SEOUL — European and Asian leaders wrapped up a summit here Saturday with a pledge to launch a new round of world trade talks as soon as possible and a promise to work together more closely on political issues and fighting crime.
Participants at the Asia-Europe Meeting, a biennial summit of leaders from the 15 European Union nations and 10 Asian states, also adopted for the first time a specific commitment to protect human rights — a traditionally divisive issue between Europe and Asia.
The “chairman’s statement” by ASEM host, President Kim Dae Jung, included for the first time human rights as a common value for the 4-year-old organization. “Leaders committed themselves to promote and protect all human rights, including the right to development and fundamental freedoms, bearing in mind their universal indivisible and interdependent character,” the statement issued at the end of the two-day summit said.
Underlining the human-rights focus, French President Jacques Chirac said Saturday that France would forge diplomatic ties with North Korea only if Pyongyang observes nuclear nonproliferation and improves its human rights situation.
“France will establish diplomatic relations with North Korea in so far as North Korea shows its readiness to answer our concerns,” Chirac said at the end of the conference.
The French president said President Kim had given him a “very positive” response to France’s concerns, but he did not say whether it was to France’s satisfaction. Chirac reiterated, however, that France fully supports Kim’s policy on reconciliation with its neighbor to the north.
The Asia-Europe Cooperation Framework (AECF 2000), a blueprint for ASEM’s future, also said, “ASEM leaders envisage Asia and Europe as an area of peace and shared development with common interests and aspirations such as . . . respect for democracy . . . justice and human rights.”
China, Malaysia and Singapore had opposed including democracy and human rights in the framework, citing concerns over intervention in internal affairs, diplomats said.
A communique adopted by the leaders urges increased efforts to launch a new round of global trade liberalization talks “at the earliest opportunity.” The document also set out plans for cooperation on several issues, including fighting international prostitution rings, developing e-commerce and containing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
The meeting exposed divisions within the EU on how to deal with North Korea in what officials acknowledged was another setback to its efforts to forge a common foreign policy.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook announced on his way to the summit that London would accept a North Korean invitation to open diplomatic relations, and EU heavyweight Germany quickly followed suit.
On Friday, Spain said it also plans to open diplomatic relations with Pyongyang, and the Belgian Cabinet will consider a proposal to do so Friday. That left current EU president France, nominally responsible for coordinating EU foreign policy, high and dry as it insisted it was not ready for diplomatic relations with North Korea.
EU officials are pleased that statements adopted Saturday contain a commitment to promote human rights and step up political dialogue. The Europeans see the statement as a breakthrough because Asian countries such as China, an ASEM member, have been traditionally hostile to Western concepts of human rights.
Beijing and other Asian governments also frequently bridle at what they see as Western interference in their domestic affairs.
A South Korean official acknowledged that there had been some “frank” talk during the leaders’ discussion of democracy and human rights Friday. “There were two schools of thought — one from Europe, the other from Asia,” he said.
EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten said last week in Seoul that the communique contained a “perfectly sensible and satisfactory reference to the promotion and protection of human rights.”
While the European side should not address human rights in a sanctimonious way, it should not be coy about discussing them, he said. A cooperation framework for future work says ASEM partners agreed to strive for a common goal of maintaining and enhancing peace and stability.
ASEM will focus on strengthening arms control, tackling global environmental issues and combating international crime, including money laundering, smuggling of immigrants, international terrorism and drug trafficking, the leaders said.
Seoul police congratulated themselves Saturday on the handling of the summit, which some had feared could turn into a hot spot for antiglobalization protests similar to those seen in Prague and Seattle over the past year.
While the event was going on, there were scuffles during several protests and marches by thousands of students and trade unionists Friday in which six police officers and two demonstrators were injured, police said. But the protests were held some distance from the conference center, which was guarded by thousands of baton-wielding riot police.
Seoul police issued a statement saying their preparations, which included the nonconfrontational tactic of lining the march route with female police officers and traffic police, led to a successful conference.
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