials.
Disputes between the Philippines, Vietnam and China over the Paracel and Spratly islands in the South China Sea, and between Japan and China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea remain tense issues in the region.
According to the final draft of the Vientiane Declaration to be issued Tuesday, ASEM leaders will renew their commitment “to refrain from the act of threat or the use of force in any manner inconsistent with the U.N. Charter and international law against the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of any state.”
They will “seek peaceful settlement of disputes through dialogue, negotiations and other means,” the draft says.
The leaders also said they will share “lessons learned from the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and from the current economic and financial challenges in Europe” and underlined the need for greater economic and fiscal cooperation that contributes to “long-term, strong, balanced and sustainable growth of the world economy.”
Meanwhile, the final draft of the chair’s statement, to be issued Tuesday, states that the leaders noted deceleration of global growth “with substantial remaining uncertainties and downside risks for ASEM partners” and “underlined the need for Asia and Europe to promote a closer engagement toward a stronger and more dynamic partnership in addressing the current global crisis.
During the two-day summit, Japan will explain to other ASEM members its efforts to help resolve the European debt crisis and to recover from the March 2011 quake and tsunami, which triggered the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.
On nuclear safety, the draft chair’s statement says ASEM leaders “recognized the importance of strengthening of international nuclear safety legal framework” and “welcomed the upcoming Fukushima Ministerial Conference on Nuclear Safety to be held in Japan in December.”
The leaders “also underlined the need to strengthen collective preparedness and response to disasters and to reduce losses caused by man-made and natural disasters.” They vowed to enhance cooperation in the areas of disaster management and emergency response, including early warning and search and rescue at sea.
The ASEM leaders will call for “peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula” and express their concern about “all existing nuclear and missiles programs” undertaken by the North. They will emphasize the importance of addressing humanitarian concerns, according to the draft.
Before heading to Laos, Noda expressed Sunday his eagerness to improve relations with China and South Korea.
But no formal talks are scheduled between Noda and Chinese Premier Wen. Meanwhile, South Korean President Lee Myung Bak is skipping the ASEM summit.
Laos infrastructure vow
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Laotian Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong reaffirmed Sunday that they will boost cooperation in building infrastructure in Vientiane, the rapidly developing capital of Laos, to promote commerce.
The meeting in Vientiane was held on the eve of the two-day Asia-Europe Meeting summit, which Thongsing is scheduled to chair.
Noda also expressed his gratitude for the recent gesture by Laos to lease six elephants to zoos in the Tohoku region, saying the Japanese will “treasure” the elephants as a sign of good will.
The lease is part of the Southeast Asian country’s support for Japan’s recovery from the devastating March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
Thongsing told Noda that Japanese official development assistance is contributing significantly to the development of Laos.
Japan is hoping to strengthen its partnership with Laos, given the country is friendly to Japan and is one of the Mekong states that border increasingly influential China, Japanese officials said.
Ahead of the talks, Noda and Thongsing attended a ceremony marking the expansion of an international airport where the bilateral summit is being held. The project was made possible through grants in aid extended by Japan.
Ties between Japan and Laos have deepened in recent years. In late June, Crown Prince Naruhito made an official visit to Laos, his first.